Are you fascinated by jazz piano? Have you always wanted to learn how to improvise like a virtuoso?

Whether you’re serious about learning how to play jazz piano or you simply want to experience the benefits of a creative hobby, it’s never too late to learn something new.

Read on to find out what learning jazz piano involves and when you’re ready to dive into your first lesson, be sure to check out Arthur Bird’s Ultimate Beginners Course, where he’ll guide you through everything you need to know to start playing. 

The History of Jazz Piano

The start of jazz dates back to the late nineteenth century, when African American musicians of New Orleans, Louisiana improvised over styles like blues and ragtime to create their own genre of music. 

As jazz quickly spread across the United States, each musician drew from their own influences, developing dozens of unique subgenres.

Because of its ability to produce both single notes and jazz chords, piano has been a leading instrument in the development of jazz. Anyone learning jazz, regardless of what instrument they play, must have a deep understanding of jazz theory, which is taught primarily through piano. 

3 Famous Jazz Pianists

Though there are countless incredibly talented jazz pianists, here are just a few of the ones that revolutionized the genre and shaped jazz into what we know and love today. 

1. Art Tatum (1909-1956)

Tatum is widely regarded as one of the best jazz pianists of all time. He played with unbelievable speed and precision, all while being legally blind and entirely self taught by ear.  

Portrait of Art Tatum
Source: Wikipedia
Portrait of Art Tatum, Vogue Room, New York, N.Y., between 1946 and 1948. Photography by William P. Gottlieb

2. Thelonious Monk (1917-1982)

Monk is known for his eccentric style, full of melodies with large intervals, dissonant chords, and seemingly messy playing, though it is said that he never hit any notes without intention. 

Thelonious Monk
Source: Wikipedia
Thelonious Monk, Minton’s Playhouse, New York, ca. September 1947. Photograph by William P. Gottlieb

3. Bill Evans (1929-1980)

Evans was a classically trained pianist and brought a unique sound to jazz, influenced by classical composers like Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel. 

Source: Wikipedia
Publicity photo of American jazz pianist Bill Evans in 1961. Photographed by Steve Schapiro for Riverside Records.

How to Start Playing Jazz Piano

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Jazz Piano Hard to Learn?

If you already play piano, jazz will come much easier, since you already know the basics. If not, it will take time to learn the fundamentals of piano, jazz chord progressions, piano scales and modes, chord voicings, and rhythms. Learning jazz piano involves a lot of memorization and consistent practice.  

Is Jazz or Classical Piano Harder?

It’s difficult to compare the two, since they’re equally challenging, but in their own unique ways. Classical musicians spend a lot of time learning how to read sheet music so they can play any piece handed to them on a sheet of paper. Jazz musicians, on the other hand, almost never use sheet music and rely instead on learning by ear or improvising, both of which require a deep understanding of jazz theory. 

What Should I Practice Jazz Piano With?

If you can, it’s definitely a good idea to take jazz piano lessons. Video courses will be more helpful than books because you’ll be able to hear what is being taught, pause the video, and try it out for yourself right away. You’ll also be able to come back to the videos over and over as you practice.

Looking For a Video Guide to Jazz Piano? 

Jazz Piano – The Ultimate Beginners Course

Step 1: Learn Theory

Jazz is very theory driven, so knowing how to play jazz piano chords, voicings, chord progressions, and scales is absolutely essential. 

Arthur Bird’s class provides an in-depth but easy-to-follow introduction to theory and will teach you the building blocks of jazz piano. Follow along with this class or other lessons on how to play jazz piano for beginners until you have memorized these building blocks and understand how they work together. 

Learning jazz piano won’t be easy—you’ll need to develop a habit of practicing every day—but if you stick with it, you’ll soon be able to not only play well known jazz piano songs, but also improvise on your own.

Step 2: Listen to Jazz

You can’t learn how to play jazz piano without listening to jazz music. 

Try to listen to jazz of all eras and subgenres. Be sure to listen actively—listen for the building blocks you learned in the previous step and try to understand what chords, scales, rhythms, and techniques the musicians are using.

Step 3: Learn to Play the Standards

The best way to learn anything is to imitate those who have already mastered the craft. Learning jazz standards—widely known and performed songs—will help you refine your technique and identify patterns you can use later when you’re learning to improvise. 

Try learning songs like “Autumn Leaves,” “Fly Me to the Moon,” or “So What.” Bird’s jazz piano for beginners class has lessons on each of these classics, breaking them down into beginner-friendly parts. 

Arthur Bird teaches how to play “So What” by Miles Davis. 

Step 4: Improvise

Improvisation is a distinguishing characteristic of jazz music. Jazz musicians are able to improvise because they are intimately familiar with jazz theory, have memorized go-to patterns, and understand the structure of a jazz song. 

Learning how to improvise jazz piano can be challenging at first, but it’s extremely rewarding to be able to apply your knowledge and come up with great-sounding music on the spot. As you learn something new in jazz theory, try to put your own twist on it or combine it with another pattern you learned earlier. With consistent practice, you’ll be able to improvise like a true jazz musician. 

Ready to Learn Jazz Piano? 

Jazz Piano – The Ultimate Beginners Course