Jazz Piano Improvisation
getting started...

In this lesson on jazz piano improvisation I want to give you some of the playing tips and techniques that you can use to begin to develop you improvisation skills. The most important thing you can do to begin is to listen to as much jazz piano as possible.

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Listen, listen and then do more listening...

Learning jazz  improvisation should be fun. If ever there was a secret to expanding your repertoire of tunes this would be it.

Lets face it, you are more likely to spend time at something you find interesting, exciting and challenging rather than something that seems like a boring chore.

At the end of a long day you’re going to put the hours into a pursuit that’s an extension of the activities that you already enjoy.

For musicians, one of the most enjoyable things you can do with music is listening.

Listening truly is the starting point for your musical improvement and your growth as an improviser.

For this lesson we will be looking at the Jazz standard "There will never be another you".

Aside from being a great tune it offers interesting yet common chord changes and the opportunity to practice and use a variety of scales and  jazz harmonies used in jazz piano improvisation.

You can listen to a recording of the long by Oscar Peterson as you view the chord changes below and I will add my own video as well to give you a better finger angle and break things down a bit.

Some things to think about.

When constructing an arrangement of any jazz tune for either solo piano or while playing in a band situation the song will generally be played once with the melody as written.

After the first time through, the changes are generally played again to allow for the instrumentalists to improvise or "solo" over the chords.

When all the solos have been played it is common for the entire melody to be played again, bringing the listener back to the familiar home feeling of recognition.

There are a few things you will want to think about as you construct your solo or Jazz piano improvisation.

Chord Tones.

You will want to be familiar with all the notes contained in the chords you will be playing, paying special note to the extensions ( i.e. 7th's, 9th's, flatted 5th's etc.) that are common in jazz songs. For help with this see the lessons on chord formulas, and jazz piano chords.

Being able to play the notes of the chord in broken form or as arpeggios is one technique you can add to your solos.

Scale Tones.

You will want to be familiar with and be able to fluidly play any scales associated with the chords of the song including major, minor, and pentatonic scales.

cIf you really want to get you improvisation chops working on a higher level you will want to spend some time on your scales.

It can be a bit tedious at times. I recommend doing 5 or 10 minutes a day at these kinds of exercises.

Hanon: The Virtuoso Pianist in Sixty Exercises, Complete (Schirmer's Library of Musical Classics, Vol. 925)

A great way to get the kind of speed and dexterity  would be to get a hold of a copy of Hannon (The Virtuoso Pianist) and start learning both the dexterity exercises and the scales contained in this widely used classic volume.

If you are interested in becoming proficient at piano I suggest you dig up a copy, or, if you are like me and reading is not your thing check out this Hannon Video Method.

Close enough for Jazz...

Unlike most popular music styles , as you listen to different styles of Jazz piano you are going to notice somthing call dissonance.

"An unstable tone combination is a dissonance; its tension demands an onward motion to a stable chord. Thus dissonant chords are 'active'; traditionally they have been considered harsh and have expressed pain, grief, and conflict."

—Roger Kamien (2008)

To keep it simple, notes that would be considered dissonance would be interval such as flatted 5ths, flatted 9ths, and sharp 11ths. You will often find these in the chords used in jazz and you can safely experiment with adding them in solos.


In jazz many of the rules that would apply to more mainstream popular music can be chucked out the window.

That why when a musician would make a mistake and play a "red" note in a song  he might quip, "Close enough for Jazz" !


Tri tone substitutions...

Tritone substitutions are basically alternate dominant 7th chords that can be interchanged with seventh chords three whole steps away from the written chord.

For a more in depth explanation see the lesson on tri tone substitutions.

In the video below I will attempt to show you how you might use some of these techniques in your learning jazz piano improvisation.


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