A Beginners Guide on How To Play Jazz Piano

Jazz is an incredibly impressive style of music that can be played on many different instruments. It takes influences from multiple types of music. Once you know how to play, it’s pretty easy going, but handling the basics can be tough. Here we are sharing some top tips and advice that can help you to learn jazz piano easily.

Starting with the Basics

To start learning jazz for piano, you need to learn the basics. This is true of any style. As you begin learning jazz piano, you should know the basic theories involved as well as its background and origins. Having the knowledge of your standard major scales, chords, and progressions used in the jazz genre will come in extremely helpful.

Listening to Jazz Pianists

The next step is to learn more about the jazz greats. Take a look at recordings from the most famous jazz pianists of all time, such as Art Tatum or Thelonious Monk. There are also some up and coming artists you may want to check out as well. Listening to great jazz music goes a long way in your journey to learn jazz piano as you can apply their style and techniques to your own playing.

Learning Standard Tunes

Now you know what the basics are of jazz piano, you can start to learn tunes all by yourself. Listen to some tunes you would want to learn to play and listen out for the basics you have just memorized. This will help you to build on your sense of jazz music as a whole.

Now you can begin learning new melodies from popular jazz songs. Some choices include:

Study Those Tunes

Through listening to your favorite jazz piano songs and tunes, you can really progress your playing. Spend time to find out the techniques they use in their music. These are the skills you need to learn in order to become a great jazz pianist.

  • Find a song or a tune that you like and make sure it is suitable for beginners.
  • Try to pick something short and simple. It could even be part of a song if you want.
  • Find out what you can about the music, including chords, keys, rhythms, melodies, and any other articulated placements.
  • As a beginner, it may be hard to keep track of everything but note down everything you can to play something close to that tune.
  • Alter the speed and tempo of the song so you can play along with it at a rate that is manageable for your skill level.

Practicing 251s

The 251 chord progression is something that crops up time and time again in jazz music. Some of the biggest jazz hits like ‘Giant Steps’ by John Coltrane use 251 chords that change from key to key throughout the song.

Let’s look at an example. A 251 progression in the key of C major would turn out to be Dm7 G7 Cmaj7. The reason for this is because D is the second note on the scale, G is fifth, and C is first. Therefore you get 251.

A more advanced jazz pianist would use four note voicings for a 251 progression, but since we’re only just learning, we’ll start using just two. You will need to know your chords well and the theories behind them in order to understand this next part.

  • Play a Dm7 chord with the third being an F and the seventh being a C.
  • Move to a G7 chord so that the F becomes the seventh, changing the other note from a C to a B to become the third.
  • Finally, keep the B in place to become the seventh of the Cmaj7 chord.
  • F has to turn into an E, which ends up being the third.

While this may sound a little complicated, once you have it down, you will notice that you only need to move one finger and then another in order to complete the chord.

Since you are using your thumb and middle finger to play the chords, you’ll be ready to play three and four note voicings when your skills are a bit more advanced. The left hand should be playing the root of the chord, giving the harmony a solid foundation.

The most difficult part of the 251’s is knowing where to start. Try using this practice chart to help you get a better grasp of the chords.

251 Progression Scales

To become a great jazz player, you will need to know how to improvise. Part of being able to improvise well comes from your knowledge of scales. You want to play a group of notes together that sound good as a chord.

With 251 chords, you could make life difficult and play a major chord for every major scale, a minor chord for every minor scale, and a Mixolydian scale to every dominant chord.

There is a trick to this that you can use to master the 251 progression scales. Play the major scale of the first chord over the entire 251 scale of progression. So if you were to play a 251 scale in a G key, you could just continue to play G major the whole time.

The theory behind how this works is because a 251 progression scale uses modes. These modes contain the same notes as the major scale, they just start at varying degrees.

Play Solo

Now that you know the basics chords and scales that are used in jazz, you can start mastering solo jazz songs. Pick out the 251 progression you want and play either the root of the chord with your left hand or the two note voicing if you decide to use backing tracks and software as part of your practice.

Take these notes and explore the different combinations you can make within the scale you’ve chosen. You can even start to leave the scale through passing tones for a jazzier sound.

This is the right time to become an explorer with your piano. You can figure out what you like. Remember that none of the notes you are playing are wrong, even if you think they are. That’s the beauty of jazz (although there may be better choices). Don’t be afraid to dive in and experiment where you can. Failing is fine – it’s these parts where you become even better.

Backing Tracks and Software

Jazz piano can rely heavily on other people being around to play with. Oftentimes there will be more than one piano riffing at once in a jazz piece. If this is the case, you may want to use backing tracks or recording software, so you have something to play along to. Backing tracks are brilliant, and you can even play along with some amazing jazz musicians by finding tracks free online. There are also books and CDs available that you are able to play along with.

The advantage of using a backing track is that they sound amazing because of how talented the musician is. The disadvantage is that these tracks come in one key and are set to one tempo. If the song is a bit trickier than you expected, you may have to practice slowly at first and then build up to play along at the speed of the track.

To do away with the disadvantage of speed issues when trying to use backing tracks, you could use software instead. With these, you will be able to edit chords, time signatures, and the tempo to suit how you want to play.

  • Set the song as slowly as you want to in order to practice it well before speeding up the tempo.
  • Change the volume of the other instruments that are part of the backing track so you can make it unique to your style.
  • Connect to forums with some of the bigger software developers where they have portfolios of jazz songs available right away.
  • Using software makes jazz a lot more fun and can be the next best thing when you don’t have a band available to jam with.

Song Books

Practicing jazz piano using your listening skills is one of the best and most beneficial of learning this style. However, in order to progress further, you may want to enlist the help of some songbooks. When you are choosing the right book for you, make sure it has chord symbols that are printed alongside the melody. This means you can read and play along, making the learning process easier.

Keep Practicing

When you first start playing jazz on your piano, it’s not going to sound great. This is completely normal. You’re stepping into a brand new genre, and it’s going to take some time to get some fluency to your playing. Try to practice with both your right and left hand separately and learn from the mistakes you make. It’s better to acknowledge them right away than letting them turn into bad habits in the future.

Another thing that will benefit your jazz playing is analyzing areas where you are weak. This could be playing with your left hand, mastering a blues scale, or getting the hang of jazz chords. Whatever it is, take these mistakes and adopt smart techniques to correct them.

Chord Inversions

Chord inversions are a big part of jazz piano. As you begin to play, you should learn the four positions of each of the chords. Once you know them, you will be able to play them really well. If you’re unsure of what chord inversions are, an example would be:

Dm7 chord inversion would look like (DFAC) root, (FACD) first, (ACDF) second, and (CDFA) third.


Once you’ve got your bearings with jazz tunes, try experimenting and add in some of the extra notes. This is very typical of piano jazz style. It’s a genre of music where you don’t need to follow the rules, so you can add in whatever you want and practice different structures of music that you feel comfortable with.

Playing Jazz Piano FAQs

Is it hard to learn jazz piano?

Some jazz can be complicated, but you can make it your own style learn to play relatively simply. If you follow the techniques of 30s and 40s swing to learn jazz piano, then it will be much easier. Know what you want to learn and also go in with the outlook that jazz tends to be more complicated than other types of playing.

How long does it take to become a good jazz pianist?

If you dedicated two years to playing jazz piano and learn the techniques of both the right and left hand, you will be able to jam with other musicians. After about four to five years, you’ll be sounding quite decent. Most jazz pianists would tell you it takes seven years plus to sound really good, so you have to dedicate the time to playing well.


Learning how to play jazz on piano can be taken from its rich history of theory and techniques. Take inspiration from the greats, and soon you will be reaching that goal of perfecting your jazz piano skills.