How To Play Smooth Jazz Piano

smooth jazz pianoWould you like to learn how to play smooth jazz piano?

Look no further. This is the lesson for you.

Without any further ado, let’s get into it. By the way, check out our lesson on learning jazz piano for beginners here.

What Is Smooth Jazz Anyway?

The most simplistic answer to this question is that smooth jazz combines aspects of jazz harmony with some sophisticated pop sensibilities.

You can easily imagine something that sounds so smooth off of the “adult contemporary” pop and R&B charts from the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s then blend in some jazz harmony.

That is how you get smooth jazz.

To understand this a bit further, let’s listen to “Sweet Baby” by the Clarke/Duke project:

Another great example of smooth jazz is this rendition of Bobby Wormack’s “Breezin'” by George Benson:

Lastly, another important influence to the development of smooth jazz is bossa nova. Listen to Antonio Carlo Jobim’s “The Girl From Ipanema”:

How To Play Smooth Jazz Piano Chord Progressions

A lot of smooth jazz piano takes cues from both jazz and pop. “Sweet Baby” is no exception.

Let’s start with the intro:

The starting chord progression is a walkdown chord progression that resolves to the vi chord in the key of E.

As shown above, the next few chords are a walkdown leading to a standard ii-V-I.

smooth jazz piano

The chords for the verse go pretty much the same way.

However, things get a lot more interesting when we go to the chorus of “Sweet Baby”.

Once you go to the chorus, you are confronted by the standard I-vi-IV-V.  After this, you have a chromatic walkup leading to a iii-vi-IV that transitions to an Am9 – D7 – Ebm11 before going back to a IV-V-I in E.

This interesting reharmonization adds that nice, jazzy tension.

The second half of the chorus still features those same chords with the addition of an Ab7 at the end.

smooth jazz piano

Now let’s look at some of the rhythmic aspects of smooth jazz piano.

How To Play Smooth Jazz Piano Rhythms

For this segment, we’ll take a look at two smooth jazz rhythms.

Learning these rhythms would be very useful for comping.

One rhythm we can find is something that we take directly from “Sweet Baby”. The song takes cues from R&B with its 16th-note groove coupled with some syncopated rhythms that looks like this:

You can find similar syncopated rhythms like these in plenty of other smooth jazz tunes as well as some “sophisticated” pop hits from the late 70s and 80s.

One of the fastest ways to get the rhythms in smooth jazz piano right is to learn comping rhythms like these:

Once you get a hang of these jazz rhythms, it’s easy to figure out rhythms from various smooth jazz tunes as well as come up with some of your own.

Let’s now get into improvising fills and lines in smooth jazz.

How To Improvise Smooth Jazz Piano Fills and Lines

As the name implies, fills and lines in this genre should be smooth and flowing.

You can use the same sort of lines, patterns, sequences, etc. that you would find in other genres of jazz.

To get started, work on getting your scales and arpeggios to flow smoothly.

You can find many of these concepts in our jazz improvisation lesson as well as in our improvise for real tutorial.

Here’s a great example from David Garfield of what you can learn to shape up your improv:

After working your way through all of this, how can you go further from here?

The Best Way To Take Your Playing To The Next Level

Isn’t always a pain to go through a lot of effort but still come up short?

Perhaps you’ve learned a lick here, an exercise there, or a really cool run from some Instagram reel or from a YouTube short.

Sadly, you find out that you have a jumbled mess of ideas that you can really work into your music.

What you need is a system, something put together by those that have experience on stage and in the studio.

If you want a system that works, you’ll find it inside the Jazz Inner Circle.

Our Jazz Inner Circle instructors are some of the most seasoned, award-winning, world touring jazz pianists that have played with the best. Training one-on-one with our jazz piano instructors will help you discover how to sound great.

Inside the Jazz Inner Circle, you’ll discover:

  • “The Jazz Piano Mastery Program” (Over $25,000 worth of jazz piano training resources, tools, practice templates, improv strategies, & tons more.)
  • “The Ultimate Jazz Workout Training System.” This is where we implement a complete practice program to build your jazz piano talent in record time.
  • Unlimited Email Support Between Lessons
  • And so much more…

Train with us one-on-one here.

Final Thoughts

I hope you enjoyed this lesson on smooth jazz piano. Hopefully, this free lesson helps you discover how to get that polished, slick smooth sound that characterizes the genre.

If you have questions, comments, or suggestions for a new lesson, feel free to leave a note below.

Happy practicing.

Posted in

Mark A. Galang, OTRP, MAM-MT(c)

Mark Galang is one of our contributors at He loves teaching all styles of music especially jazz, blues, rock, classical, and Christian music. Mark is also a licensed occupational therapist in the Philippines that combines music therapy intervention with occupational therapy.