Where do I start?

This is a question that I am often asked from new and potential students. I suppose if I only have two DVDs available, it would be easier to pick a place to start. However, I have dozens and dozens of DVDs available on many different topics. So, I completely understand why many of you ask “Where do I start?” In this three-part article, I am going to lay out a “plan of attack” for the beginner, intermediate and advanced level player. Of course every student has different needs and interests. Therefore, I ask that you view this guide as a starting point, and not a rigid lesson plan. This first part will deal with the absolute beginner to jazz or the piano. This lesson plan is for you if:
  • You have only a few months or less experience.
  • If you can already play, but are completely new to jazz
  • If you can already play, but would like a “refresher” course
  • If you find many “holes” in your knowledge of theory, rhythm or improvisation
  • If you can not improvise already

Beginner Concepts For Learning Jazz Piano

If your goal is to learn jazz piano, learn how to improvise at the piano or just learn how to play the piano with more ease and fluidity, you need to break your practice and learning down into separate concepts. The concepts I’ll be discussing are:
  • Rhythm — learning rhythm and how to perform rhythms more effectively
  • Accompaniment — learning how to accompany yourself and others
  • Chords & Theory — understanding how to build your chords
  • Technique — increasing your fluidity at the piano
  • Improvisation — learning how to improvise a melody and create a solo

Rhythm

Rhythm is perhaps the most important elements of music. The other element of music are harmony and melody. Rhythm however can make or break a performance. We all know that just playing the ‘right’ notes does not always sound fine. Having good rhythm goes a long way in deciding if you sound like a professional or a novice. A good place for all pianists to brush up on their rhythms is Mastering Rhythms Volume 1. In this DVD, you’ll learn:
  • Why is Rhythm Important?
  • Time signatures & Meter
  • Vocalizing Rhythms
  • Quarter Notes & Rests
  • Half Notes, Whole Notes & Rests
  • Swing vs. Straight
  • Downbeat, Upbeat & Syncopation
  • Eighth Notes on The Downbeat
  • Eighth Notes Starting on The Upbeat
  • Eighth Notes Tied Into Other Notes
  • Understanding & Playing Triplets
  • How to Sub-divide The Beat

Practice Routine:

DAY ONE:
  1. Print off the music and put it in a binder (10 mins)
  2. “Skim” through the printed material and DVD (15 mins)
  3. Watch the first chapter 2-3x before trying it alone (30-40 mins)
  4. Turn off the DVD and try to reproduce what I just did in the last chapter (15 mins)
DAY TWO:
  1. Do not watch the DVD. Instead, try to reproduce what I did using only the printed music (15-20 mins)
  2. If you get frustrated, take a 5 minute break and come back to it
  3. Try applying these rhythms to a simple scale like C-D-E-F-G (10 mins)
  4. Move on to the next DVD or try the next chapter (see below)
At this point, you can move on to the next DVD, or stay focused on rhythms. It really depends on your learning style. There is no harm in moving back-and-forth between multiple lessons as long as you come back to this lesson for review within a day or two.

Accompaniment

basic definition of accompaniment is “the part played in the left hand that keeps a steady beat”. Many students when learning how to improvise have difficulty keeping a steady beat. Often, I hear them “fool around” with a scale in the right hand while playing a chord or nothing at all in the left hand. This would be fine if the beat were steady. Unfortunately, it is usually not. If you have gone through at least the first chapter or two from the Mastering Rhythms DVD, you can now being working on a simple accompaniment that you can improvise over. DVD30-Improvise in 30 Minutes (JazzKids Book 2) teaches you these simple accompaniments and how to improvise over them.

Practice Routine:

DAY THREE:
  1. Print off the music and put it in a binder (10 mins)
  2. “Skim” through the printed material and DVD (15 mins)
  3. Watch the first chapter (Improv introduction) before trying it alone (20-30 mins)
  4. Turn off the DVD and try to reproduce what I just did in the last chapter (15 mins)
  5. Practice this bass line a lot over the next few days
  6. Watch the next two chapters (20 mins)
DAY FOUR:
  1. At this point you should know how to play the bassline steady and understand what a lick is
  2. Practice the C Blues 5-finger scale (C-Eb-F-F#-G) with the right hand (5 min)
  3. Work through the licks on page 4, try one lick for now (15-30 min)
DAY FIVE:
  1. I’d suggest going back to the Mastering Rhythms DVD and do another chapter. Remember to keep working on these rhythms and vocalizing them
  2. If you have put the hands-together with a lick, practice that, otherwise…
  3. Try putting the hands together. Play the bassline in the left hand and add the lick in the right.
At this point you should have a working knowledge of what a lick is. You should also be comfortable with the C Blues 5-finger scale and the bassline. You can stop here and rest for a day or keep going.

Chords & Theory

It is important to really learn your piano chords. What I mean is that you need to understand how to form all of your chords and spell the notes. Many times students only know how to find a chord because they have played it so many times. This is motor-memory. However, when asked to spell the notes in a B-7 chord, students draw a blank. The notes, by the way, of a B-7 chord is B-D-F#-A. You want to know how to spell all of your chords in as many keys as possible. In my Basic Piano Chords DVD, you’ll learn:
  • Intervals
  • Major 7th Chords
  • Types Of Playing
  • Minor 7th Chords
  • Dominant 7th Chords
  • Sus Chords
  • Magic Chords part 1
  • Magic Chords part 2
  • Real World Examples
  • Wonder Chord

Practice Routine:

DAY SIX:
  1. Print off the music and put it in a binder (10 mins)
  2. “Skim” through the printed material and DVD (15 mins)
  3. Watch the chapter on intervals (12 mins)
  4. Try creating all different intervals at the piano
  5. Quiz yourself by creating flash chards that say “Major 3rd”, “minor 3rd”. etc…
DAY SEVEN:
  1. Watch the next chapter on Major 7th Chords (17 mins)
  2. Try playing different Major 7th chords like CMaj7, FMaj7, GMaj7 in the right hand (10-20 mins)
  3. Play those chords in the left hand now (10 mins)
DAY EIGHT-TWELVE
  1. You can “flip flop” back-and-forth between DVDs now. Focus on onechapter at a time.
  2. If you get frustrated, leave it for the day and come back to it the next day.
  3. Try to keep the left hand steady while playing the bassline.
  4. If you feel comfortable, you can try creating your own licks (see improvise in 30! DVD)
  5. Remember that you can quiz yourself away from the piano and do mental practice

Technique

The last DVD that I’ll recommend in this article is the Hanon Mastery DVD. Technique is important not only to achieve fluid playing, but also to avoid injury. It is important to learn how to practice technical exercises without hurting yourself andwhile keeping focused. I have found that the more “fun” an exercise can be made, the more likely students will practice it. Now, when I say fun, we’re still working. But, I make these exercises fun by showing you how to be creative in your practice. Yes, we’ll go through the ‘typical’ Hanon exercises, but I’ll also show you how to “spice” them up to sound more interesting to the ears. DAY THIRTEEN:
  1. Print off the music and put it in a binder (10 mins)
  2. “Skim” through the printed material and DVD (15 mins)
  3. Start by watching Hanon Exercise #1 (2-3x) (10-20 mins)
  4. Try playing the exercise with only your right hand (5 mins)
  5. Try playing the exercise with only your left hand (5 mins)
  6. Try playing the exercise hands together (10 mins)
  7. Remember to go slow and steady
DAY FOURTEEN:
  1. You can move to Hanon Exercise #2, or…
  2. Practice a new rhythm page (Mastering Rhythms), or…
  3. Work on a new lick and add it to the bassline (Improvise in 30!), or…
  4. Work on Dominant 7th chords (Basic Piano Chords)
After two weeks of working with the DVDs and the JazzPianoLessons.com program, you should have a clearer understanding of how to move between the DVDs. Remember, the DVDs are teaching you concepts. This means that you can apply these concepts to thousands of other songs. This method of teaching is more powerful in the end because you are learning the concept, not just what notes to push. The best way to solidify these concepts is to apply them to songs. In the intermediate phase, I’ll show you how to apply these concepts to popular songs and styles. Now, you might be “itching” to get to that phase right now. Be patient. Jumping too far, too fast usually builds frustration in students. I’ve learned the best way to avoid frustration is to break concepts down into small, step-by-step lessons that are easy to accomplish. Now easy is a relative term. What is easy to one student, might not be easy to the next. However, if you diligently practice the steps that I have laid out here, you will be able to master these concepts quickly.

Improvisation

The last concept is improvisation. Now we have already focused on improvisation inDVD30-Improvise in 30 Minutes. However, let me give you a few more pointers:
  • Keep the accompaniment steady. Do not move away from the simple bassline (C-Eb-F-G) until you can play several licks in the right hand while keeping the bassline steady
  • When creating your own licks, keep them very simple…like 2-3 notes in length only!
  • The Mastering Rhythms DVD will be very helpful for creating your own licks because you can start a lick from a rhythm
  • Try changing the bassline or licks by only one note at a time. There is more information about this on the DVDs
  • Begin your piano practice routine with a Hanon Exercise or some type of technique for about 10-20 mins
  • Don’t forget about your posture and breathing while improvising. It affects your time!
The four DVDs that I have laid out in this article represent several hours of instruction. This would translate into months of private lessons. Therefore, do not be in a hurry to ‘learn it all’ within two weeks. You might need to let some chapters just ’sit’ in your head for a while. There is nothing wrong with just watching the DVDs to ’soak’ up the concepts. You might also try watching one DVD for ‘fun’ while working on a different DVD. The possibilities of how you can use these piano instruction DVDs is almost endless. Apply your creative spirit to your practicing. Think of new and exciting ways to practice these concepts.

Piano Instruction DVDs covered in this article

 
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