Overview (Jazz)

Jazz Piano Overview

We’re going to learn to play jazz songs on piano by understanding and interpreting them in a “modular” way (in terms of their component parts).

Jazz is an inherently “rule-breaking” art form, so practically anything I say can (and will be) met with hundreds of examples where it’s not the case. However, if I keep saying “in many cases” or “most of the time”, it’ll be a pain for me to write and you to read, so please just try to remember that the whole game of learning jazz is subjective and full of options.

The “Standard”, The “Form”, The “Head” and The “Solo”.

A piece of jazz music is usually made of a short “song” which is repeated many times with variation each time.

This will often be a “Standard”… an old song that everyone knows.

When the song is repeated, sometimes the melody is clear and familiar, or even sung with the correct lyrics by a singer. When that happens, we call it “The Head”.

When that’s not happening, there’s usually someone playing some improvised notes that catch your attention. This is called a “Solo”.

No matter what is going on, the band is operating using a pre-defined structure. This is called the “Form”.

All this stuff is vital… if it’s not crystal clear, go and listen to some jazz right now and try to identify the Standard, the Form, the Head and the Solo.

Chord Progressions

“The Form” is a long “chord progression”, usually made of 2 or 3 shorter “chord progressions”. We’ll learn more about chords later, so don’t worry.

Beats and Bars

Try this… count “1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4″ over and over, out loud whilst tapping the table.

What you’re doing is creating “bars” of four “beats”.

Every four “beats” (1, 2, 3, 4) makes a “bar”.

Beats and bars are the unit of measurement we use to describe time passing in a song.

Most importantly, it is how we establish how long each chord lasts in a chord progression.

What’s the point of all this?

If you’re going to learn jazz in a relaxed, easy way… we just need to be breaking it into bite-sized chunks that are easy to handle, and this is the terminology we will be using.

The next lesson contains a more detailed look at some of these terms, then we’ll be getting stuck into some playing!

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