3 Uncommon Tips For Practicing Jazz Piano Technique

jazz piano techniqueWhen most of us think about practicing jazz piano technique or jazz piano exercises we usually think of the same old boring exercises that piano players have been playing for countless years.

Things like scale practice, arpeggios, Hanon exercises, and playing classical pieces.

Now, to be fair these technique studies and piano drills can be useful in certain ways. But, they don’t seem to be a direct path to help us become better jazz musicians.

So, what jazz techniques and exercises can we do to specifically improve our jazz playing?

A Funny But Sad Story

By the time I was 18 I knew I wanted to be a jazz musician.  I really wanted to learn how to play well!  So, I practiced lots and lots.

I used to practice my classical pieces and hanon exercises for hours everyday. Wow, could I burn at Hanon!  The more I practiced Hanon the faster I got at them.  Sadly, I couldn’t solo that well but boy could I play Hanon πŸ™‚

My fingers could move fast but when I would jam with other musicians nothing came out right.  I left many jam sessions feeling frustrated.

Playing Hanon and 4 octave scales up an down everyday just didn’t lead to great jazz.  I left a jam session so frustrated one night that I knew I had to immediately change the way I practiced. That was my rude awakening πŸ™‚

Just practicing technique in the traditional classical way won’t lead you to your goal of becoming a better jazz musician.

So, what can jazz musicians practice to not only improve our overall technical control of the instrument but also lead directly to us playing better jazz?

Fortunately, I’ve had 15 years more experience , countless hours of practice, and over a 1700 gigs under my belt since then.

So, I’d like to share with you the discoveries I’ve made since then.  Here are 3 improved ways of practicing jazz piano technique. Think of these as piano drills for the real world.

A Jazz Piano Technical Routine

1. How I Practice Scales

When I warmup I’ll usually warm up with scales but I’ll do it in a very different way than what is traditionally done.

Playing scales in straight eighth notes or sixteenth 4 octaves up and down the piano with a metronome on every beat is not very jazzy!

Since I mostly perform jazz and blues I practice my scales almost exclusively with a swing feel.

In order for me to make sure my swing feel is really happening I’ll usually set the metronome to click just on beats 2 and 4.

This emulates a high-hat and the 2 and 4 accent pattern you’ll hear in a jazz rhythm section.

I also will put on some jam tracks from the Premium Membership Course and play my scales swinging over a I-VI-II-V-I chord progression in each key.

It’s all about being musical and simulating real musical situations.  In this case it’s playing behind a groove and a chord progression.

2. Jazz Transcriptions…yes.  Hanon….no.

Instead of playing Hanon exercises or other etudes I’ll practice what I consider the real jazz jazz piano exercises. Specifically, I spend my time trying to execute transcriptions of challenging solos I’ve personally transcribed.

This in itself can be a phenomenal resource for learning piano technique. Not only am I studying jazz licks, jazz phrasing, but I’m also being challenged on the technical level. 

It probably wouldn’t be musically appropriate for me to play a scale run that Beethoven composed on my next gig but I can definitely throw in a technically challenging Chick Corea or Bill Evans lick that I’ve been practicing.

(If you need a good jazz transcription to get you started you can check out this Barry Harris Transcription or this Sonny Clark transcription). These are great jazz piano exercises.

3. Jazz Licks = Piano Tricks πŸ™‚

Another immensely useful things I do for developing my piano technique is practicing licks.

When I practice licks I make sure to practice them in all 12 keys and try to speed up the tempos while maintaining a good rhythmic feel.

This is a goldmine for improving my piano technique.

As I’m sure you noticed in your own playing it’s usually easier to play certain licks and piano runs in some keys more than others.  Spending the time to figure out why that is has paid off for me in a very deep way!

I ask myself what I can do technically to realize an idea just as well perhaps in Ab as in the key of C or the key of D?

5 Possible Piano Technique Discoveries

For example:

  • Do you need to curl you fifth finger more?
  • Is your pinkie sticking up more than it should?
  • Do you need to move my thumb under more quickly on a crossover?
  • Do you have to much weight one side of my hand and not the other?
  • When you move my thumb under does it create an accent where there shouldn’t be?

All these things can effect your swing feel. Learning how to navigate different keys has made my finger motions much more efficient.

I know that I wasted alot of time early in my jazz studies practicing technique incorrectly.

More Jazz Piano Exercises For You To Explore

If you want to some lick samples to explore I’ve created a whole DVD that studies the jazz vocabulary and licks of 9 jazz piano masters called the Jazz Masters Method DVD.

If you want to learn how create endless amount of your own licks then this special course is for you.

With over 2,000 copies sold in 3 years people seem to enjoy it quite a bit! πŸ™‚

Jazz Piano Arrangements And More Chords

If you want to your jazz piano arrangements to sound more authentic you can check out this sample jazz piano arrangement lesson.

piano techniqueNow, what if you’d rather to play jazz standards like the pros? Or, what if you want a step by step solution to master all the best chords because you’re short on time?

You can get immediate access to 18 hours of arrangements, chord lessons, lick tutorials, & more inside my Premium Jazz Lessons Elite Membership Course.

It’s constantly updating every month with hours of brand new lessons. It’s like having a jazz piano teacher accessible to you 24 hours a day.

In many ways because every lesson is fully notated and you can watch and rewind the HD videos as much as you like it’s even better. πŸ™‚

Now It’s Your Turn

How about you? How do you practice your piano technique? Do you have any jazz techniques that you love to practice?

(I’d like to thank a reader of this site by the name of Ken for the inspiration to write this article.)

If you found this piano technique article useful please leave a comment below, sign up for the free jazz lessons mailing list, or share on your favorite social network! πŸ™‚

Steve Nixon