Beginner Jazz Courses: Roadmap & Syllabus

(Hayden Hill) #1

Here is the recommended sequence to progress through PianoGroove’s Beginner Lessons.

Once you have worked through the beginner material you can check out the contents of our more advanced learning syllabuses:

Course Syllabus 1: The Basic Syllabus

Below we outline the beginner jazz courses in the order they should be taken. We start by highlighting the beginner jazz standard tutorials, starting with the easiest and working onto more challenging arrangements.

If you have any questions relating to these courses and lessons, simply reply to this thread and we will be happy to assist you.

8 Beginner Jazz Standards

It’s very important that you are working on both the theory lessons and the jazz standard lessons together. Broadly split your practice time in half. Start with theory lessons and drills and then move onto the jazz standards.

The jazz standards are the vehicle you use to apply the theory. When you apply the theory in context of a jazz standard, it will make much more sense and you will retain the information much better than just from theory drills.

You can be working on 3 or more jazz standards at the same time. Perhaps pick a new tune every few weeks or every month. And gradually build out your repertoire.

The beginner jazz standards should be approached in the following order:

Jazz Standard 1: Tune Up

Jazz Standard 2: Misty

Jazz Standard 3: Tenderly

Jazz Standard 4: My Foolish Heart

Jazz Standard 5: Over The Rainbow

Jazz Standard 6: In A Sentimental Mood

Jazz Standard 7: My Funny Valentine

Jazz Standard 8: Beautiful Love

When playing jazz standards, make sure you are analysing each chord you play in terms of scale degrees. Look at the individual notes and say ’that’s the root, that’s the major 3rd, that’s the 9th etc…’ this is important.

Now Onto The 3 Beginner Jazz Courses:

Course 1: Jazz Piano Foundations:

If you’re new to jazz piano… start here!

The foundation course covers the essential theory to start your jazz piano journey. It’s important that you understand the theoretical underpinnings of these lessons, and then you can move on. Much of what is included in this course will take years to fully master. Watch the lessons, takeaway the key points to remember, and then move on.

Here’s some additional guidance for the Jazz Piano Foundations course:

  • Major scales are the foundation for everything. In jazz we learn them numerically, so instead of thinking of note names (C-D-E-F-G-A-B) we think in numbers (1-2-3-4-5-6-7). Thinking numerically makes every key equal and it will make your life a million times easier when you progress onto more complicated topics. Learn the Major Scales first, and then move onto the 3 minor scales.

  • The lesson on Intervals is mainly to introduce you to the interval names. We use these names throughout the PianoGroove course and so you will gradually become familiar with them all.

  • In the lessons on triads and 7th chords, I talk about practicing inversions. This doesn’t happen overnight so don’t get caught up on that. Every time you play through a jazz standard you will be revisiting this information, and so becoming familiar with all of these voicings is a gradual process.

  • The 251 is the most common progression in jazz music. The first step is the Major 251 Progression (both type A and type B) using 3 note voicings. Remember to look out for these in the jazz standard lessons. You need to be able to identify this common progression.

  • A very important lesson in this series is the lesson “How To Read Lead Sheets” - this highlights the fundamental skills of arranging from a lead sheet when playing solo jazz piano.

Course 2: Extended Chords & Voicings

This course introduces the concept of chord extensions. We cover some common extended voicings and apply them to 4 famous jazz standards (Misty, Tenderly, My Foolish Heart & Over The Rainbow)

It’s very important to memorise the scale degree at the top of voicings , for example:

  • The top note of the So What Voicing is the 5th and so on a lead sheet, whenever you come across a minor chord (in any key) with the 5th in the melody, the So What Voicing will sound great.

  • The Kenny Barron Voicing has the 11th on the top so this is a great minor voicing when the 11th is in the melody.

  • The Herbie Hancock Voicing has the 9th in the melody so this will be a good choice of voicing when you come across the 9th in the melody over a minor chord.

When learning these voicings, always think in terms of numbers (i.e. scale degrees) rather than certain notes. This will help you internalise the voicings.

By ‘internalise’ I mean remember the formula. With jazz it is far more efficient to think in terms of numbers (or scale degrees) than to think of individual notes.

For example, with the So What Chord, from top to bottom, it contains the Root. 11th, b7th, b3rd and 5th. Knowing this formula means you can then apply it to any key… considering you know your major and minor scales!

Course 3: Rootless Voicings & The Minor 251

Rootless Voicings & The Major 251

Rootless Voicings are an important area to work on. The first step is to understand their construction, and then you can combine the chords into the Rootless 251 Progression

This progression take time to get down in all 12 keys and so don’t be disheartened with slow process. It’s best to practice rootless voicings in context of 251s.

Leaving the root out of the chord has a number of key benefits:

  • You free up a finger for a more interesting note choice such as an extension or alteration

  • Rootless voicings voice lead much more smoothly in a 251- it’s easy to play a rootless 251 without looking and so you can focus on your right hand lines and improvisation.

  • It gets you familiar with extensions and alterations, if you don’t practice rootless voicings, chances are you will be sticking to simple root position 7th chords. Practicing rootless voicings will give you a much greater appreciation of the extended and altered tones available to you.

Rootless voicings can often be a hard area to grasp for students coming from a classical background, read this in-depth explanation here:

The Minor 251 Progression:

The next step is to learn and master the minor 251 progression. Minor harmony is much more challenging that major harmony and you will likely find this difficult to begin with. The Minor 251 uses chord alterations over the V7alt chord which adds a new dimension to your sound.

The final important theory area in this course is the Minor Line Cliche. This descending or ascending voice movement is extremely common in jazz standards. It’s important to be able to recognise this progression and its various guises.

A key point with all of these progressions is to practice them in context of jazz standards. The jazz standards in this course - In A Sentimental Mood, My Funny Valentine, & Beautiful Love - have been carefully selected to demonstarte and apply the theoretical aspects of the course.

Advanced Jazz Courses - Roadmap & Syllabus
Brand new and looking for advice
Introduce Yourself Here! :earth_americas:
Introduce Yourself Here! :earth_americas:
Introduce Yourself Here! :earth_americas:
Introduce Yourself Here! :earth_americas:
(Paul Bahnisch) #2

Excellent Hayden - this will help students so much I’m sure! Great outline and guide!

BTW links to the intermediate and advance courses not active yet



(Hayden Hill) #3

Thanks Paul.

Good spot with the links!.. I am aware of them. I added them as placeholders whilst I create the other guides which will be a little longer than this page.

Glad to hear you like the format.

(Julian) #4

Thanks Hayden this is a very useful guide to navigating the content

(Scott Walker) #5

This is great, Hayden. Thanks for taking the time. It’s going to be a big help.

(Hayden Hill) #6

Wonderful… glad to hear it’s useful!

I will make the same for Intermediate / Advanced - and post in separate threads.


(Claudio Kunz) #7

Great Hayden, this comes exactely in a moment, when I need advice how to proceed best. (but as you will see, I need even more :wink:

At the beginning I loved making one lesson after the next, the new theory aspects were thrilling for me! The problem: I skipped the part where I should practice the theory for every scale/12 keys. So I just continued and had finally to admit that this doesn´t work… I then concentrated to study the transcripted Jazz Standards, but without interpreting chord after chord. I was proud to play Autumn Leaves and Over the rainbow freely, but I didn´t go further. Now I am frustrated - I know I need to study every chord extention, progressions etc. in every scale by learning the numbers (scale degrees) and , but this seems so boring, that I am stuck 2 month and do nothing… On the other hand: Without this incorporated knowledge I am not able in a good way to follow the tutorials, so I am even more frustrated. What I thought would be amazing, is to have tutorials, which leads you through the practicing, in a well sounding way. I thougt, maybe I-Real has some lessons in this sense, but at least by checking the standard lessons there, it is not what I hoped.

So maybe you could add in your reccomended sequence to progress how the best way is to internalize/ practice the theory. Simply by repeating and repeating it in all 12 keys? Is there a way with more fun? Would it be maybe possible to make special arrangements/compositions where the practicing itself is a nice music-experience? Maybe just transcribing interesting chord progressions in a cool arrangement, maybe with some licks, and checking that this turns all over 12 keys or so.

I am not sure, if I explained well, but I am happy for everything pushing me out of my momentanous “letargy” :wink:

(Hayden Hill) #8

Hi Claudio :wave:

Firstly, I had a similar question from a student which I reposted in the forum. You can see it here: How & What To Practice - I’d recommend reading it as it has some pointers you might find useful.

Now to help you with your specific question:

Similar to what I mention in the post referenced above. I found the most effective way to learn was to play as many new jazz standards as possible. This way I was exposing myself to many different keys, many different 25s, 251s etc…

By playing jazz standards, it’s fun way to learn the theory.

Within 251s, you can practice and apply so much different theory topics and concepts:

  • major scale
  • major modes
  • minor scale
  • minor modes
  • 3 note 251s
  • rootless 251s
  • extensions
  • alterations
  • upper structures
  • suspensions
  • substitutions

Now, something important you need to understand:

In a small number of jazz standards, you can find 251s in pretty much all 12 keys.

Let’s use examples from the standards in the PianoGroove course…

In the first 12 bars of “Tune Up” we have 3 different 251s:

On the first line we have a 251 in D Major:

The second line we have a 251 in C Major:

The 3rd line we have a 251 in Bb Major:

Now that’s 3 of the 12 keys covered already.

If we move onto the next tune, Misty:

On the first line, we have a 251 in Eb Major and a 251 in Ab Major:

Another tune from the beginner courses is “Beautiful Love”

We have a 251 in F Major, on the second line:

Now that’s 6 of the 12 major 251s (half of them!) covered in just 3 jazz standards!

The point is that simply by learning jazz standards, you are covering the theory too. Playing jazz standards is a fun way to learn, and so you should utilise this when learning theory.

Just for fun, let’s find standards with the other 6 major keys we need:

The bridge of “What Are You Doing The Rest Of Your Life

This contains 251s in the keys of A Major and Gb Major:

Next the first 4 bars of “Laura”

We have a 251 in G Major:

Finally, the first 4 bars of “Body & Soul”:

We have a 251 in Db Major:

That’s 10 of the 12 Major 251s … all in just 6 jazz standards.

There are 2 other 251s that we didn’t find… the keys of E Major and B Major.

These keys, also known as the “bright keys” - because they have a very “bright” sound - they are not common in the jazz standard repertoire. So you don’t need to worry about this much.

Horn players like flat keys - Eb, Bb, F, Db - and so that’s why the majority of jazz standards are written in these keys. These are the keys that you should be most familiar with.

Now onto your questions:

What way could be more fun, than by learning the theory in context of these tunes?

For every 251, as an example, you could create a practice schedule

  1. Play the chord in your left hand, and the scale in your right hand.
  2. Learn the scale degrees of each note in the scale
  3. Learn the 7th chords
  4. Play the rootless voicings
  5. Extend up and play R-3-5-7-9 for major and minor chords
  6. Play through each one and try the b9 over the V7 chord, then the #9, #5 etc…
  7. Try to find a nice upper structure for each one
  8. Experiment with sus chords

Now 6, 7, & 8 are getting more advanced but I hope you can see the point.

You sum it up perfectly here:

The jazz standards are the ‘special arrangements/compositions’

They are perfect for it! They have been composed by musical geniuses which is why they are used and loved by all jazz musicians.

The jazz standards contain everything you will need to explore jazz harmony, jazz improvisation, chords, voicings, scales, modes, substitutions… Everything you can imagine, you can do it with the jazz standards!

The next step is to listen…

  • Make a playlist for every jazz standard you learn.

  • Perhaps you can find 10 recordings of each jazz standard

  • Listen to them everyday, study them, and transcribe from them

  • This will do wonders for your playing

A final piece of advice:

A final tip is to spend some time learning the scales numerically first. There is no easy way to do this.

Instead of thinking C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C you must think 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-1

Do this for all keys.

You have not been wasting your time with jazz standards

You should be very proud of that! Jazz is very tricky to learn and so learning 2 arrangments is a big task when just starting out.

That is not wasted time Claudio… you just need to learn more jazz standards.

The more you learn, the more you will understand about harmony.

I hope this helps - I’m happy to answer any more questions you may have.


(Hayden Hill) #9

@claudio932208 - check out this tool for major scale degree recognition:

Very useful for quizzing yourself!


(Hayden Hill) #13

I just realised I haven’t posted the new practice video for the Beginner Course.

Here is it:

This will tie up all of the beginner subjects, and give you actionable advice to learn and memorise the theory with a downloadable PDF plan.

I will be creating the same for all other courses and so we will all have a structured and purposeful approach to progress through the material.

Anyone has any ideas/suggestions/feedback on this, join the conversation here:

(Adam Powell) #14

Thanks for this Hayden. I am gonna take a step back and follow this map to the letter. Keep up the great work you all are doing!

(Hayden Hill) #15

Thanks Adam!

I think it would be nice to alternate your practice routines too.

The foundations are important, but also it’s always good to be stretching your knowledge and ‘getting your toes wet’ in the more advanced theory.

For example, you could alternate these 2 practice plans for each of your practice sessions:

Practice Plan 1 - Foundations Course & Standards

In this practice plan, we cover the basic scales, triads, 7th chords, and the 251 progression. I actually revisit some of this from time to time, the more I play, the more important I realise it is to have strong foundations.

Practice Plan 2 - Extended Chords & Voicings

In this practice plan we introduce the jazzier sounding chord extensions. Many of the exercises are a development of the Foundations Practice Plan. For example, we look at 13th chords as a 7th chord in the left hand, and a triad in the right hand.

This will allow you see how mastering the foundational material such as triads, will then help you to build bigger chords and voicings. I planned the practice series like this to give motivation and inspiration for what is coming next in the syllabus.

I’d recommend downloading both PDF practice plans, and alternating them each time you have an hour slot to practice. Cheers!

(Adam Powell) #16

I shall listen to my piano instructor.
Thanks Hayden