Jazz chord instruction
December 19, 2010 8:45 PM   Subscribe

I took lessons for like 10 years but mainly I'm still a hack piano player. Anyone know a good book or website for learning basic Jazz chord progressions and how to play and improvise? I find most piano instruction books boring and hard to follow. Just showing me the chords is easiest.
posted by pallen123 to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (6 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
I like this book by John Mehegan. I warn you, though, it pretty much starts out by saying this is a scale. Do not go on until you can play it in all twelve keys, two octaves, both hands, without hesitation. Next, this is the sixty chord system: each chord has a M7, dom7, m7, half-dim7, and dim7. Do not go on until you can play in each key, the appropriate 7th chord for each scale degree, without hesitation. (C major, vi minor 7! now!) Now inversions.

The example songs quickly ramp up, too, so you can't cheat and go ahead. It'll go ahead and throw in some higher-order mods, like a III major 7, even though you just learned that iii is "supposed" to be a minor 7. This is not the book to pick and choose from for fun. It does not spend a lot of time on any one thing. It does work, though, where "work" = "makes you learn it"

YMMV. "hard to follow" might describe it as well, depending on your own learning style. 10 years of piano, you shouldn't have any trouble understanding the words on the page, but different people need different levels of explanation of new stuff. This one's kind of terse.

I never waded through the whole thing, but now I can blunder through a "fake book"-style lead sheet ok enough.
posted by ctmf at 9:29 PM on December 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

If your theory is sound then you don't need to have a chord shown to you because you can construct whatever you want to hear.
Theory can be a lot of work but it's worth getting down instead of trying to tiptoe around it for years by memorizing things associated with it.

I'm a bass player but have gone through this jazz book and it's very informative. This book is pretty highly recommended.

When I was teaching myself keyboard I used the piano play it site a lot. They have a nice virtual keyboard with chord selector.
posted by zephyr_words at 10:53 PM on December 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Books alone are never going to do it. Find someone else to play with, it is the best (and only?) way to truly learn to play and improvise. Like zephyr said: If your theory is sound then you don't need to have a chord shown to you because you can construct whatever you want to hear. Grab a real book and a friend (preferably someone just a little better than you) and have fun.
posted by palacewalls at 11:11 PM on December 19, 2010

posted by Rubbstone at 7:11 AM on December 20, 2010

The Jazz Musician's Guide to Creative Practicing starts with a terrific 14-page summary of music theory, followed by 4 pages of "Problems in Jazz Practice." It then delves into detail, often using specific songs, including "Body and Soul" and "Giant Steps."

Metaphors for the Musician (there are a few sample PDFs at that link), on the other hand, has some really good mindset guidance early on (Part III, Painless Piano), followed by:

Part IV: Ways to Develop Your Improvising
Part V: Theory Demystified
Part VI: Incomparable Comping

(and more - those just seemed most relevant to your question).

I would recommend using one or both of these in conjunction with a fake book or standards sheet music (your library probably has lots). Pick a song or two you want to work on, and use one or both of these to work on that song. When you're ready, move on to another song.
posted by kristi at 10:48 PM on December 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you're still checking this thread, this is pretty aimed exactly at folks like you:


I didn't have the years of lessons, but I did find it really helpful in teaching myself to play from fakebooks. I'm not good enough for any venue outside my living room, but my wife (who did have years of lessons) does say she wishes she could just sit down and play like I do instead of being totally dependent on sheet music. The Mark Levine book is also really good although it helps to know a fair amount of jazz theory going in.

Also, and you might check out the Jamey Aebersold summer workshops: http://www.summerjazzworkshops.com. I live close by so I've gone to the summer workshops a number of times, and there are always a number of classically trained musicians, especially pianists, who've achieved a high level of proficiency but never learned to improvise. I've even been in master classes there with music professors who are beginners at improvisation. Mark Levine sometimes teaches at the summer workshops, and some pretty outstanding pianists (Andy Levine, David Hazeltine) are there every year.

It just amazes me that standard piano instruction apparently gives no attention at all to just being able to sit down and play what you hear in your head, as opposed to what's written in front of you.
posted by wps98 at 6:40 PM on December 25, 2010

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