Jazz piano theory is a useful tool for improvising, reading lead sheets, composing, arranging, analysing jazz music, and simply being able to talk to other musicians about jazz.
To the beginner jazz piano student, learning jazz piano theory can seem like an overwhelming, intimidating task. Though it is true that it takes some time and effort to digest and internalise the main ideas of jazz theory, there are ways of connecting ideas and simplifying the theory which will make the task much smaller, and allow you to learn more efficiently.
It’s not necessary to understand the whole of jazz theory before moving on to be able to play jazz piano. In fact you must constantly apply jazz theory to the piano and to the jazz standard repertoire in order to fully understand the theory you are learning.
Jazz piano theory involves seeing ideas from many different perspectives, and so there are many different ways to learn jazz theory. Your jazz piano teacher can help you use your strengths - be it aural, visual, mathematical, memory-based - to help you learn jazz piano theory with the most efficient approach possible.
There are four main areas of jazz piano theory that we must explore, corresponding to the four basic elements of music:
Melody: Learning about keys, modes, chromaticism, guide tones, chord-scale relationships, and common melodic patterns will have direct applications to your melodic jazz improvisation. Improvising is the act of spontaneous composition, and creating a strong, compelling, and interesting melody is essential.
Rhythm: A strong understanding and command of rhythm are the key to sounding like a professional jazz pianist. You will learn about swing feel, and how it is different from straight-eighths. Phrasing and articulation that accentuate the off-beats, syncopation and 3-beat figures, and a solid, unwavering sense of time are key to creating the rhythmic flow from tension to release that will bring your jazz piano playing to life.
Harmony: Understanding chord theory is one thing - the next step is applying it to the piano. With an infinite number of chord voicings available, our jazz piano teachers will start by teaching you the must-know jazz chord voicings, and help you develop a perspective that will allow you to creatively explore the endless possibilities. Learning about chord extensions, chord textures, tri-tone substitutions and other methods for reharmonisation will open the door to the rich harmonic language embodied in jazz piano.
Form: When improvising, the form provides our framework. Seeing and understanding the overall picture are essential for telling a story through music.