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Tips and Tricks for the (Solo) Piano Learner: Pt 2. - Resources

Updated: Jun 24

My previous post described how to use the imaginary rhythm section to relieve some of the mental pressure that can come from an all-encompassing instrument like the piano.

I want to follow up by highlighting some learning resources that I use to keep myself moving along, without access to a regular teacher or structured program.

Part 2: Let’s Get Cooking

I’ve been on the jazz learning train for quite a while now - it’s a process. When I first started, the main resources available where I live (New Brunswick, Canada) were books. If you were lucky, you got to see some live jazz or catch a workshop. The Harvest Music Festival, which began as Harvest Jazz and Blues, gave me the chance to see lots of Canadian jazz, such as David Braid, Mike Murley, Gene Smith, Terry Clarke, Steve Wallace, Phil Nimmons, Bill Stevenson, Tom Easley, Mark Adam, Shirley Eikhard, Michael Kaeshammer, Oliver Jones, Emilie Claire-Barlow, Molly Jones, Mike Downes, Ted Quinlan, Joel Miller, Fraser Holland, Miles Howe, and many more. In fact, it was David Braid who told me to get a copy of The Jazz Piano Book, which is a mainstay I continue to use.

And books are great, but jazz is an oral tradition. What the page says and how people play it is often very different. Anybody who has every gotten their grandmother’s recipe knows that what she has written down is not everything you need to know. So, hearing how people play it and adding your own flavour is what it’s all about.

Now, the internet has been a complete game-changer and we can learn from people all over the world. I have found the Ten Minute Jazz Lesson Podcast to be a big help in that sense – the lessons are short and host Nick Mainella’s recordings demonstrate how to apply it. This podcast is free, and if you pitch in a few dollars each month you can also get the pdf’s to help you see/follow along. And, you can go back as many times as you need to re-hear or try things along with the recording. I find his approach very step-by-step and user-friendly, and it has been very helpful for me. Highly recommended.

Another app I use is also a mainstay – iReal Pro. It’s pretty adaptable, you can turn on or off the bass/drums/piano and there are tons of standards readily available, which you can also edit. All of the normal features (tempo, key changes) are easy to use and you can also type in your own changes and it will give you a decent approximation of styles. This is a really useful tool to work at all speeds and to help you get used to locking in with an actual rhythm section. You can also use this to support if you are jamming with another player but don’t have a full band at that particular moment.

Of course, I also continue to play along with recordings and use the YouTube settings to slow things down – just like most jazz musicians did in the days of record players. As my ears develop, it gets easier and helps me feel more equipped to just dive in and swim, without knowing anything about a tune. Now that my skills are improving, I find this to be more fun and less terrifying. Happy practicing! Feel free to reach out if you have questions about anything on the blog.

Which jazz learning resource do you prefer?

  • Podcasts

  • Apps

  • Recordings

  • Books


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