Advice for the Aspiring Jazz Musician

Posted by Peter Morelli, piano faculty member

"How to make playing jazz & other improvised music look easy...and how things harder-than-they-look can be fun."

Bill Evans, the late, great jazz pianist, noted that "jazz is a feeling." What helps musicians to get there is:

  • having good melodic and harmonic chops
  • knowing songs inside and out
  • being really into the music

The key elements of jazz study are:

  • Studying both contemporary and classical repertoire for your instrument. It's invaluable for growth as a musician and excellence in playing your instrument. It's also good to play your instrument a lot—practice will help you play better, improve faster, and your time at the instrument will become more fulfilling.
  • Playing jazz with other musicians and listening to live jazz performances and jazz recordings—absorbing the energy and ideas. You can also practice transcribing ideas from solos you hear in recordings or when playing with others.
  • Improvising on a 12-bar blues or on Rhythm Changes. The late, great jazz pianist and teacher, Charlie Banacos, said "you should be able to play a blues or Rhythm Changes in all keys."
  • Understanding jazz harmony: the theory and practice of how chords are used in jazz.
  • For chordal instruments such as piano and guitar, studying chordal voicings—this will help you understand how jazz musicians choose and organize the notes they play.
  • Genre-specific ear training: recognizing intervals, chords, and scales, and relating the notes you hear to the key center.
  • Learning jazz standards—the melodies, chord changes, and song forms--and improvising through the songs.
  • Studying chord scales—the scales used with the chords of the songs.
  • Solo work: scale and arpeggio practice, swing, ideas for improvising, and melodic exercises to broaden one's palette when improvising.

If you're into playing an instrument, and inspired by jazz or other improvisational genres, then jazz lessons might be a great idea. Having a good teacher can streamline the learning process. A skilled teacher will not only present a wealth of experience and know-how, but can also devise a path of study that will help guide the student to success.

The study of an instrument can be a fulfilling journey, bringing dedication and discipline to one's inspiration. Music fuels my inspiration, and I hope it will do the same for you!

Peter Morelli
Piano Teacher, WCMS