Tarik Rahman

Who Are the Ideal Jazz Piano Teachers?

Tarik Rahman
Who Are the Ideal Jazz Piano Teachers?

Learning to play jazz calls for passion, a love of music, and spontaneity — and above all, it should be fun. All of this applies to both student and teacher.

When it comes to learning classical piano, the written page prevails. To play Beethoven and change the written notes — that is, of course, sacrilege.

In jazz the student’s primary challenge is to play without written notes and experience the joy of creating . . . and you can do this partly by listening and by exploring what has gone before.

Jazz piano is learned from listening to great jazz pianists. Oscar Peterson learned jazz piano by listening to Art Tatum records. Herbie Hancock learned jazz piano by listening to Oscar Peterson records.

Oscar Peterson and Herbie Hancock did not write down the notes they played. Nor did their predecessors.

All of this means, too, that a jazz piano teacher must be foremost a jazz pianist.

Yet being a jazz pianist does not necessarily make for a great jazz piano teacher. Because jazz piano is based in creativity, improvising, and playing/learning by ear, students have to follow their own, natural path. And a jazz piano teacher must be adaptable, able to tackle the challenges of jazz piano from many different angles.

A jazz piano teacher must both embody and inspire enthusiasm — the most essential ingredient of the learning process.

A jazz piano teacher must be:

  • A working jazz musician with performance experience.

  • An improviser who can play by ear and has learned from recordings.

  • An adaptable piano teacher, armed with many different ways of approaching jazz piano.

  • Passionate about learning, teaching, and exploring music.


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