This is the first in a bunch of tutorialsI’m making on jazz piano for beginners.
I’ve talked about jazz a little in the past, but I thought it would be good to make an easy series like this that you can use ifyou’re just starting out.
Every lesson is going to be based around ajazz piano improvisation that you can play, starting very easy and simple, and gettinga little more challenging with each tutorial.
To start with you only need the most basicbeginners’ knowledge of the piano.
If you know about chords that’s cool and it’llhelp, but for now all you need to know is the names of the notes on the piano keyboard- we’ll cover the jazz concepts and music theory you need as we go.
OK, let’s look at this first improvisation.
We’ve got four beats in a bar at a moderate speed – 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4.
Here’s middle C.
And first, we’re going to make the left a simple repeated pattern.
In this octavedown here I’m going to play A – F – G – A.
Let’s do that again against the beat A – F- G – A – A – F – G – A.
Each note has two beats, so the whole sequence is just two four-beatbars long – that’s two measures if you’re using the US terminology – 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4A – F – G – A.
The first thing I want you to do is practise that over and over untilyou don’t even have to think about it.
We want as much of your brain’s processingpower as possible working on the right hand.
OK so what notes can we use to improvise onin the right hand? The simple answer is, any of them.
This is a really, really importantconcept when you start piano improvisation.
There aren’t any wrong notes as such, it’sjust that some notes that will sound better, in some situations, than others.
Now, thatleft hand pattern, starting and finishing on A kind of suggests that we’re in thekey of A minor.
T he great thing about A minor is that its natural scale – which would beour kind of first port of call if we’re looking for notes to improvise on – is all the whitenotes.
The natural scale of A minor.
However, if I just said to you, hey, you know, go crazy, improvise on any of the white notes on the keyboard, that would be kind of a little bitmind-blowing if you were just starting out – far too much freedom if you like.
So what we’re going to do is restrict ourselvesand just start improvising on one note, yeah – this A below middle C.
Now this is a techniquethat I’ve covered before.
One note is all you need to improvise with.
So what we’regoing to do is just start by using this single note A, and improvise on it using some swingingjazz rhythms, against that original left hand.
OK and so on and so forth and get really kindof confident with that.
Now that raises the question, how do we createthose jazzy rhythms and get the kind of hand independence to use them? This was actuallysomething I was talking about a couple of weeks ago in the first tutorial in my TrainYour Piano Brain series, so do go and check that out afterwards if you haven’t seenit – I’ll include a link in the description below this tutorial.
When you’re starting to swing, an importantthing to understand is that jazz almost always stresses what we call the offbeat in a four-beatbar.
Now most four-beat music stresses the on-beat, which is beats 1 and 3 – 1 2 3 41 2 3 4.
But with jazz, as I say, it’s that offbeat, beats 2 and 4 – 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4.
So one good way to start creating those jazzy rhythms in your right is to tap the offbeatwith your left – maybe just on your leg or something – or at least kind of have thatstress pattern in your head as you play.
OK try that for a while, and see then if youcan drop in the left hand.
You might not find it easy at first – so if it’s tough going, slow it down.
When you’ve got that working, start to expandoutwards to using other notes.
Try using two notes – maybe A and C, and then three, maybeA, C and D, you know, and grow outwards and use more and more notes.
As you get confidentmaybe moving up and down the scale a little bit.
OK, if you’ve had piano lessons thisis where your scales are going to come in really handy.
Like I said, because we’re in A minor anyof those white notes are going to sound at least OK, OK, maybe with the odd exceptionin certain places but you will notice some work better than others.
So, for example, the notes A, C and E will be particularly strong, because they make up the basic chordof A minor, the tonic triad of the key of A minor as we call it.
So if you’re beginningto create little phrases, it’s a pretty safe bet to start and end on those notes.
As you move on keep exploring – figure outwhich notes and combinations of notes sound cool.
Spend time playing around, yeah? I liketo emphasize that word PLAY.
And play is what I want I kind of literally want you to do- as if you’re kicking a ball around or, you know, seeing what shots you can do ona pool table.
Don’t worry about wrong notes.
The importantthing is to try to get some sense of flow, yeah, however simple the improvisation you’replaying.
Try to get to a point where you’ve, you know you’ve got into the groove, whereyou can a little lost in it, where it becomes addictive.
You might notice that some notes don’t workas well as others in some combinations, yeah – so playing an F over the A kind of losesthe minor sound.
It can work as a passing note, OK, a note on the way to somewhere else, a chord note for example, but if you focus on it your brain starts to give it weightas a chord note, which implies the chord of F major.
That’s not a bad thing in itself, but it’s maybe not the direction we want to take this particular improvisation in.
You’ll might discover that the five notes that work best in an improvisation in theright hand are A C D E and G, and if you go no further than those, that’s fine.
Thosenotes work well because they form the A minor pentatonic scale, which we’ll come backto in the next tutorial in the series.
Just a couple of final things.
First, rememberthat when you’re playing the piano you’re supposed to be expressive and musical, yeah?Getting the expression right is as important, in fact more important, than just gettingthe bare notes right, yeah? So for example vary the louds and softs – the dynamics aswe call them – OK, try and create something that’s musically rich and satisfying.
OK, so there we go – I’ll pick up this threadand run with it in the next tutorial in the series.
In the meantime, practise practisepractise – above all, PLAY with this stuff.
That’s how you learn jazz piano as a beginner.
Finally, if you read music might like my book, How To Really Play The Piano, which explains a ton of stuff about music theory and jazzand blues and has loads of tips on getting started with this stuff.