Six Steps to Jazz Improvisation

Jonathan Delbridge Playing Piano

A key element of playing jazz piano is learning to improvise. In this blog post I’m going to give you some step-by-step guidance to help you create your first piece of jazz piano music!

Step 1: Learn to play the three primary chords in the key of C with your left hand

These chords are:

  • Chord I (tonic) – C major – C, E and G
  • Chord IV (subdominant) – F major – F, A and C
  • Chord V (dominant) – G major – G, B and D
Step 2: Learn the C blues scale in the right hand

The blues scale is formed from the notes C, E flat, F, F sharp, G, B flat and C. You can try different fingering patterns to find what works best for you, but a lot of people use 1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2 3.

Step 3: Learn the twelve bar blues pattern

You can now practise playing the three primary chords using a twelve bar blues pattern. Play chord C for 4 bars, followed by F for 2 bars, C for 2 bars, G for one bar, F for one bar and finishing with C for 2 bars.

Step 4: Record the twelve bar blues pattern and practise making up tunes in the right hand

Record yourself playing the twelve bar blues. You may wish to use a metronome to ensure you are keeping a steady beat. You can then practise using the C blues scale in the right hand to make up different melodies over the top of this recording.

Step 5: Be experimental!

Don’t be afraid to try lots of different ideas in your right hand melodies. Remember, when you are improvising you cannot play a wrong note!

Step 6: Put the hands together

Now we are confident with playing our left hand chords and making up melodies in the right hand using the blues scale, we can put the hands together. Again, you may find it helpful to use a metronome to keep a steady beat.

Congratulations! You have now created your first jazz improvisation!

If you’d like to explore this subject further, do check out my full video tutorial lesson on improvisation.
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