Beginner Jazz Courses: Roadmap & Syllabus

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.

4 Likes

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

Regards

Paul

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.

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

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

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Wonderful… glad to hear it’s useful!

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

Cheers.

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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:
Best
Claudio

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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 as common in the jazz standard repertoire.

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.

Cheers.

4 Likes

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

Very useful for quizzing yourself!

Cheers.

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

Here is it:
https://www.pianogroove.com/jazz-piano-lessons/foundations-practice-guide/

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:
https://www.pianogroove.com/community/t/practice-schedules-ideas-suggestions-please/1561

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!

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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!

I shall listen to my piano instructor.
Thanks Hayden

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Hello again!

Ok so I’m finding myself consistently flustered and frustrated (for instance like RIGHT NOW :slight_smile: lol)

Should I only be focusing on 3 note voicings when studying 2-5-1? It is very easy for me to play 3 note voicings without thinking because I know how it sounds and feels in my hand. But I feel like that’s the problem. When I actually try to “think” the voicings through and identify the"3" and the “7” with INTENTION sometimes I can’t “see” it.
For Example: If I’m playing 2-5-1 in F major and I play G-7 as G-Bb-F and move to C7 as C-Bb-E I’m not actually “seeing” or “thinking” of the E as the “3” of C I just know it’s correct in my ear. But won’t this hinder me moving forward? Every song obviously is not 2-5-1 so once that progression goes away or I’m no longer playing in the circle of 5ths, it makes it even more of a struggle to voice lead, play rootless voicings, transpose etc because I’m not being AWARE mentally of what I’m playing I just know what sounds correct.

Should I go back to 2-5-1 block chords and just hammer away at that? Even though I feel like I know that already. Or maybe practice inversions until I can really “see” the 3 and the 7 no matter what progression or voicing it’s in? I feel like I’m learning and understanding a lot but I’m not sure if I’m getting better :frowning:

Please help.

Hi Chelsia :wave:

Interesting question here.

Let’s start by highlighting why it’s important to be able to visualise 3rds and 7ths:

  • 3rds and 7ths are the essential components of the harmony. Those 2 tones define the chords we are playing and so it’s important to be able to visualise them on the keyboard.

  • It’s very important to be able to visualise the voice leading in 251s which is the b7s falling half a step to the 3rds. As I outline in the graphics below, this voice leading will always be present in our 251 progressions as it is the foundation of the harmony.

  • The voice leading of b7ths falling to 3rds not only plays an important role in harmony, ie. creating smooth connections between our chord voicings, but also when improvising melodies we can utilise this voice leading in our improvised lines to outline the underlying harmony.

  • If you study Tuomo’s transcription exercises - look how frequently his melodic exercises utilise this voice leading to create smooth flowing melodies over the underlying harmony.

  • Likewise, if you transcribe from your favourite solos, you will see that this voice leading is a very important component of the improvised line. There are some exceptions such as playing ‘outside’ where we are deliberately superimposing melodies outside of the underlying harmony, however, we should first learn to improvise ‘inside’ the harmony and then we can experiment with outside playing.

Now onto your questions and comments:

The 251 can take many different forms and permutations, the most basic of which is Root, 3rd, and 7th which is what you are outlining.

As you study more advanced voicing methods, you will see how integral 3rds and 7th are - more on this below.

If you can play all 12 major 251s in both inversions then I think it’s definitely time for you to move onwards in the PianoGroove syllabus.

I have provided some ideas and direction for you below.

It is true that not every song is based on 251s. However, the 251 is the most common progression in jazz music and so we must learn it thoroughly.

Compare it to learning a new language, and the 251 is equivalent to the most common words in the language. Of course we would want to learn and master those words first.

I think it’s definitely time for you to move on. You can always revisit those 3-note 251 progressions if you feel you need to pay more attention to some keys.

Below I have created 4 x 251 progressions in F Major. I have highlighted the voice leading of b7ths falling to 3rds in each one using the red arrows.

Notice that it’s always there. It’s an essential component of the harmony.

I think that as you progress through the PianoGroove syllabus, this will become more apparent to you, and visualising those tones will become second nature to you.

Take a listen to each example and study the notation, and then see my course recommendations for you below:

251 In F Major With Shell Voicings (similar to your example)

Rootless 251 In F Major

Altered Rootless 251 In F Major

Quartal 251 In F Major

My Recommendations For You:

My main recommendation is to progress onwards in the PianoGroove syllabus.

Certainly complete the first 2 courses, “Jazz Piano Foundations” and “Extended Chords & Voicings” and then move onto our course on rootless harmony.

Here is our course on rootless harmony/left hand voicings:

By learning rootless voicings, we must be able to visualise chords with either the 3rd or the 7th on the bottom.

This will be a great exercises for you and it will most certainly help you to visualise these important tones.

Next progress onto our course on altered harmony:

Here you will see that we can add different ‘colours’ and ‘tensions’ to our chords such as b9s, #9s, #11s, and #5s/b13s - but the 3rd and 7th will always be present.

Again this will be reinforcing the importance of these tones in our harmonies.

More Advanced Applications Of Rootless Voicing:

In the final example I demonstrated a 251 in F Major using quartal voicings which are voicings mainly comprised of 4th intervals. These voicings are well suited to accompaniment and have a modern and fresh sound.

In this course I demonstrate 2 handed-comping voicings and quartal voicings:

A Final Note

What I have outlined above is a lot of work.

Learning jazz harmony takes time so do be patient with learning these progressions.

Always apply this information in context of jazz standards.

The end goal is to be able to apply all of this theory in context of our favourite tunes, and so remember to spend time to just enjoy playing the standards.

Hope this helps and enjoy learning this material!

I definitely started moving on to rootless voicings (type a and type b) but I think I just got intimidated to move forward beyond that…so I went backwards and started second guessing. Which sounds ridiculous now lol Also I have not been consistently applying the theory to jazz standards which is probably why its hard for me to judge my true progress. I will definitely make those changes asap!! Thank you for your advice and thorough responses!

It sounds like you are very much on the right path Chelsia and my pleasure with the guidance.

Yes it’s very important to constantly be applying the material to jazz standards. That’s what bridges the gap between playing theory drills, and playing music.

My first jazz teacher would sometimes instruct me to play through a jazz standard with just 3rds and 7ths in my left hand.

That is a nice exercise for visualising those tones and it really strips the harmony down to the basics allowing us to see that voice leading of b7ths dropping to 3rds clear as day.

Perhaps take your favourite jazz standard and do the following:

  1. Play through with just 3rds and 7ths in your left hand (no melody in right hand)
  2. Next add the melody on top with just 3rds and 7ths in the left hand
  3. Then voice the chords using Type A and Type B rootless voicings
  4. Then add the root to your voicings whilst still incorporating the chord extensions

Steps 1 & 2 are a nice workout for practicing 3rds and 7ths.

It sounds simple to do, but it’s actually quite a tricky exercise.

Steps 1 and 2 show us how ‘close’ the harmony is in jazz standards. When moving through the chord changes with just the 3rds and 7ths, we see that a lot of the time we are just moving by half and whole steps which is an interesting point to notice. Very little movement is needed.

Of course if it’s a 251 of some kind it’s just 1 note moving by a half step.

Perhaps spend 5 minutes a day doing something like the above with your favourite tunes :sunglasses:

Those rootless voicings make our playing so much more insteresting … it open so much doors for improvisation comping … i remember first time i apply those rootless chords to a jazz standard … i was in heaven :slight_smile:

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I started re-working ‘just friends’ using your practice tip of just playing the 3 & 7 in the LH this morning, wasn’t easy but already I felt a weight being lifted! It also inspired me to drill 1 3 7 voicings at random instead of using the circle of fifths. I don’t know how to explain it but it’s like I felt my brain working differently and moving through the chords felt fluid yet still cognitive, in that I was still consciously aware of where the chords were moving despite it feeling more effortless to do so. I also started to see the shape of the next chord before I actually played it. So liberating. Excited to play more tunes and to start applying the melody and rootless voicings as you mentioned! Can’t thank you enough Hayden :blush::pray:

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And as a sort of followup, Kenny Werner in his Effortless Mastery: Liberating the Musician Within (2011 innermusic publishing) talks about how most of us–myself included–want to rush ahead in order to become a great player instead of mastering the basics first:

Many musicians are so fixated on complex elements that they fail to spend enough time on the basics. As a result, they tend to have all sorts of glitches basic gaps [sic] in their playing. For example, if basic chord progressions are not fully digested, you will struggle with most standard tunes. Eighty percent of all jazz standards are comprised of the II-V-I progression. . . . If you really master that progression in all keys, you’ll find that you can fly through most tunes instantly. But before mastering this fundamental progression, your restless mind may have already driven you to study more exotic ones. By not having properly learned II-V-I, you probably are doomed to fail in the playing of more modern progressions as well as in the basic ones.