We have a new course containing beginner jazz standard arrangements. A number of students have requested simpler jazz standard tutorials and so here they are.
In these lessons we keep our voicings simple by sticking to roots, 3rds, and 7ths, and the melody on top. We pay special attention to the voice leading of b7ths falling to 3rds in 25s and 251s so that we can visualise this important aspect of jazz harmony.
This course is now part of our Beginner Jazz Syllabus and the goal is for students to be playing a handful of beautiful jazz standard arrangements within a few months of study.
I will be making a more advanced tutorial on that tune soon.
The other lessons in the course already have an accompanying intermediate/advanced arrangement on PianoGroove so students can apply more advanced jazz theory once they are comfortable with the basic chords and progressions.
I’ll be adding more beginner-focused lessons to this course so stay tuned!
‘Nearness to You’ is beautiful - I hadn’t heard of it before. I know this is meant to be a beginner’s version, but if I can just learn to play it I’d feel I’d have got my money’s worth from PianoGroove !
This is my first attempt at a jazz standard. One thing I noticed straight away is that until now when I’ve played songs, I’ve played chords in my left hand and the melody in my right hand. It seems with jazz that not only are you playing the melody in the right hand but you’re also playing parts of the chord.
I’m just trying to get my head around this concept. Are there any comments or guidance about this, or should I just get on and do it.
I’ve put this in a comment on the ‘Nearness of You’ page and there’s also a specific question about the tutorial.
It’s great that “The Nearness Of You” is your first jazz standard. It’s an accessible tune for beginners and contains many common progressions such as 25s, 251s, and 3625s.
To answer your question:
Yes when we are arranging tunes for solo piano, there are some guidelines we can follow to get a full and balanced sound with our voicings:
We play the root with our left hand. Mostly below middle C and often in the lower registers of the piano.
We can play the 3rd and 7th of the chord anywhere between the root and the melody. The 3rd and 7th can be in any order; those notes do not have to be stacked sequentially ie, root, then 3rd, then 7th.
The goal is to find a wide spread with the notes so that we aren’t always playing the notes of the chord in a small register of the piano. When the notes of the chord span over 1 octave, we call it an “open position voicing” which achieves a full and balanced sound; well suited to solo piano performance.
We can play the 3rd and 7th in either hand, often the hands will share the responsibility, other times the left hand may play all of the notes and the right hand just play the melody line. There is no ‘set-in-stone’ rule here, it depends on the chord and where the melody note is.
A nice guideline to follow it to play the root of the chord in your left hand, then play the melody in your right hand, and then try to spread out the 3rd and 7th of the chord evenly using either hand.
Remember that in 25 and 251 progressions, the b7th of the chord falls a half step to become the 3rd of the next chord, and so once we find a voicing that works, it’s often just the root and one other note changing to move from one chord to the next.
You could also check out this lesson on “How To Read Lead Sheets” where I discuss and demonstrate the above process:
Apologies for the late reply in the lesson comments, it was on my to-do list!
I hope this answers your questions and if you need any more guidance just let me know
I didn’t mention the 5th in my above comment Ivor.
You will see that many times I play the root and 5th of the chord in my left hand, and then the 3rd, 7th, and melody note in my right hand.
This works particularly well to spread out the notes of the voicing, and ensure that they are not stacked sequentially (root-5th-3rd-7th).
It also works well because the 5th interval (root and 5) can be played in the lower registers of the piano without sounding ‘muddy’ or distorted. Try this out by playing 5th intervals in the lower registers of the piano.
Whilst the 5th does not add anything harmonically, it’s useful to add more depth and weight to our chords to achieve a bigger and fuller sound.
Great stuff Hayden,
You are now introducing differentiation and it is exactly what many need, now you can expand from a beginners’ melody all the way to advanced melodies with all types of interesting steps in between. Didactically, really great stuff! My compliments to your teaching methods and your insights.
Like a previous student (Ivor) I’ve started on ‘Nearness of You’ along with my foundations list: major and minor scales, triads, 251 progressions etc. For me it’s all still very new and I know it’s going to take some considerable time to come together. At the moment ‘Nearness of You’ is an arduous process for me. A chord takes a long time to completely understand and I think this is because, as Ivor noted, the chords are not in root, 3, 5, 7 in the left hand with the melody in the right. The voicing is more interesting with the root down low on the left and the melody up on the right and choices of 3, 5, 7 shared by both hands in between. Sounds great but it’s really stretching me! Suddenly chords that made sense in root position are all jumbled and it takes me time to see where the 7th is or that the 5th has been left out. This suggests that one needs to know a chord inside and out and upside down! Presumably this will come but I’m worried it’ll never click. Should I just keep going? I’m so excited to be on this journey by the way.
Yes my main recommendation would be to persevere and keep learning new tunes. It is a gradual process but eventually it will click.
Yes analysing the notes we are playing is difficult to begin with. The more we do it, the more natural it becomes until it is second nature to us. It’s very important to be consciously analysing the notes we are playing in terms of scale degrees, so it sounds like you are very much on the right path here.
When starting out with this you will feel the ‘gears in your brain grinding’ as you try to visualise the tones. That is a good thing and it’s the process we must go through to improve.
See my recommendations for Sam here:
All of those recommendations will be relevant to you too.
When starting out with jazz piano, aiming to build a repertoire of 20 or 30 standards is a big task and something that we complete over a year or multiple years. I think it’s important to understand the time frame involved and be realistic with ourselves in terms of how long it will take.
I guarantee that once you have arranged 20 tunes you will feel a new found freedom with jazz harmony, visualising voicings, and playing through common chord progressions such as 25s, 251s, and 1625s.
Also understand that we will be playing these tunes for the rest of our lives. We are always revisiting them and enhancing the way we play them as we learn new theory. It’s a continual process.
I hope that helps and gives you a clearer idea of the task ahead. Above anything else try to enjoy the journey. It is difficult and requires a lot of patience, but it’s a very rewarding journey to take!
If I can help with anything else just let me know.
It’s good to know that I’m not the only one who’s finding this hard.
I’m two months into PianoGroove and so I thought I’d give you an update on my progress.
I’ve learned to play ‘Nearness of You’ fairly well. Not as beautifully or fluently as Hayden, but it’s recognizable. And I’ve nearly finished learning ‘Days of Wine and Roses’ as well.
I’ve set myself a goal of learning 12 standards by the end of the year - so I’m kindof on track.
You have described the problem exactly right !
Again, I think you are absolutely right about this. The key is knowing the chords.
The thing is that when you take into account the chords and all their inversions, there is a lot to learn ! I think Hayden did the maths somewhere. I can’t remember the exact number but it’s pretty large. So I guess we have to acknowledge that this is a big job that will take quite some time.
Another thing that Hayden mentions is that when you learn standards, you begin to see that certain patterns repeat themselves.
I’ve noticed this in the two standards I’ve learned and it’s already starting to help me. So that’s another positive thing to cling to.