Tarik Rahman

Learning the Jazz Piano Repertoire

Tarik Rahman
Learning the Jazz Piano Repertoire

Knowing the standard jazz piano repertoire allows you play with other jazz musicians, and to continue the great jazz tradition of creating something new and personal out of these simple tunes.

Part of becoming a jazz pianist and learning to speak the language of jazz is learning the standard jazz repertoire.

The standard jazz repertoire can be divided into two categories:

  • The Great American Songbook: Not exclusively written by Americans, this group of standards consists of popular songs and show tunes written for musicals and films by composers such as George Gershwin, Cole Porter, and Rodgers and Hart. These composers were not jazz musicians per se, and these songs were written to be popular chart toppers in their time.

  • Jazz standards written by jazz musicians: These standards, generally speaking, were never in the popular, mainstream music genres. They were written as jazz compositions, to be performed and recorded by their composers.

Our jazz piano teachers can guide you towards the most important songs to know in the jazz piano repertoire.

Our piano teachers can also show you the tricks to developing a large repertoire of standards quickly and efficiently:

  • Identifying the similarities: Jazz standards from the Great American Songbook share many similarities. Once you are able toidentify these common traits, it’s possible to learn a new tune in a matter of minutes. The most striking of these similarities is the form, most often 32 bars long, including two or three contrasting sections of 8 bars which are distributed as AABA or ABAC. There are also similarities in the melodic writing and chord progressions of these songs, which offer a certain amount of predictability with each new tune you learn.

     Jazz standards written by jazz musicians in the bebop era also share similarities, especially in their form. A vast number of bebop tunes are based on the 12-bar blues. Many others are based on the chord progression of Gershwin’s I Got Rhythm, generally referred to as the “Rhythm Changes”.

  • Learning the basic elements: A knowledge of common chord progressions, such as II-V-I, or IV-IVm-I, and all of their possible variations, can help you simplify and quickly digest standard tunes.

  • Using your ears: Training your ears to hear common chord progressions, and knowing the melody by ear (the best way to do this is often to sing the tune, and memorising the lyrics doesn’t hurt either) will help you memorise new standards in record time.

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