How To Learn Jazz: A Beginners Guide

jazz piano lessonsSince I started this site I’ve received numerous emails from readers asking me the best way to get started learning jazz as a beginner.

For jazz beginners this beautiful style of music can seem intimidating and hard to tackle.

Don’t worry though. You’re not alone! I remember feeling the same way myself as a young musician while listening to great jazz musicians. I would sit in my basement and just listen over and over again to people like Charlie Parker, Herbie Hancock, Wes Montgomery, and others. How were they playing like that??

I was so amazed by how they sounded but I had no idea what they were doing to get that magnificent sound. I constantly wondered where I could I even begin to sound like these guys?

how to learn jazzNow, many years later as a pro musician I look back on those uncertain times and wish I had discovered a clearer direction when I started.

So, in order to help the beginners out on their own path to growth, I’d like to discuss some core components of what you need to begin to play this wonderful style of music.

Hopefully this will give you guys a more focused start on your journey of learning how to play jazz piano. This is the starter guide/advice I wish I would have had as a newbie. Let’s get to learning!

1. Start With Learning Some Jazz standards 

Learning jazz is truly like learning any new language.  Every time you learn a new “word”, or in our case a new chord, lick, or a new scale,  it becomes a piece of vocabulary you can then use in a sentence.

Now, of course learning new “words” is important to any language but if you don’t know how to construct and speak a full sentence it will always be hard to communicate.

To continue with our metaphor, learning jazz tunes is the equivalent of us truly being able to speaking in sentences. Once you know tunes then you can apply any new musical idea you learn to jazz songs.

So, the first step should be to spend some time actually learn some jazz tunes. A good starter point for any new tune is to just start by learning the melody and the chord changes.

Jazz Tune Suggestions To Start With

You can start with tunes like Satin Doll, Blue Bossa, Misty, Autumn Leaves, All The Things You Are, or Fly Me To The Moon, etc.  If you need more ideas of beginning jazz tunes I would recommend you read this beginning jazz standards to learn article.

You should also check out this discussion of jazz fake books where we discuss some of the best fake books to learn from.

jazz-piano-lessons-onlineWe’ve also created an exciting course that teaches you how to play pro level jazz piano no matter what level you play at.

You can explore that course right here.

2. Aural Tradition and How To Learn The Jazz Language

We’ve discussed this before in our switching to jazz from classical article. The fundamental approaches to learning jazz are different than classical. All the notes are written out in classical music. In jazz some of the notes are written out but alot of the style of jazz music needs to be learned by ear and listening.

The true essence of playing jazz piano is transferred by listening. It’s very important that you invest your time into figuring out what you’re hearing.

How To Figure Out What You Hear

Spend time figuring out the things you love on your favorite recordings.

You don’t have to figure out a whole album of material you like.  You can start very simple. Just figure out 2-4 bars of something you really enjoy. In a perfect world this would be on a song or chord progression you are already are familiar with.

To help me study things more closely I like to use a music loop and slow down program called Transcribe. I use it on a daily basis and I find it very helpful to study faster or more detailed music at a slower and more manageable tempo.

Listen closely for things like note choices, articulation placement of rhythms, etc. This kind of stuff can be very different than classical. Especially when it comes to beat placement and where accents are played.

It’s not required that you notate everything you hear but it’s important that you can at minimum play along with the recording in time. If it’s too fast for you to play along with at full speed use Transcribe to slow the recording down for you.

On a final note, please keep in mind that when you play jazz, rhythm and articulation take on a much greater significance Never forget that. It’s not just the notes it’s how you rhythmically play them. As Duke Ellington said, “It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t go that swing!”

3. Jazz Piano Theory Concepts 

It is also very useful to spend time learning more about jazz theory. Learn some common chord progressions. Even if you’re not a piano player knowledge of chords will be very helpful. This is definitely part of core jazz piano basics.

Learn some fundamental jazz chords and some chord voicings. A good place to start would be these chord lessons on shell voicings, rootless minor voicings, rootless dominant voicings, or even a I-VI-II-V-I chord progression. You can even start by learning some solo piano chords.

4. Start to acquire some jazz vocabulary. 

One of the best ways to really learn the essence of this style of music is to study the licks of master jazz musicians. A good place to start is to learn a few II-V-I (2-5-1) licks. It’s the most common chord progression in jazz.

There are tons of licks from the jazz masters to learn as well. You could start with this Barry Harris lick, or this Bud Powell Lick, a Charlie Parker lick, a Red Garland lick, or even a Bill Evans lick.

Or maybe you want someone to show you step by step how to become a better jazz improviser?

We have a course that shows you lots of jazz improv techniques from great artists like Ray Charles, Bill Evans, Oscar Peterson, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Diana Krall and more. You can check out the jazz improvisation course here.

5. Building Your Own Jazz Vocabulary

Once you learn your licks and/or your chords make sure you spend time figuring out what makes each piece of vocabulary work. How are they built? What are the building blocks? What are the core components?

By getting to the essence of each piece of vocabulary can use them as a springboard for coming up with your own licks.

By coming up with your own vocabulary you’re essentially finding your own voice within the jazz tradition.

At it’s highest level jazz really is about personal expression.  So, analyze, understand, imitate, and then reinvent. Welcome to playing jazz and enjoy the ride!


What will you start to learn first? If you’re already have some experience what will you learn next? Please leave a comment below and let us know!

If you are new here please remember to subscribe to the free jazz lessons email list right below this article.  You’ll be receive all the latest and greatest lessons right in your inbox.

  • antonio augusto orselli

    Good advice, Steve. Sometimes it is hard to sort out so much information that I think it is too much to learn and then goes away the stimulus.  But I will try this guide. Thanks.

  • Rico

    I started out with a simple book-Play piano in a flash- and as you said you learn the melody to a favorite song and then the chord changes, put them together and suddenly you are playing the piano !  After that it is up to you how far you want to go. You will need to learn the scales and how to play in all 12 keys. You need to know the ii-V-1 progressions. Take one song and learn to play it well; then, go from there.

  • Luke Leone

    Thanks steve

  • Xavier

    Thank you for your advice. I’m taking this post as a starting point to begin working out jazz piano.

  • frank

    I have always wanted to learn jazz.. I feel overwhelmed I just need some guidance to get started.. I am 37 felt it was late but no its not.

  • Bert

    Hello Steve

    just joined your lessons and I’am fascinated

    I started playing piano from scratch 4 years ago (at my 65 th year) and followed classical tutoring, yet being an jazz addap,t I started download score sheets with just the chords plus text and the melody line, of many classical songs and ballads out of mainly the 50thies
    So I do know a lot of chords by now, but did not see always the connection and or the width of a chords range. I do write out the complete left hand and try to place and break the chords into a nice rithem, I find that sometimes hard .  I play by now songs like: misty , nobody knows you when your down and out , Into each life some rain must fall and so on. I hope to learn a lot from you and look forward in receiving some advice

    kind regards


  • Sandesh

    Hello Steve
    am sandesh from Nepal. Could you please tell me more more chord progression other than II V I, and can i used same scale for the whole progression,Right now am using G major Scale (Am7-D7-Gmaj7) and i replace D7 with Ab7 which is tritone is that right?

  • Mark Carey

    wow, i stumbled upon your site today while practicing my trombone. I have been stuck playing notes on the page for 40 years and want to break out of that. I have ideas but don’t know how to get them out of my head. this might be the ticket!

    •  Hi Mark,
        There are a ton of lessons on improvisation on this site. Welcome to the community here. Happy to have you!

  • W.Sgobbi

    Thank you for the excellent material! I’m brazilian and started to listen, practice and love jazz songs!

  • Jude Schoch

    Hi Steve,
    I started learning piano a few years and have learned some of the standards. I’ve listened to the whole spectrum of jazz players and I feel most interested in the work of Bill Evans. I’m hoping to learn some of the complex harmonies he crafts so well. I just found this site yesterday and it looks like there is plenty of helpful material here.
    Thank you so much for this resource.

    • Welcome to the community here Jude! Glad to have you. Yes, Bill was one of the all time greats. His harmonies are unbelievable! There’s some free lessons on Bill’s playing on the site as well as a section on him in the Jazz Masters Method DVD. Thanks for leaving a comment and welcome again!

  • Jecha

    Hai Steve, I’m a newbie in this “jazz world”, and I’d like to know what should I do to learn many crazy jazz chords. Playing jazz sounds interesting and I hope i will be able to do it. I’m 15 years old and I’m studying classical piano. I’m not a pro, so please teach me… 🙂 thank u…

    • Welcome Jecha! There are a lot of great chord lessons on the site. Use the search bar on the site and type in chords. That will help you alot. Also, if you’re on the email list you’ll receive several chord lessons in your inbox.

  • tom keys

    Hey Steve,
    Some time ago you were writing about learning extended chords (like Maj13#11 etc). You’d suggested the reader to record those chords and then put it on a mp3 player for example. This looks like a very helpfull tool to me for learning to hear the more extended chords with more tensions and alterations. I’m gonna record those chords in cubase using MIDI and a piano VSTi. But now i’m wondering; how do you suggest me to record the chords…. I mean when you play for example Cmaj13, do you take ALL the chord tones C E G B D F A or do you leave some notes out? Like the 5th…. What do you think is the best way to record this for the purpose of learning the ‘sound color’ of those chords? (I mean all chords…. maj, dom, dim, etc) I can hear all triads and 7 chords, but have never practiced more extended chords. Yeah, I can hear the Dom7b10 chord but that’s the only more extended chord I can hear now haha

    Hope to hear from you! If you want I can share the files with you to put on your website.

    Kind regards,

  • Andrew Steven Gradwell

    Hi Steve, I am Andrew from South Africa. Coming across your FREE JAZZ LESSONS, my long held wish came through. I will make it come true through your lessons.

    • Great to hear Andrew! Welcome to the site. Happy to have you here.

      • Andrew Steven Gradwell

        Thank you for the lessons I will now embark on my musical journey, and have hours of endless enjoyment.

  • Vincent Stead

    Hi Steve, I am 19 and I’ve come a long way going through my music periods. The Beatles -> Classical -> Rock -> Metal -> Alternative rock -> Alt pop/indie -> now Jamie Cullum and now straight into jazz, I feel very relieved that I found this website. I will go directly into this atmosphere as Jamie has moved the Jazz pop artist inside of me, and I hope to evolve into something deeper theoretical jazz :))
    Thanks Alot Steve

    • Awesome Vincent. Sounds like quite a journey so far. We’re happy to have you here as a member of the community. Please feel free to share the site with your musician friends.

  • Lol

    Hi Steve

    Always wanted to play piano. Finally teaching myself with basic adult piano course bypalmer, manus etc. however my true motivation is to learn to play jazz in particular piece peace. Should I just listen to that and learn that? Or continue learning chords. But I ultimately want to play jazz piano. Can you advise me please?

  • Kyle

    Hi Steve. I’ve been listening to Pat Flynn and loved your intereview. I’m a drummer trying to get the online thing sorted but in my spare time (Currently 30 mintues a day) learning piano. My dream is to write a latin jazz album where I’ll piano and drums. I’m still at the beginning with the piano but it’s good to know I have you to fall back on when I’m ready

  • Artemas

    Hi steve, so I’ve been listening and playing the piano for years..recently I made the decision to focus on Jazz and make it a lifestyle therefore I want to start over, I know about chords, progressions, quite a few scales but I wanted to start again from fresh….any idea as to what I should start with first? Should I start with scales, chords then progressions ? what order would you suggest for someone who wants to progress more and more in jazz with UNDERSTANDING of what they are playing? Thanks

  • Louis

    Hi Steve,

    I love the piano and I am mainly a singer but I really would like to learn jazz piano. I play the piano by ear and I bearly read the notes. So I would like to know if I should start from the boring solfeggio or there is a new jazz approach by you to learn?

    • Hi Lous, Keep studying the lessons on this site. There is a lot of patterns you can learn by using your ear and developing your understanding of music theory.

  • Natalia

    Hi Steve, my name is Nataila and I am a singer-songwriter. Piano to me has always been someone who can help me be in harmony with my feelings and it does this by suggesting the chords and the tunes to me. Lately I have discovered that i have a jazz and blues soul, although I have never played this kind of music before. I can easily improvise but I really want to root this feelings of mine into something more “real”. So I found your lessons. And I am really grateful for this. Thank you Steve 🙂 So much!

  • Natilie

    Hey Steve
    I am in need of learning the piano i love it i’ve loved it ever since i was about 6 years old so i need to learn the piano and i ham hoping this site can teach me! 🙂

  • Josh

    I’m Josh, senior in high school, raised on classical Piano, but over the past two or so years, have become really interested in Jazz.
    It’s really, really cool to know that there are professional musicians, like yourself, out there who are willing to invest in the next generation of jazz musicians at no cost. I know that your knowledge and experience will be a tremendous help in my journey into jazz, and I speak for my generation and the entire jazz community when I say, from the bottom of my heart, thank you.

    • Hi Josh,
      Great to hear that you’re getting into jazz. I love hearing from younger musicians who take an interest in this fantastic art form. You have a fun journey ahead for you. Welcome to the jazz piano community Josh!

  • Nice article. I play mainly in Neo Soul genre which uses a lot of Jazz Chords. This is very usefull.

  • Mike

    Hi Steve,
    For the past twenty years I have performed 40’s Pop and Standards using backing tracks while soloing with sax. Now I would like to write and perform my own music in those same styles. My piano playing is very limited as I have used it not as a performing instrument but as a chord finder. Would you suggest I go about this by learning to play Standards then adapting the voicings I learn to my own melodies, use a theory based approach, or is there another way? Thank you.

    • Hi Mike,
      Thanks for telling us about your background! Learning standards are a fantastic way to learn about jazz as a whole and apply the chord concepts you are discovering. I noticed that you just subscribed to Premium Membership as well so there are a tons of standards and chord lesson for you to explore in there. Plus, all the jazz theory is broken down in each lesson. Have fun and welcome to the community Mike!

  • William McEachern

    I have loved jazz since a teenager in the (now 70) but am not a musician and do not pretend to understand the notation. That said, I find the videos very interesting. I like seeing the keyboard along with the explanation and it does give me some insight into the music I love to listen to. Thanks – I’ll continue to explore the videos and hopefully become a more knowledgeable listener.

  • Dexter Tms

    Hi Steve, I am a completely self taught guitarist and from a blues, classic rock background, I now know a lot more than I did when starting out many years ago, such as building chords and scales, however my dream is to truly play Jazz fluently on guitar, I am struggling to grow in this area as no one really will offer any help and I don’t have the benefit of having a music school or college to go to. I hope you can help point me in the right direction, how many years does it take on average to develop this art form to a professional level?

    • Hi Dexter,
      Welcome to the community here. I get asked variations of this question often. The answer will be different for everybody. It really depends on how hard you’re willing to work. I’ve seen people get real focused and acquire the tools they need to start playing gigs after just a few years. These musicians were dedicated, focused, hungry, and most importantly they loved jazz. Some people don’t work very hard and make lots of excuses. So, it takes them longer to get their skills together. I wish I could say it will take you ‘x’ amount of time but it ultimately it depends on how hungry you are to achieve your goals.

      Personally, I love jazz and have been fascinated with this style of music for over 2 decades. So, I never minded putting in the study time because the rewards were plentiful for me on a spiritual and discover of self level. As a result my progress moved very quickly and started gigging fairly quickly once I decided to get my act together in the practice room.

      • Dexter Tms

        Thank you Steve, I appreciate your response greatly, I am willing to dedicate the time, I just need to know what steps to take? what/how to practise? etc..I can see your guidelines up top, will work on those things as well.

  • Joshua Rieth

    Hello,I am trying to learn music and I am creating a game that needs jazz, its a 50’s types Diner. so how shall I do this?

    • I’m not 100% sure if I understand your question but if you need some music suggestions check out Dave Brubeck, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, or Thelonious Monk. The work they did in the 50’s is incredible.

  • Milan DesnastranaMozga Lemaic

    Really enjoying & appreciating your lessons,thanks a lot!!!

  • Paul Vargas

    Hi steve, im new in jazz, but I wonder if a blues extensive knowledge is necessary to develop a language in jazz. Your classes are masterful, i wait your answer! 😀

    • Thanks Paul. Blues and jazz can be very good friends but sometimes the language is different. The more you learn about music the better you’ll be in both styles though.

  • Hi, Steve,
    I’ve been looking for jazz and blues lessons. It’s hard to find, even in Boston where I live. My current teacher is fine when I am able to play a song, but when it’s bad, he just says, “Work on it some more and I’ll listen next week.” What I really need is step by step guidance as to what to practice and in what order, to build upon things. I plan to try out the free lessons and materials, and likely sign up if it is helpful! Thanks for the useful information!
    Paul H.

  • michel

    hi steve am michel from Cameroon, ive learned the various modes, but am still confused on how to use them and the various chords to use them with; am stil a begginer, am really interested in jazz music

  • Sukuma Wiki

    nice one bro

  • Steve Black

    Steve, picking up Piano again after a 30 year layoff. I can still read music fine, but my fingers have forgotten how to move around the keyboard. Do you have any suggestions on where to begin? Looking for a little structure to organize my practice sessions. Thanks.

    • Congrats Steve! I’m excited for you. If you’re not already on our email list we have a beginner intro series…I’d jump on that. If you want an actual course with goals and a step by step program than you can check out the Premium Membership course. There’s materials in there for all levels of players but I’ve thrown a bunch of videos in there to help beginners succeed. Of course lots of free sample vids on the site as well that you can peruse around.

  • Dennis Kiefer

    I’m a musically inclined beginner who happens to be on the north side of 60. At this point I’m only interested in jazz because it’s got that “swing” that we all like.

    Your site is absolutely wonderful because of the value that you provide with so many directions to go. My only problem is figuring out where to start and build from there in a disciplined manner without sacrificing the fun of this wonderful music.

    Cheers to you and your guidance for the rest of us.


    • Thank you Dennis! Glad to help you grow your skills and yes the swing feeling is infectious. Welcome to the community and look forward to your growth as a player!

  • Annamaria Kaptay

    Hi Steve, Im just about to buy a piano, what do you think about digital pianos? Does it have the same feeling/sound as the regular ones? Thank you for your help!

    • They do not have the same sound and feeling. Acoustic will always be a different experience. That being said, you can get some really good digital pianos that get about 85% of the way there.

      • Annamaria Kaptay

        Thank you for your help! I ll go for the acoustic one then. Can not wait to start your lessons.

  • Riva Schertzman

    Hi Steve,
    I’ve played music for many years-classical/pop, read well, composed a lot, and have a good instinct/excellent feel for jazz playing, but i’ve never formally learned it-do know basic theory and more “normal chords”. I would like to know which course i should start with so i can put some order into all this? thanks.

    • Hi Riva!
      Thanks for your comment and congrats on making a decision to improve your jazz skills. How exciting! I would recommend my Zero To Jazz Piano Hero Program It’s a great fit for students who want to build rock solid jazz fundamentals in a step by step fashion. Plus, you can learn chords and songs you love in 30-60 days. Thanks and I look forward to sharing music with you further!

  • John Howell

    Hello Steve. I’ve just read this page with interest. Have played since 11 years of age. Piano and Hammond organ. Went through to grade 7. Able to improvise etc. But my mind is somewhat blocked when listening to wonderful jazz piano – asking myself ” is this something i could achieve? “. I guess ive been so locked into classical and church type music. Strange but them heartened how you said you felt. Semi retired now with lots of time. I felt at home with this page and wish to pursue. Interesting seeing others comments too.
    John – Oxford UK

    • Hi John!
      Thanks for your comment. This is going to be an amazing time for you. So many cool things to explore in the jazz piano world. Keep us posted on your progress and congrats on the semi retirement. Sounds like you have some time to practice which is awesome!

  • Joshua Massawe

    Hello Steve,
    My name is Josh am all way from Tanzania. I started learning how to play piano last year and right now I am a little advanced in playing it though not that much to be called a pro.
    My question is, are sure I can start learning jazz lessons and play them well despite of time I am having ever since started to learn how to play piano?

    • Hi Josh,
      Welcome to the community. Yes, anybody can learn jazz piano. You don’t need thousands of years of experience 🙂 You just need to follow a smart plan. That’s why I created this website and all my courses. Thanks for your comment and welcome to the community!

  • Hi steve, Thanks for this tutorial, by the way I am an online piano teacher, I have 10 students, I will teach them this tutorial.. thanks..!