Tag Archives: jazz

The word jazz covers many styles of music.

The 2nd golden rule: learning to play jazz piano.

The 2nd golden rule: learning to play jazz piano.

learning to play Jazz Piano with Paul Abrahams

Golden rule number 2 when learning to play jazz piano:

Know all your 7th chords.

When studying jazz piano you must ensure that all 7th chords are under your fingers.

These are 4-note chords that have intervals of either a minor 3rd or a major 3rd.

A minor 3rd has a gap of 3 half steps (semitones).

A major 3rd had a gap of 4 half steps (tones).

There are four types of 7th chords:

  1. Major 7
  2. Dominant 7
  3. Minor 7
  4. Minor 7, flat 5, also known as half diminished.
  5. Diminished.


Major 7

  • Notes 1 – 3: interval = major 3rd
  • Notes 3 – 5: interval = minor 3rd
  • Notes 5 – 7: interval = major 3rd

Example: F major 7 = F + A + C + E

Dominant 7

  • Notes 1 – 3: interval = major 3rd
  • Notes 3 – 5: interval = minor 3rd
  • Notes 5 – 7: interval = minor 3rd

Example: F7 = F + A + C + Eb

Minor 7

  • Notes 1 – 3: interval = minor 3rd
  • Notes 3 – 5: interval = major 3rd
  • Notes 5 – 7: interval = minor 3rd

Example: F min7 = F + Ab + C + Eb

Minor 7, b5

  • Notes 1 – 3: interval = minor 3rd
  • Notes 3 – 5: interval = minor 3rd
  • Notes 5 – 7: interval = major 3rd

Example: Fmin7b5 = F + Ab + B + Eb


  • Notes 1 – 3: interval = minor 3rd
  • Notes 3 – 5: interval = minor 3rd
  • Notes 5 – 7: interval = minor 3rd

Example: Fdim7 = F + Ab + B + D

Apart from the diminished, all these chords are contained within a major scale and can be constructed over each note of the scale. I call this ‘the family row.’

Here are these chords over the scale of F major.

learning to play jazz piano
7 chords, 1 scale


  • There are two major 7 chords. They occur over notes I and IV.
  • There are three minor 7 chords. They occur over notes II, III and VI.
  • There is one minor 7, b5 chord (half diminished). It occurs over note VII.

Learn and recognise these chords in all keys!

Now see what happens when we construct 7th chords over a harmonic minor scale. More complex chords come into being.

Here are these chords over each step of the scale of D harmonic minor.

 learning to play jazz piano

Compare the major and minor family rows and notice the following:

  1.  In both the major and minor rows, V is a dominant 7 chord.
  2.  In both the major and minor rows, II is a minor 7, but contains b5 in the minor row.

These points will become increasingly important when we examine chord structures.

To learn more about converting major scales into chords watch video lesson 1.

To learn more about minor scales and chords watch video lesson 2.

To learn more about the construction of 7th chords watch video lesson 4.

All these topics are covered in eBook 1 of Learn Jazz Piano.


Introduction to Learn Jazz Piano eBook 4

Introduction to Learn Jazz Piano eBook 4

The best way to use this book is in conjunction with my learn jazz piano video course.


Over the years, many accomplished classical pianists have asked me to teach them jazz improvisation. It has never ceased to amaze me that they can sight read a Mozart Sonata, yet are usually totally unable to improvise. They are equally amazed that ‘we’ can just sit at the piano and make up stuff. Apparently, for a number of these talented classical musicians, the subject of improvisation was virtually ignored in a three-year music degree course, even though great composers such as J. S. Bach were famed for their improvisatory skills.

These gifted classical pianists yearn to improvise, but often become fearful at the prospect of no longer reading the notes in front of them. They marvel at the way we seem to be conjuring flurries of notes out of nowhere, as though we’re performing magic. And in a way, we are, although a lot of work has been put in before the magic can be created.

It could be said that improvisation is the highest form of music. We seem to be creating new and spontaneous compositions, but the truth is that our improvisations have both structure and logic. There are certain rules that we are following (or breaking). Moreover, our seeming spontaneity is  both consciously and subconsciously influenced by the generations of master jazz musicians that have gone before us.

Much has been written about the harmonic language of Bill Evans, and indeed, behind the sheer beauty of his playing, there lies a logical structure. But a more interesting case is Thelonious Monk, with his alleged eccentric approach and wrong-sounding notes. Yet, when analyzed, everything Monk plays has logic and structure.

In order to create a meaningful solo, two seemingly contradictory skills need to be in place: harmonic and rhythmic understanding, alongside an empty mind. Once the understanding is in place, this empty mind takes over and is totally alert, like an antenna. Once you have put in the preparation and are fully awake, you are ready for anything.

For eBooks 1, 2 and 3 follow this link.

learn jazz piano
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

My article on WikiHow: ways to study jazz piano

My article on WikiHow: ways to study jazz piano

The way to study jazz piano: theory or instinct?

The following article was first published on WikiHow. 

Study jazz piano: How to Play a jazz piano solo

Is there just too much theory when you study jazz piano? Can you play a great jazz piano solo just by instinct? The story goes that Errol Garner   couldn’t read music, but unless you’re  a genius, you need more than just good instinct when learning jazz piano.

study jazz piano
Erroll Garner


  1. Gain a sound knowledge of each chord and its extensions. A good deal of the excitement of jazz comes from the concept of tension to release. This is created by the dominant seventh chord moving to its tonic: V – I: known as ‘The Perfect Cadence.’ Let’s take G7 moving to Cmaj7. All the tension is contained within the G7, and we first create this tension with notes known as extensions. These are notes not within the chord but within the scale. So we have 9, 11 and 13. The remaining notes: b9, #9, #11 and b13 are known as alterations. In the case of G7, the three  extensions are A, C and E. The four alterations for G7 are Ab, A#, C# and Eb. By combining these extensions and alterations with the basic notes of G7 (G, B, D and F) you create the tension that will release into the tonic chord of Cmaj7.
  2. Get to know your way round the scale or mode of each chord. Again, taking G7, the basic mode that fits any dominant seventh chord is the the Mixolydian mode – just play the major scale but flatten the seventh note. So the Mixolydian mode of G7 is G, A, B, C, D, E, F, G – all the white notes. But to create more tension, and bring in some extensions you could try some other scales. The diminished scale ( just play alternative half step/whole step from the root of any dominant seventh) works really well, as it creates a b9, #9 and #11. The notes for G7 would be G, Ab, A#, B, C#, D, E, F, G. Other possibilities are the whole tone scale (whole steps) which gives you the #11 and b13 and the Lydian Dominant (same as Mixolydian but with a raised 4th) which gives you just the #11.
  3. Combine a knowledge of the chord’s 3 extensions and 4 alterations with scales and modes that fit the chord. Yes, this involves a lot of work that needs to become second nature before ‘instinct’ kicks in.


Well, that’s what I wrote. When I posted my article on the Linkedin forum ‘Jazz Piano’ it created quite a fuss., with the usual extremes from “let’s have more theory” to “who needs theory?” I feel pretty much the same as I did when I wrote it. For most of us, the work and preparation has to be put in before we can push it back into our subconscious for a performance. When you study jazz piano there has to be a balance between theory and using your creativity and instinct.