There are many different ways to play jazz piano, according to superfans like Kavan Choksi Japan. This article will outline some of the most common techniques and styles used by jazz pianists. We want to encourage you to try all the different techniques and select those that suit your playing style.
We will not go into specific songs in this article, but we’ll mention several well-known jazz standards as examples throughout the text. This essay is intended for beginner/intermediate-level players. You should know at least ten jazz standards before going through this lesson.
To get the most out of this article, you should have a basic understanding of chord construction and scales on the piano. If you don’t yet know these concepts, please read my free jazz piano basics series first:
In the blues style, you will play many chords in a minor key. You will also use a lot of blue notes, which are slightly lower than the notes in the scale. For example, in the key of C major, you would use blue notes on E and B. The blues scale is another common sound in this style.
The blues chords are 3-note variations of minor 7th chords. You can use them to play complete or incomplete versions of any minor 7th chord. For example, you could play an Am7(b5) chord by playing A-C-E, a complete version of the chord. Or you could play an Am7 chord by playing A-C and E, which is an incomplete version of that chord.
In this style, soloing with broken chords on mostly two beats per bar is very common. You would play four beats per bar in blues songs. I have prepared two examples of this style for you to play along with:
In bebop, you will play many fast chords and harmonic progressions. The goal is to create a sense of tension and release. You will also use a lot of syncopated rhythms. These are rhythms where the notes are not evenly spaced.
To create tension in bebop playing, you will often play fast trills and repeated notes, as well as the minor second interval, which is a dissonant interval.
For example, you could play F-F#-G, C-C sharp-D – D#, and G# to create tension in these chords. These are just ideas of how you can create tension in your bebop playing. You do not have to use these ideas in your playing by any means.
You will add more space between the notes and play longer held-out notes to create a release. This creates the feeling of resolution when played over a chord resolving to another chord. For example, you could use this technique when going from F7 to Bbmaj7:
In swing, you will play a lot of big, bouncy chords. The goal is to create a sense of groove and rhythm. You will also use a lot of chord voicings that move in 4ths. These are like drop three chords, except you start on the 5th note of the scale instead of the 6th note.
For example, you would use F7-Cmaj7-F7-Bbmaj7 – G7 to create a huge groove with these chords:
To play in the swing style, you would use a dotted quarter note rhythm when improvising over most songs. For example, when playing F7-Cmaj7-F7-Bbmaj7 – G7, you would play something like this: