Jazz Essentials

Welcome! and Thank You for registering with Jazz Essentials: Standards – The essential building blocks to playing jazz piano.

Jazz Essentials is my method for learning to improvise from the basement up! Just as when you build a house you begin with laying the foundations, so in my Jazz Essentials you learn the fundamental building blocks for playing jazz. This is part one in a series of three series within the Jazz Essentials theme. Please keep checking in to see what is new as we will be adding extra videos, hints and tips as you progress. Have fun!

I promise that if you follow these guidelines (and not missing anything out!) you will have at your disposal the tools of the improvisor and have the necessary knowledge to play a jazz solo. How well you do this depends on your own musicality and application, but it has been my experience as Musical Director of Fife Youth Jazz Orchestra for over 30 years and as a freelance educator at St Andrews University, the Wigmore Hall and Jazz Courses up and down the country that anyone, who takes the time to practise these exapmles, will be able to play jazz to some degree.

Each lesson builds on the lesson before and therefore your musical vocabulary will grow with the colours you acquire through understanding each concept before you move on to the next. Please, don’t be in a hurry – playing music is a lifetime’s work , and not something acquired without careful thought.

My mantra is “Mistakes are Cool”, and that to play music of any kind you must be prepared to make mistakes and enjoy them – that’s how we learn! (musicians who are surgeons are exempt).

Getting started – Scales of C, F and G Major and chord voicings for 2 5 1 in those keys.

In this first online jazz piano lesson you will learn how to play with a jazz feel using a simple scale, and then how to improvise over over 2 note chord voicings– it’s that easy. (But make sure you use the correct two notes, as gigs have been lost over such confusion!). Enjoy learning to play jazz piano.

Click Here to go to Lesson 1


Standards: Lesson 1

Getting started – Scales of C, F and G Major and chord voicings for 2 5 1 in those keys.

In this first online jazz piano lesson you will learn how to play with a jazz feel using a simple scale, and then how to improvise over over 2 note chord voicings– it’s that easy. (But make sure you use the correct two notes, as gigs have been lost over such confusion!). Enjoy learning to play jazz piano.

Click Here to go to Lesson 1

Standards: Lesson 2

Lesson 2 – Improvising in the keys of C, F and G major using scale tones.

Learning the technique of call and response, a different chord voicing for 2 5 1 and improvising using scale tones.

A jazz call and response known to musicians round the world is:

Call               –    Stop playing all that jazz rubbish

Response    –    Get *********!

Click Here to go to Lesson 2

Standards: Lesson 3

Lesson 3 – Improvising in the keys of A, D and E Minor using scale tones.

Learning the technique of inversion, Harmonic and Minor scales of A, D and E, chord voicings for 2 5 1 in the Minor key, and improvising using chord tones.

And inversion doesn’t mean playing on your head – it’s the notes which are turned upside down!

Click Here to go to Lesson 3

Standards: Lesson 4

Lesson 4 – Improvising in the keys of A, D and E Minor using chord tones.

Learning the technique of repetition and displacement, chord voicings in the Minor key and improvising using scale tones.

As I was saying, as I was saying, was I saying – get it?

Click Here to go to Lesson 4

Standards: Lesson 5

Lesson 5 – Improvising using the be-bop scale.

Learning the technique of sequence, combining 2 5 1 in the Major with 2 5 1 in the Minor, and improvising using both Major and Minor keys.

A sequence for a jazz musician is sleep/get up/practise, only at different times each day.

Click Here to go to Lesson 5

Standards: Lesson 6

Lesson 6 – Using the Altered Pentatonic Scale, augmentation and learning a Standard

The Altered Pentatonic should not be confused with the Gin and Tonic  Scale – a far more interesting and penetrating enquiry into the relationship between a drink and its chaser. In fact Thelonious Monk may have been inspired to compose his “Straight, No Chaser” after discovering this very scale. (Seriously, SNC does use the Altered Pentatonic and is a perfect example of displacement)

And augmentation doesn’t mean you fill up with pasta before playing!

Click Here to go to Lesson 6

Standards: Lesson 7

Lesson 7 – improvising using the Blues Scale, diminution and  “The Jazz Train”

The Blues Scale was the first lick I ever learned and was the cause of me getting fired from so many of my early gigs because I played it at every opportunity – in the key of C it fits under the fingers almost too easily. So use with caution!

And diminution does not mean you get smaller as you play a tune – you just shorten note values when you repeat a lick (Just thought I’d mention it)

Click Here to go to Lesson 7

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Standards: Lesson 8

Lesson 8 – the Dorian and Myxolydian modes, call and response and “Glenrothes”

Pythagoras (a hip cat from a previous generation) figured out these modes and the emotional effect the sequence of steps and half steps have on the ear. So although they are thought of as being “contemporary”, that isn’t the case. Miles used them to great effect when he changed the face of jazz with “Kind of Blue” in 1959, and now in 2010 you can get your fingers round them in this lesson (Although we can listen to Miles on CD, sadly ol’ Pythagoras failed to make it to the recording era by several millenia)

Click Here to go to Lesson 8

Standards: Lesson 9

Lesson 9 – arpeggios, walking bass and guide tones

This is where you see my “killer” exercise for memorising chord and scale tones. I achieved this in the 759th take and a lie down in a dark room!

Walking bass and guide tones are two of the most important tools in the jazz tool box and I can’t stress enough how they are important in underpinning a solo piano performance.

Click Here to go to Lesson 9