[2020 Guide] Learn To Play Jazz Piano in 9 Simple Steps

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There are many genres that you can play on the piano. Some of them are easier than others. Jazz tends to be on the harder side of the spectrum. And a lot of people ask the straightforward question: “How to play jazz piano?”

Alright, this is not the most effortless style to master. And most of the time some prior knowledge is required before starting to learn jazz. So should you give up right away to save yourself time and effort?

Is playing jazz piano worth it?

It’s not a simple journey, but the one where the destination is worth it. Have you ever heard Oscar Peterson play? The guy is a genius and incredibly talented. What you can’t see is the amount of work he had to put in and years of practice he’s been through to get where’s gotten in his professional jazz pianist career.

Is there an easy way to learn jazz piano?

Well, nothing worthy is ever easy. However, it’s good to see a more precise direction of where you are heading.

And the best way is to have a “directory” in your hand.

Well, here is a guide on how to play jazz piano you’ve been looking for. It may not be as comprehensive as a 200-page book about jazz piano, but concise and informative. Alright, let’s get to it already.

Jazz Piano Fundamentals

jazz piano fundamentals

When you build a house, you need a solid foundation. When learning a new language, you need a base set of words to ask for common things at the store or a direction. When learning how to drive, you need to know all the switches, gears, pedals, and a lot more.

Similar things apply to learning to play jazz piano. You can learn chords one by one, but until you can put them together in a progression with some melody on the top, you won’t get a song.

What’s the best way to start learning jazz piano?

The ultimate best way is trying to play some easy, famous jazz jams that you like. As stated earlier, you can’t start playing jazz piano if you’ve never learned how to play a simple song.

And maybe if you have enough dedication and passion, you’ll be able to. However, it’s generally accepted that learning the music theory and simple melodies and then moving to jazz piano is a better idea. Speaking of playing jazz, do you have a good piano to learn how to play the genre?

What jazz songs can I play?

People like different songs with different vibes, but here are a few of the easier jazz classics:

  • Someone to Watch Over Me
  • Misty
  • Fly Me to the Moon
  • Autumn Leaves
  • When the Saints Go Marching In
  • Satin Doll
  • Take the A Train
Are there any books to learn jazz piano?

Yeah, there lots of them. And a lot of them carry great value for cheap. One of the best books on jazz out there is Beginning Jazz Method. It’s been published for over two decades now but is still incredibly popular among pianists and tutors all over the world. Moreover, it’s been designed and put together for beginners especially.

It’s not complicated and pretty straightforward. At the same time, the author doesn’t waste your time by telling him about his life. It’s interesting and straight-to-the-point.

Are there any courses to learn jazz piano?

Like with books, there are many courses, which can be free, budget, or very expensive. It’s hard to find the best bang for the buck when you have tens of them to choose from. The worst thing is they all promise to make you a pro.

Your best bet is going with PianoForAll.


It’s not entirely jazz related, but a huge section of the course is narrowed down to jazz music fundamentals only. PianoForAll consists of nine ebooks and a couple of hundred videos. The best part is that you get to keep all the material with lifetime updates forever.

It’s worth every penny.

Get tired of jazz?

Switch to another one of the 9 ebooks which also guide you through the ballad, blues, classical, and other styles.

Listen And Learn Jazz Vocabulary

study and learn jazz vocabulary

If you don’t know yet, shifting from playing classics to jazz can sometimes be challenging. And there are reasons to that. One of the crucial differences is the style change. While with classical it’s all written down, when learning jazz piano you have to rely a lot more on your ears and listening skills.

What do I have to listen for in jazz music?

If only it were that simple. You have to listen for every single element of a melody. This includes rhythms, syncopation, different notes and scales, and a lot more.

It will be incredibly beneficial if you already know how to play the piano by ear. If you don’t, it’s not an issue. Jazz music has different accents and beat placements, so if you’ve never learned anything beforehand, it could even be easier for you.

What’s most important when playing jazz music?

Even though it may come off as cringy, you have to feel the music you’re playing. The bare minimum would be playing along with the actual record slowly first and at the exact speed later.

Jazz is different from classical music, and rhythms and articulation are more significant for the former genre. Notes are indeed crucial, but the way you play them is the essence of jazz music.

Jazz vocabulary sounds a lot like slang.

However, these are two different things. Jazz vocabulary is basically chord progressions that are called licks. An example of it would be II-V-I. This progression may seem confusing at first, but it’s one of the simplest in jazz music. And like every other genre, there are easy and hard ones.

How many licks do I need to know?

This is not the best attitude to have. There is no such thing as too many or too little. Jazz is a lot more than a set of rules. Some people don’t even look at transcription, and all they do is improvise and compose. A great example of that is Bill Evans.

The opposite of Bill would be someone like Oscar Peterson. The guy had a flawless technique and an astonishing vocabulary but didn’t improvise as much as a lot of his fans wanted him to.

It’s up to you.

Unlike classical music with a set of strict rules and a way of doing things, jazz is a lot about the environment, the personality of the pianist, mood of the song, etc. To put it simply, you can compare the two.

Learn Jazz Theory Basics

learn jazz theory basics

Jazz piano theory is somewhat similar to the basic music theory, with a few twists of its own. For example, chord progressions and melodies for jazz vary. Invest your time into learning chord voicing and jazz piano chords and chord progressions. Start by learning the solo chords, and then move on to progressions and various voicings.

Are jazz books really that bad?

Jazz is a lot about feeling the energy, emphasising when necessary, and so on. Therefore, a lot of people believe that you can’t learn jazz music from a book properly.

There are two sides to each story, and the best way would be to find out for yourself. If a book keeps you focused a lot better than maybe learning the fundamentals from a book will be beneficial as opposed to watching countless videos on YouTube while checking your phone.

Start Improvising

start improvising jazz piano

This is something that you can do once you feel more comfortable playing the already existing melodies flawlessly.

Before you start improvising, you have to answer a few questions:

  • Have you learned enough licks and chords?
  • Have you figured out how vocabulary works?
  • How are the pieces of vocabulary built?
  • What are the building elements?
  • What are the fundamental components?

And these are only a few questions that you have to ask yourself. If you understand mostly everything and have a solid fundamental knowledge of vocabulary, you can start working on your own licks.

In essence, your licks will eventually determine your style and who you are in jazz music. We all want to express ourselves, and playing jazz your way is an excellent opportunity to do so.

Invest Into a Songbook

invest in a songbook to learn jazz piano

Many songbooks have been written by pianists that have made it. Easier ones would be Gershwin and Cole Porter. And don’t buy it to leave it in on your shelf to remember one day.

Start using it. Learn the primary chords of every key. These chords are major, minor, and dominant 7th, and diminished and half diminished chords. And don’t think that having an idea where they are is good enough.

If only it were that simple.

When you see a specific chord symbol in the songbook, you have to play it instantly without giving it another thought. Forget counting the keys or going by the black key on the left or the right.

You have to practice until this becomes your second nature. Until then, there is no point in going to harder pieces or professional improvising. If you are familiar with major scales, this step will take no longer than a week.

Play The Popular Songs From The Songbook

play popular songs from the songbook to improve your jazz piano playing skills

If you’ve managed to master playing the popular chords off the top of your head already, you are ready. Pull out the songbook and stretch your fingers. Find a song to play chords and melody, with your left and right hands respectively.

You may sound horrible, but you are already playing a favourite song without reading music, going plainly by the songbook chord symbols.

More practice and you are a pro!

Well, not really. However, most piano beginners quit before getting to this step. So feel proud. You can even brag to your friends and family members.

Don’t forget that there is still tons to learn before you can play piano.

Don’t Overlook Chord Inversions

don't overlook the chord inversion

The proper way to continue your journey would be to start looking into playing chord inversions. That indeed may sound a little complicated. And it is a hard technique to master, but a worthy one. Don’t get scared too fast.

Let me explain. If the chord is made of four notes, you will have to learn four positions. And you repeat the same thing for every single chord. Once you know the root position like your five fingers, it’s okay to move to this step.

Otherwise, you’ll scramble your brain.

Let’s look at C (C major chord). It’s made out of three notes which are C, E, G. This will be the root position. Then you move your finger to the next C to the right, and it turns into E, G, and C. That’s the first root inversion.

Now you move the E to the next E on the right and get G, C, and E. That’s the second root inversion. After you repeat the same thing, you get back to the root form C, E, and G. The only difference is that now it’s an octave higher.

Start Learning Scales

start learning piano scales

The best starting point is the pentatonic scale. And start from a key of your choice. Then don’t afraid to add a few notes from it to a song you like. As you keep progressing, you may start taking out some of the original notes and replacing them with notes of your choice.

The start looking into the blues scale of the key you’ve chosen previously. And don’t forget to mix the two. It’s encouraged.

Look at you improvising!

Yes, you are improvising already. Maybe half-improvising, but that’s a big step. Now the hard part is to learn the pentatonic and blues scale for each key. Of course, by now you’ll be a lot more comfortable than in the very beginning.

Once this is done, try mashing up chord sequences in a song you are playing. Start slow and with a minor change, and keep improvising. You are an artist already!

Is there more to learn about jazz piano?

If you’ve completed all the steps above, you are better and more dedicated than most jazz piano players out there. What’s next? Well, take a look at tritone substitutions. The technique should make a lot of sense by now.

Then learn the 3, 6, 2, 5, and 1 progression and the circle of fifth. This will expand your mastery even more. To memorize everything better, start playing the same song in various keys.

Learn Harmonies

start learning harmonies

If you haven’t done that yet, study the diatonic and chromatic harmonies. By listening to all sorts of music from different times and all over the world, you’ll get as many harmonic ideas as you want.

Once you’ve gotten so far, get out there. Take as many chances and opportunities as you can. The next thing you know, you’ll be performing at a big event! Don’t ever stop learning.


Hopefully, this tutorial has moved you closer to your goal of achieving your dream of becoming a great jazz piano player, and someone beginners will look up to.

It’s not an easy journey, but the destination is worth it. And don’t forget to have fun in the meanwhile. Having a clear goal in mind is essential but doing something you don’t like won’t get you far.

Do you like playing jazz piano?

Do you like the way famous jazz pianists sound? Then get to work already! Practice makes perfect, and a little guidance hasn’t hurt anyone yet either.

Happy jazz piano playing and thank you for stopping by.

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