Tag Archives: playing jazz piano video lessons

There are now 22 playing jazz piano video lessons and 3 eBooks.

Creative jazz practice

Creative jazz practice

This is an extract from book 3 of Learn Jazz Piano.

Click here for your link to book 3.

Chapter 12: Creative jazz practice

Keyboard                 The ideal is to practice on an acoustic piano, as the sound and action will always be superior to an electronic keyboard.

However, if you are playing on an electronic keyboard, there are three priorities:

  1. The keyboard should be full-length: i.e. 88 keys.
  1. It should possess one decent piano sound. Don’t be tempted by a host of sounds and functions that you’ll never use.
  1. The action should be weighted. You should feel a ‘give’ when pressing a key.

Optional extras

  • Split keyboard: piano for right hand and bass for left hand.
  • Recording facility: this will enable you to record, say, the song’s bass line, so that you can practice over it.

Order of practice   

I suggest that you begin with drills and exercises. Then move on to tunes.

Drills and exercises 

II – V – I                    Develop the ability to solo and comp through the
II – V – I sequence in all major and minor keys. This is crucial to your progress as a jazz musician.

Resist the temptation to only play in the easy keys, as you will soon be encountering certain standards in ‘difficult’ keys. For example, Body and Soul is usually in Db and ‘Round Midnight is in Eb minor!

II – V                          A II – V sequence doesn’t always resolve to its tonic. Instead, it might move to another II – V.   Use fig 85, below, to practice switching through a series of random II – V’s.

Fig 85

creative jazz practice
I – VI – II – V                        This common turnaround often appears at the end of a tune to lead you back to the start. The VI chord is usually a dominant 7.

Fig 86 illustrates the sequence in seven keys.

Fig 86
creative jazz practice

Practicing tunes

1          Read the music      How’s your sight-reading? Some musicians get by without being able to read a note of music, but I would not have stayed in regular work over the years without this skill. Spend a little time each day reading a new tune. Don’t approximate; both melody and rhythm need to be accurate.

2          Listen to recordings         In my work as a vocal coach I’m often dismayed by singers replicating Sinatra’s version of I’ve Got You Under My Skin, or Eva Cassidy’s interpretation of Over The Rainbow. Some actually assume that the song was written this way!

When researching a song, I suggest you start with a relatively ‘straight’ version rather than an interpretation.

Pay attention to the lyrics. This will give you a sense of the emotion behind the song. Once you’re familiar with the song, sample some jazz instrumental versions.

Examples

Song: How Deep Is The Ocean

Straight: Julie London

Jazz: Ben Webster

————————

Song: Secret Love

Straight: Doris Day

Jazz: Brad Mehldau

You can find the rest of this chapter in book 3 of Learn Jazz Piano.

Working with jazz singers

Working with jazz singers

Working with jazz singers

Understandably, most of my jazz piano students want to improvise; their prime aim is to solo creatively. However, my 40 years as a pro keyboard player has taught me that being given the opportunity to solo comes as a bonus. A more realistic expectation for a pianist is that we will spend most of our working lives accompanying soloists and singers, in other words, comping. Therefore, unless a student has no ambition or desire to play with other musicians or jazz singers, comping is an art that has to be learnt.

In some respects comping is the same whether behind an instrumentalist or a singer. However, in other respects it is totally different. Let’s start with the similarities.

When comping, the spotlight is on the soloist, and it is our job as accompanist to both support them and make them sound good. The first assessment that needs to be made is their level of experience. At one end of the spectrum, if the soloist has limited experience, they may require plenty of rhythmic and melodic help. For example, they may need to hear the first beat of every bar. If they are playing or singing a melody, then the melody, or at least its outline, may need to be stated clearly.

In the two following examples I’m comping bars 1 – 4 of Out Of Nowhere.

In the first illustration my comp is on beats 1 and 3.

working with singers

Although this provides a clear indication of downbeats, it provides no melodic or rhythmic support to the melody.

The next illustration meets both these requirements by placing the melody note at the top of chords and tracing its rhythmic pattern.

working with jazz singers

Of course, one can be far freer and more interactive with the soloist, but this is relative to how much or little support they require.

Comping behind a jazz singer

I have to confess that there was a time when I sometimes had issues with the phrase ‘jazz singer.’ This was because I often found myself accompanying singers who were more cabaret than jazz, but performed standards in a ‘jazzy’ fashion simply by dragging the beat. I have since come to work with some wonderful singers that are every bit as skillful as any jazz instrumentalist.

So this article is not a disguised tirade against singers but rather an indication of how I help learning jazz pianists to work with them.

In an ideal world the singer possesses a sound knowledge of music, has equal status with other band members and is considered to be a musician whose instrument happens to be the voice.

The reality is that some vocalists have a minimal grasp of music for practical purposes but are expected to act as the bandleader: stating the keys, tempo and arrangement to band members. This situation often stems from the singer being required to front the band as a focal point.

Over the years I have advised vocalists as to their role and duties within a band situation. Nowadays, because my main focus is working with pianists, I advise my students as follows.

Here are the issues that are certain to come up:

Choice of key

Do not assume that the key in your songbook will be a suitable vocal key. The singer must be able to hit the top note of the song without strain.

I recommend the following process:

  1. Find a section of the song that contains the highest note.
  1. Test this section with your singer by transposing the section down until the vocalist feels comfortable.
  1. Double-check this new key by locating the section with the lowest note and ensuring the song is still in a singable range.

Many female singers choose to stay within their lower range when singing jazz, but I always encourage vocalists to explore the upper register. Listen to Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald for inspiration.

Starting the song

            Here are five options.

  1. Count in.
  1. The pianist plays the starting note (known as the bell note). The singer and band then start simultaneously, without any need for a count-in.
  1. The pianist provides a broken chord (arpeggio). This should be the dominant 7, possibly containing a raised 5th. If the song is in G major, this augmented chord would be D7(#5).
  1. The last 4 bars of the A or B section can be played as an intro. This will usually contain a I – VI – II – V turnaround. However, if the song is up-tempo, 8 bars might be preferable.
  1. Many standards, particularly ballads, begin with a verse or introduction. This is often played out of tempo (colla voce). Your role, therefore, is to follow the singer until the song falls into tempo (or falls apart!) on beat 1 of the chorus. Once again, it should be the singer’s responsibility to ‘bring the band in,’ but the leader or drummer can help out here.
  • Seek out Tony Bennett’s version of All The Things You Are to hear its verse. Incidentally, if you have any doubts about Bennett’s credentials as a jazz singer, listen to the two albums he made with Bill Evans.

Ending the song

This is the outro. Whether the song comes to a dead stop or slows down, it is again the singer’s responsibility to convey their intention to the band. To indicate an approaching tag (extended ending), the singer might revolve a finger clockwise.

Arrangement

A typical arrangement might be as follows:

  1. Verse – sung.
  2. Head – sung.
  3. Solos
  4. Swap 4s.
  5. Head – sung.

The singer may choose to return to the final head at section B. This should be conveyed to the band towards the end of the final solo.

The singer may also wish to take a solo in the form of a scat vocal. 

Back to the head

The final soloist (particularly the drummer) should hand over to the singer with precision, rather than with a wild flurry of notes (or beats).


 

In the end it is the combination of preparation and effective communication that makes for a good musical relationship between the pianist and singer. Once this is in place, we have enabled the singer to perform with ease and confidence.


 

Teaching the blues

Teaching the blues

A moment after writing the title of this article, up popped an image of John Lee Hooker smiling and shaking his head. “Nobody can teach you the blues. Blues is a feeling, something you have to live.” I tried explaining that I’m a jazz piano teacher and that teaching the blues is part of my job but the image faded.

So where do we start? If you’ve read my previous articles or are one of my students, the following message will come as no surprise: no matter how many books you read or the amount of teachers you learn from, nothing will replace two activities: playing with other musicians and listening to the jazz and blues masters. So, onwards!

In my last article I bypassed the fruitless attempt to define jazz and will do likewise with the blues, but we can still amuse ourselves by googling it. Here’s the first quote I came up with:

Melancholic music of black American folk origin, typically in a twelve-bar sequence.

I’d argue that it’s not necessarily melancholic and we’ll discuss the form later in this article. But I now want to address the subject of this article: teaching the blues.

When a potential student asks to be taught to play blues piano I have to admit to a rather grouchy response. “I teach jazz and, for me, blues is a part of jazz and jazz is a part of the blues.” Actually, I’m not convinced that this is strictly true. But for teaching purposes I find it unhelpful to separate them into two distinct compartments. If we have to take a stab at separating them, it could be said that, say, Muddy Waters is in the blues camp. But as soon as we try attaching a ‘jazz only’ label to jazz musicians it becomes nigh impossible to assert that their music has no connection with the blues. There is, perhaps, less of a blues influence in the playing of Bill Evans than, say, Oscar Peterson. It could also be said that some European jazz has evolved through influences other than the blues.

I see my job as preparing students for a variety of blues tunes that they are likely to encounter at a gig. As this is an article rather than a book, I’ll just be focusing on varying blues structures rather than chord choices, scales, licks etc.

Blues structures

A blues sequence can take on a number of guises, varying in time signature, length and chord structure. Here are some examples.

A basic blues

A basic blues contains 12 bars and 3 chords: I, IV and V. These chords are unusual in that they are non-functioning dominant 7s. In other words, rather than pointing to their tonics (1) these dominant 7s stand in their own right.

teaching the blues

The next example is a more ‘jazz’ version of this sequence, where, at bars 9 and 10, the V and IV chords are replaced with II – V. This is the sequence for Duke Ellington’s C Jam Blues:

teaching the blues

Minor blues

But a blues isn’t always in a major key. Here’s the sequence for Coltrane’s Mr P.C.

(At bar 9 the chord Ab7 could be replaced with its tritone substitute D7(b5).)

teaching the blues

I should point out that when I describe the above sequences as ‘basic’ I’m referring to the amount of chords rather than suggesting that they are in any way inferior or easier to perform. Take a listen to Coltrane’s version of Mr P.C. as a case in point.

Blues in 6/8

So far my examples have been in 4/4 time but All Blues by Miles Davis is in 6/8. Here’s the piano accompaniment to his melody:

teaching the blues

Once again, notice the subtle harmonic twist in bars 9 and 10.

A blues sequence can be in a variety of time signatures, including 3/4, 5/4 and 12/8.

Bebop blues

In C Jam Blues (above) a II – V sequence was introduced in bars 9 and 10. In the 40’s the Bebop players took this to its logical conclusion, giving the sequence a complete makeover. Firstly, chord 1, the dominant 7, was replaced with a straight major chord. This was then followed with a series of descending II – Vs.

Here is one variation of this more complex sequence:

teaching the blues

This sequence works with many bebop blues sequences. One example is Charlie Parker’s Blues For Alice.

8-bar blues

All the examples so far have been 12 bar sequences, but this length can vary. Here is an 8-bar blues that would work with Ain’t Nobody’s Business.

teaching the blues

This is by no means an exhaustive list of blues variations but, hopefully, demonstrates that there is more to the blues than 12 bars and 3 chords.

How to solo

How to solo

How to Solo

My learn jazz piano video course is now around half way through the series ‘How to solo.’  There now follows a summary of these lessons so far with a link to each lesson.

Lesson 21:  Connecting hands
In this lesson I take you through techniques to incorporate your left hand. These include the following:

Stride
Walking bass lines
Shearing block chords
Drop 2 and left hand voicings

Click here for link to lesson 21

——————-

Lesson 22: Choosing the right scale
This lesson guides you through the best scales and modes to use over your chords and focuses on the following topics:

Using the Lydian mode over major chords
Choosing Dorian or Aolian over minor chords
The use of Lydian Dominant, altered scale etc over 7th chords
Choosing Locrian or Locrian 2 over diminished chords

Click here for lesson 22

——————-

Lesson 23: putting scales to work
This lesson guides you through many soloing options

Bebop scales
Effective use of passing notes
How to encircle notes
Soloing over Satin Doll

Click here for lesson 23

——————-

 

New 20-pack bundle for playing Jazz piano online

New 20-pack bundle for playing Jazz piano online

I’ve been asked to bundle all 20 playing jazz piano online video lessons into a discounted 20-pack.

So here it is!
http://www.learnjazzpianoonline.com/lessons-1-20.html
So that’s 10 hours of video and 80 backing tracks. That should keep you busy! The more playing jazz piano online, the better.

Here’s a summary of the lesson content:

Lesson 1 – From scales to chords

  • Soloing over the Pentatonic scale
  • Mastering intervals
  • The V – I concept
  • One formula to construct all major scales
  • 7 chords, one family
learning jazz piano online
7 chords, 1 scale

Lesson 2 – Building a chord sequence

  • Chord sequences
  • The relative minor and its scales
  • The family row of minor triads
  • Soloing in a minor key

Lesson 3 –  Mastering every key

  • The circle of 5ths
  • How to play in any key
  • Preview of the II-V-I sequence
  • Introduction to the turnaround

Lesson 4 – Swing time

  • Learning to swing
  • The construction of 7th chords
  • How to interpret chord symbols
  • Shells – how not to upset the bass player

Lesson 5 – Walking 3s

  • Turnarounds part 2: I – VI – II -V
  • Walking 3s and 7s: the seeds of vertical improvisation.
  • How to use passing notes.
  • Voice leading

Lesson 6 – Extensions

  • Extensions: how to use 9ths, 11ths and 13th.
  • Know which extensions work with which chord.
  • Voicing a chord using extensions.
  • Introduction to Modes.

Lesson 7 – The II-V-I sequence

  • Master the II – V – I sequence in all keys
  • Seven soloing techniques over II – V – I
  • Alterations: know your sharp 11 from your flat 13
  •  Flat 9s and the diminished chord

Lesson 8 – How to comp

  • Comp like a pro
  • Find the best chord voicings
  • Use the right extensions
  • Build up to a five-note comp
  • Explore rhythmic variations

Lesson 9 – Modes

  • Know your Mixodydian from your Dorian
  • Grasp the connection between modes and chords
  • The art of modal soloing and comping
  • How to play ‘So What’

Lesson 10 – Autumn Leaves part 1

  • Playing your first standard
  • Learning the melody
  • The comp
  • The shells
  • The solo

Lesson 11 – Autumn Leaves part 2

  • Taking Autumn Leaves to the next level
  • How to fill out the melody
  • Comping with alterations
  • Soloing with vertical improvisation

Lesson 12 – The Blues part 1

Play with confidence over the blues.

  • How to solo creatively
  • The minor blues
  • Blues in 12/8
    Plus lots of tips, tricks and licks!

Lesson 13 – The Blues part 2

  • Taking the blues beyond the basics.
  • Chord changes that turn blues into jazz.
  • Lydian dominant & diminished scales.
  • Rootess left-hand voicings.

Lesson 14 – Bebop blues

  • Left hand 4-note rootless voicings
  • Constructing the Bebop sequence.
  • How to solo over a Bebop blues
  • Comping over a Bebop blues

Lesson 15 – Rootless voicing

  • Constructing left hand rootless voicings.
  • Applying  rootless voicings to II-V-I and turnarounds.
  • Adding the alterations: b9, b13 etc.

Lesson 16 – Tritone substitution

  • Diminished theory
  • Soloing over diminshed chords
  • Using diminished scales over dominant 7ths
  • Mastering tritone substitution

Lesson 17 – Putting it together

  • Now put your knowledge to work!
  • Combine learned techniques to play a jazz standard.
  • Rootless voicings + tritone substitution
  • Altered and diminished scales

Lesson 18 – Decoding a standard

  • Analysis of ‘All The Things You Are.’
  • How tunes are structured.
  • Identifying key centres
  • Connecting melody and chords
  • How to learn tunes

Lesson 19 – Reharmonising a standard

  • Chord substitution
  • How to reharmonise a tune
  • All The Thing You Are: advanced
  • Take The A Train reharmonised

Lesson 20 – Rhythm Changes

  • Next to a 12-bar blues, Rhythm Changes
    is the most important chord sequence in jazz.
    Master all its forms in this vital video lesson.

 

For my Learn Jazz Piano eBooks click here.

 

I recommend that you work through my’ playing jazz piano online’ lessons in conjunction with the 3 Learn Jazz Piano eBooks.

playing jazz piano online
My eBooks

Jazz piano lesson 16: Tritone Substitution

Jazz piano lesson 16: Tritone Substitution

Jazz piano lesson 16 now available: tritone substitution

Jazz piano lesson 16 of my online video course, Learn Jazz Piano, is all about tritone substitution.
I start by showing you how diminished scales weave through dominant 7th chords and how you can solo over 8 chords using just 1 diminished scale.This leads us to tritone substitution: replacing one 7th chord with another.
The tritone, also known as the devil’s interval, is the key to unlocking a new and more advanced way of soloing.
tritone substitution
Original chord & tritone

New 5-pack deal: jazz piano lessons 11-15

New 5-pack deal: jazz piano lessons 11-15

 Jazz piano lessons with Paul Abrahams

New 5-pack deal now available

Lessons 11-15 with over 10% discount

As I’ve now completed 15 jazz piano lessons, I’ve bundled these 5 lessons:
11: Autumn Leaves part 2
12: The Blues, part 1
13: The Blues, part 2
14: Bebop Blues
15: Rootless voicing

This pack contains over two and a half hours of video, 22 backing tracks + lots of 
downloadable sheet music.
Packs 1-5 and 6-10 are also still available here.
You can still purchase the lessons individually. The most recent, lesson 15
takes you through rootless voicing.

The video shows you how to voice rootless chords in your left hand. This is a more modern approach that Bill Evans used when playing in his trio. It not only leaves more room for the bass player; these voicings will also inspire your right hand to play far more interesting solos.

Here are some rootless voicings in a II-V-I sequence in Bb.

jazz piano lessons
Rootless voicings

Besides the 30 minute video, I provide you with 4 downloadable backing tracks, sheet music and a quiz. Here’s the link.

http://www.learnjazzpianoonline.com/buy-lesson-15.html


Lesson 15: chord voicing

Lesson 15: chord voicing

For a jazz pianist, chord voicing is an essential skill.

I’m now in the process of preparing lesson 15 of my video course Learn Jazz Piano Online. This 15th lesson of Learn Jazz Piano Online will be all about chord voicing, particularly how to voice left hand rootless chords. Playing these chords will achieve two things: the bass player will have more space and your own solos will sounds so much better.

Lesson 15

Here is a summary of all 14 learn jazz piano lessons online video lessons so far:

Lesson 1 – From scales to chords

  • Soloing over the Pentatonic scale
  • Mastering intervals
  • The V – I concept
  • One formula to construct all major scales
  • 7 chords, one family
learn jazz piano online
7 chords, 1 scale

Lesson 2 – Building a chord sequence

  • Chord sequences
  • The relative minor and its scales
  • The family row of minor triads
  • Soloing in a minor key

Lesson 3 –  Mastering every key

  • The circle of 5ths
  • How to play in any key
  • Preview of the II-V-I sequence
  • Introduction to the turnaround

Lesson 4 – Swing time

  • Learning to swing
  • The construction of 7th chords
  • How to interpret chord symbols
  • Shells – how not to upset the bass player

Lesson 5 – Walking 3s

  • Turnarounds part 2: I – VI – II -V
  • Walking 3s and 7s: the seeds of vertical improvisation.
  • How to use passing notes.
  • Voice leading

Lesson 6 – Extensions

  • Extensions: how to use 9ths, 11ths and 13th.
  • Know which extensions work with which chord.
  • Voicing a chord using extensions.
  • Introduction to Modes.

Lesson 7 – The II-V-I sequence

  • Master the II – V – I sequence in all keys
  • Seven soloing techniques over II – V – I
  • Alterations: know your sharp 11 from your flat 13
  •  Flat 9s and the diminished chord

Lesson 8 – How to comp

  • Comp like a pro
  • Find the best chord voicings
  • Use the right extensions
  • Build up to a five-note comp
  • Explore rhythmic variations

Lesson 9 – Modes

  • Know your Mixodydian from your Dorian
  • Grasp the connection between modes and chords
  • The art of modal soloing and comping
  • How to play ‘So What’

Lesson 10 – Autumn Leaves part 1

  • Playing your first standard
  • Learning the melody
  • The comp
  • The shells
  • The solo

Lesson 11 – Autumn Leaves part 2

  • Taking Autumn Leaves to the next level
  • How to fill out the melody
  • Comping with alterations
  • Soloing with vertical improvisation

Lesson 12 – The Blues part 1

Play with confidence over the blues.

  • How to solo creatively
  • The minor blues
  • Blues in 12/8
    Plus lots of tips, tricks and licks!

Lesson 13 – The Blues part 2

  • Taking the blues beyond the basics.
  • Chord changes that turn blues into jazz.
  • Lydian dominant & diminished scales.
  • Rootess left-hand voicings.

Lesson 14 – Bebop blues

  • Left hand 4-note rootless voicings
  • Constructing the Bebop sequence.
  • How to solo over a Bebop blues
  • Comping over a Bebop blues

Here’s lesson 14: Learn Bebop jazz

Here's lesson 14: Learn Bebop jazz

Lesson 14 helps you learn Bebop jazz and Blues.

We began, in lesson 12, with a basic 3-chord 12 bar, a sequence that will get you through just about any rock & roll tune and 1000’s of blues songs. Then, in lesson 13, we added a few chord changes to make for a more interesting solo.

Now, in lesson 14, I’m teaching you the changes that Bebop players like Charlie Parker and Bud Powell played in the 40’s. No longer can your rely on the blues scale, because this sequence is packed full of II-Vs that twist and turn through an array of key centres.

Learn bebop jazz
Bud Powell

If you can play a basic blues and up for the challenge to learn bebop jazz, the link below will take you to the ‘buy lessons’ page. From there, scroll down till you get to lesson 14.

http://www.learnjazzpianoonline.com/lessons.html

Best wishes from Paul at Learn Jazz Piano Online.

Lesson 11: playing jazz standards

Lesson 11: playing jazz standards

A guide to playing jazz standards, part 2.

I’ve just uploaded lesson 11 of Learn Jazz Piano Online. It’s called Autumn Leaves part 2 and picks up where lesson 10 left off. This lesson is divided up into three sections: head, comp and solo.

Head – this is just the jazz term for the tune or melody. Because we have been using shells in our left hand, this sometimes creates a rather bare sound when we play just the melody note in the right hand. Shells play 1 and 7 or 1 and 3 of the chord. Most chord voicings require the 1, 3 and 7 in order that the harmony makes sense. Once these three notes are present, we can then add ‘filler’ notes like 5, 9 etc.

In Autumn Leaves, the melody mostly hits the 3. If the shell is playing 1 + 7, then a good filler note might be 5. Remember that it’s the dominant seventh chord that provides all the potential tension. Therefore, our voicing can include altered notes (secondary extensions) to add some spice. These 4 notes are b9, #9, #11 and b13.

Comp –  we are at present using a 4-note comp. Once again, look out for the dominant seventh chords, for it’s here that we can include the altered notes. In Autumn Leaves we already have F7 and D7 but in this lesson we add G7. This is known as a secondary dominant.

Solo – In lesson 10 we used horizontal improvisation. This is when we can use one parent scale to play over a family of related chords. In lesson 10 we are starting to solo more vertically, and, once again, the dominant sevenths give us the opportunity to deviate from the parent scale. For example, the chord F7 allows us to play Gb, G# and Db, respectively b9, #9 and b13.

We also revisit ‘walking 3s’. We target the 3 of each chord and walk between these chords on their ‘parent’ track. Once we are walking 3s we are then able to use the diminished chords contained within the dominant seventh (3+5+7) and then play another minor 3rd interval above the 7. This results in the b9.

If you have any questions, please ask.

You can click here to find lesson 11.