Enjoyment and creativity: the ideal approach to learning jazz piano.
As a pianist you can learn a G mixolydian scale, but you will truly achieve your goal in that learning process only after you have found your own, personal way of expressing yourself using that scale. In this mode of learning, the emphasis returns to creativity and emotional investment in music, moving away from the rules of theory.
The vast majority of jazz piano teachers focus on theory — chords, scales, voicings, rhythms, exercises, chord substitutions, melodic patterns, and on and on.
Jazz theory includes many useful tools for a jazz piano student. But it is ultimately only a very small part of what music — and jazz — is all about. Too much focus on theory often inhibits creativity and exploration — two elements that embody the very essence of jazz.
Why do most jazz piano teachers place so much emphasis on theory?
Because it is easy to teach. Like math or science the discipline of theory has rules, labels, categories, and right-and-wrong answers. It can be much harder to teach musicianship, creativity, groove, and improvisation. Yet these are the most crucial ingredients to jazz piano.
Successful jazz piano lessons must be structured around creativity and enjoyment. All the jazz theory in the world is useless if you can’t use it creatively.
The first goal of jazz piano lessons is to be creative: to be comfortable playing a tune differently each time, improvising melodies — and having fun doing it! This set of skills can be easily learned by working with a simple tune — maybe a tune the student already knows, or maybe a tune the student has heard and loves and wants to play.
After this step, the student can begin studying theory with creativity and improvisation in mind. Each jazz theory concept that is introduced must be studied until it can be used creatively. Students have to come to know the concept well enough to use it as a starting point for their own new discoveries.
Jazz pianists who know only a little theory but are creative and having fun will make much better music than the ones who have practised and learned hundreds of jazz exercises, yet have never truly improvised.