1. Learn to comp and voice lead chords.
2. Practice sightreading chord charts.
3. Play along with recordings.
4. Record yourself and listen back.
5. Play louder. Why? The drums are loud.
6. Practice your broken chords for every tune.
7. Use a metronome on everything you play and practice.
8. Learn to clap and count aloud eighth note rhythms.
9. Listen to jazz daily.
10. Sign up early, piano spots go quickly.
What tunes should you practice?
See below. By clicking on the image, you will go to a product page. I don't take a commission.
If I can help you, call me. I've attended a dozen jazz camps over the years as a pianist and drummer.
What do we gain by learning Jazz Standards by ear?
1. We acquire an intuitive understanding of jazz rhythm.
2. We learn the jazz feel which is something that can't be notated.
3. By playing along with recordings we learn to stay in place.
4. We learn how to solo by acquiring ideas (licks) that we can use in other pieces.
5. We learn how to play our instrument idiomatically by hearing it played in context.
6. We begin to appreciate the depth and scope of jazz history when we know about the history of our instrument, and its players.
7. We learn how to mess with a melody. A first step to soloing with finesse. "Learn the melody, mess with the melody, then mess with the mess" Louis Armstrong
If I can help you on your journey, call me.
Revised August 2022
Have fun. If I can help, call me.
revised August 2022
Playing in different keys is an invaluable skill. You will learn to visualize musical shapes, key signatures, and hear rhythm in new ways. Try playing just the melody in the following keys with the recordings. Modify your note and rhythm choices to fit in the best you can.
The assignment is to play and mimic the melody with the recordings. You will learn jazz rhythm, jazz articulations and phrasing all by ear.
Revised August 2022
Jamey Aebersold gave a great demonstration, which was so revealing to me as a jazz teacher.
He assembled the students in the auditorium at University of Louisville. He would pluck one “lucky contestant” from the crowd to join him on stage. Jamey would then hand the musician a microphone and instruct them to sing/scat/hauler a jazz solo along with the chords he would randomly play on the piano.
Everyone could scat, some very well, others so so. But the consensus was that the “singers” could scat better than they could play. Hmmm. So, the problem isn’t in the head, it’s in the hands.
Conclusion 1: Jamey was encouraging everyone to improve their general musicianship skills on and off the instrument.
Conclusion 2: If you are a pianist or guitarist, sing and play at the same time.
Jamey's second reveal.
One morning he asks the musicians, “How many of you can play 50 jazz standards from memory?” I enthusiastically raise my hand. Looking around the room of 250+ there were very few hands joining me.
How many can play 25?
Overwhelming the answer was zero.
Conclusion #3 It’s hard to play freely when your head is in a book.
Conclusion #4 These musicians didn’t trust themselves to play without a book/sheet/app in front of them. He was happy to sell them another book.
I hope this helps you begin to think through what may be holding you back.
Jazz is primarily about rhythm and articulations, those tricky bits that are impossible to notate. Harmony is like math, fun for many and much easier to get your head around for most. Or so beginners believe. But when the moment of truth arrives at a jam session theory goes mostly out the window and instinct kicks in. Adam Maness explores this theme in his video "Why do I still suck".
Jorge Mabarak, on Facebook, puts it well, theory is a tool. I propose that rhythm is the key. And ear training is the secret to unlocking the mystery.
Here is a practice time breakdown that may work for you:
If I can help, please call me.
After the demonstration, I break it down. So....hang in there.
I. Dust off your instrument.
2. Watch some YouTube concerts featuring pianists playing the music you love.
3. Find your metronome.
4. Read some inspiration material about folks like yourself who have succeeded.
5. Start noodling on the piano. Review some old favorites. Explore some new music. Dream.
6. Plan practice time in your schedule to succeed.
The happiest students know what they want, why they want it. They've made time for it, and stuck with it. Come join us.
The pandemic appears to be waning. We have all enjoyed the extra practice time lockdowns gave us. Extra time was an unexpected consequence during these tragic times.
How will be hold on to this extra time when things move back to more normal times? Good question.
Here is some of the things I’m considering. Perhaps it will be helpful for your situation too.
"Spending winters in the sunshine, reading, playing golf and socializing seemed a wonderful way to spend retirement. With both of us being music lovers, our sound system is always on all day with great music ranging from Classical, Jazz and some pop. But I felt something was missing and it wasn’t snow. My wife encouraged me for years to take music lessons. I was not too keen because my memory of lessons was the Nuns whacking my fingers with a ruler insisting, I keep my lazy fingers off the keys; that ended in 1958 when I got my Grade 8 piano. But the seed was planted. I decided to look on the net for a music teacher near Burlington and came across David’s website. This really looked interesting. During our cocktail hour that night, I said – when we get back to Burlington, I am going to take Jazz lessons from this David Story guy. On April 23, 2013 my life changed.
Of course, I thought I would be rattling off Jazz tunes within weeks; grief! As time progressed, I realized how complex Jazz really is, especially soloing; how do they do that? Practice, practice, practice every day and soon I started to see the tunnel – no light yet! After a few years of toil and trouble, something that sounded akin to music emerged; I encouraged my cousin to take lessons from David. Then, 4 years ago, David encouraged us to attend the Jamey Aebersold Summer workshop in Louisville. There we were for 6 days: 2 old guys, jamimg in groups, attending classes and intense listening, from 7am to 10 PM. Hardly time for a Scotch closer at night! At last, all those lessons from David were clicking into place like a Rubik’s cube. We went back the next summer and did it again. Then, David encouraged me to try and get a group together to Jam. The pressure was on; my 2 songs would not cut the mustard. More practice. An advert in Kijiji did the trick; we ended up with an exceptional drummer, bass, guitar – and me. We met every week for 3 hours until covid.
My lessons continue. The Jam will continue after we all get our shots. I am still amazed at what some practice along with amazing guidance and encouragement from David has done for my life and continues to do so. Not bad for an 80 year old!"
The rankings follow the descriptions:
In my experience of teaching jazz, I would rank these traditional methods in the following order:
Jazz attracts adults of a certain type. Likely just like you. Professionally successful, academically trained, and determined to figure it out. The kind of person who sets goals, allocates resources, makes time, gathers intelligence from books and the internet, and then applies focus to solve a problem or pursue an opportunity.
Alas the kind of learning traditionally associated with professional success can lead a student off in the wrong direction when learning to play jazz. First, music is a manual skill which requires many years of practice to play at even a basic level of competence. Second, playing jazz is an aural skill. Manual skills and aural skills are not traditionally part of most people’s education. So, a mindset shift must occur. Those professional skills will come in handy though; I’ll just help enlarge them.
(Authors note I own more than 100 drum books, I’ve listened to hundreds of hours of podcasts on drumming, I’ve subscribed in the past to a Jazz education subscription service promising great masterclass from my jazz heroes, and I live on YouTube. Furthermore, I own too many drum sets, snare drums, and cymbals. So, I understand.)
What can I do for you?
In short, I will present material to you in a logical fashion based on your specific circumstances and provide weekly feedback. Old fashioned teaching in a modern 21st c. multi-modal manner.
4 hours of practice: No Grinding.
Top 5 tips for practicing any musical instrument
General and Jazz Specific Theory
If you would like some help, call me.
Who know hundreds of tunes, in the right keys, at the correct tempo? He never complains, is ready day and night? Doesn't drag or get lost?
Mr. Sunny Bass
Someday I hope to buy him lunch, a small gesture for all the get help he has been to my students.
Poland is a long way to travel to learn with American Jazz Masters Dena DeRose, Miguel Zenon, Aaron Goldberg, Mike Moreno, Ali Jackson, and Luques Curtis.
It was worth every penny for such a transformational experience. Bonus, a beautiful country and people too.
Aaron Goldberg, pianist, was our ensemble leader for the week.
About seven years ago I first attended the Jamie Aebersold Jazz Workshop in Louisville Kentucky as a drummer. I was green but pumped. I was pulled out of the workshop on day one and sent to a room where two instructors waited. Bassist Bob Sinicrope started drilling me with questions. Who are you? Why are you here? Very direct.
I explained I was a piano teacher and musician from Toronto who now played the drums. I had attended Berklee College of Music back in the day… He cut me off. “Who did you study with?”
Ah, Ray Santisi.
“Ray Santisi, I’m his bass player!” We were instant friends.
Which brings me back to Poland and Aaron Goldberg.
After hearing us all play we were put into groups and assigned rooms to report to. A bunch of us showed up, nervously eying each other. Language was an issue. There were 5 Poles, 2 Russian teenager wunderkinds, 1 Chinese Rock Star, and 1 Canadian old guy. We all noticed the room was devoid of music stands.
Aaron walks in. He was a student of Bob Sinicrope! He calls the first tune: Body and Soul. No music. We sing as a group the bass line of the song after much discussion and negotiation. We get it. Then the singer, in halting English, explains it’s in the wrong key. Aaron gives us a new tonic note and low and behold we sing the bass line in a new key. He counts us in. Away we go. I’m glad I’m a drummer that day.
At the concerts during the week, we are the only group playing without music. We play with intensity and conviction born from pure terror. We nail it.
Aaron buys us a bottle of Bison Vodka at weeks end and salutes us all.
Thank you Aaron for valuable insights and the vodka.
Memorize these tunes as your first priority using the method below. This method is based on the wise words of Louis Armstrong and experience of Lenny Tristano. I credit the singing of the chord roots to my week of study with Aaron Goldberg of Yes Trio. What a great insight Aaron presented.
Autumn Leaves https://youtu.be/tguu4m38U78 Key of Gm
Take the A train https://youtu.be/D6mFGy4g_n8 Key of C
Blue Monk https://youtu.be/_40V2lcxM7k Key of Bb
Satin Doll https://youtu.be/Gj42JotNUko Key of C
Blue Bossa https://youtu.be/U7eOs5lERww Key of C minor
C jam Blues https://youtu.be/16UIKglJ56w Key of C
How do I become a great pianist?
An honest question if a tiny bit naïve. If you are in a great hurry, it is going to be difficult. If you are looking for a “hack” or some shortcut, I don’t know any.
For centuries pianists have followed a standard set of proven practices.
I'm available to help and encourage you on your journey. Just call me.
"A landmark in jazz studies, 'Thinking in Jazz' reveals as never before how musicians, both individually and collectively, learn to improvise. Chronicling leading musicians from their first encounters with jazz to the development of a unique improvisatory voice." Amazon description.
A worthwhile read for every jazz student for the first hand recounting from master jazz musicians on how they learned to improvise.
If you are feeling stale, try the following exercises.
You've got to learn your instrument. Then, you practice, practice, practice. And then, when you finally get up there on the bandstand, forget all that and just wail.
I'm a professional pianist and music educator in West Toronto Ontario. I'm also a devoted percussionist and drum teacher.