Traditional Piano Is Beneficial
Although it isn’t a strict requirement, learning traditional piano is beneficial for learning how to play jazz piano sheet music. This is largely due to the fact that jazz is “classical deviation.” The problem with learning jazz before learning traditional methods is that the beginner may learn to deviate, but might not appreciate what he or she is deviating from! We therefore recommend that you first learn how to play all the major scales on sheet music. Learning classical piano from sheet music will make jazz piano easier to play since the latter is a bit more advanced.
Once you’ve “mastered” the basic scales, you can learn how to move away from them in a way that makes musical sense. Musical deviation means playing a variation that differs from the standard or norm. It doesn’t mean going buck wild and randomly pounding piano keys!
Keys And Chords
Your next step is to investigate keys and chords — but not just any keys and chords. Remember that a chord is a group of keys played at one time and its key is the first note of a chord. To sound harmonious, these notes must correlate to one another in a pleasing way. The major 7th chords, minor 7th chords, dominant 7th chords, half-diminished chords, sixth chords, ninth chords and diminished chords are characteristic of jazz piano. You won’t find these babies in a beginner’s book for classical piano, but to play jazz, you’ll not only need to know these chords, you’ll need to know how to recognize them in sheet music. In a jazz piano book for example, you might see a song with the “Dbm7” symbol. That configuration indicates a D flat minor seventh chord.
Another tool that you’ll want to learn is the chord inversion. A chord inversion begins with its second, third, or fourth note, and continues on with its remaining notes (in order). Jazz sheet music may contain quite a few chord inversions in addition to pentatonic scales. The notes of pentatonic scales are often whole steps apart (or minor thirds apart).
Improvising A Little Flavor Into The Mix
Once you’ve become comfortable with these tactics, you can experiment like a true jazz pianist. You can confidently add a dominant 7th chords here or throw in a chord inversion there without sounding as if you’ve never sat down at a piano before. A little experimentation goes a long way in jazz, and the more you play around, the more capable you become of learning even more.
Just don’t stop learning at chords. Continue on to learn new harmonies, scales, rhythms, and melodies from your favorite jazz pianists and from jazz pianists you’ve never even heard of before. Each moment of exposure that you introduce into your lessons will give you the tools you need to improvise. Improv after all, is what gives jazz its unique flavor!