Week 1 – How to Play Jazz Piano

Week 1 of my learning project journey is in the books! My biggest takeaway from the week is that this is going to be a lot more difficult than I anticipated.  Playing jazz compared to classical music requires a shift in how you think and process music.  Instead of relying on sheet music, I am focusing on using my ears to listen to the chords and my brain to figure out what I am playing.  From a theoretical standpoint, I find jazz music fascinating as you experiment with different chords and voicings.  But I also find it frustrating because I am so used to playing exactly what is written on a sheet of music.  In some ways, I compare it to learning a new language, where you are translating the words in your head before speaking.  This week I am “translating” the chords and creating a visual image in my mind before I play the notes on the piano.  Sometimes I rely on the feel of the keys and my hand position, but then my technical brain takes over as I want to know exactly what I am playing.  I anticipate this will be a continued struggle as I progress through my journey.

After my initial blog post about the learning project, I received some great feedback about where to look for resources online.  Similar to my classmate Brooke, I put a call-out on social media asking for advice of where to start. I received lots of useful information and of course some funny but unhelpful advice.

Untitled presentation
(The first video suggestion falls into the “unhelpful” category”)

To document my learning journey, I pondered with the idea of vlogging like my classmate Amanda. Like Amanda, I am completely new to vlogging, but we had a great discussion in class on Tuesday night about ways to document our journey in interesting ways. Here is my first attempt!

What I worked on:

  • Demonstrated what I already know (basic form of the 12 bar blues)
  • Practiced play 2-5-1 (ii-V-I) chord progressions using 3rds and 7ths voicings


  • I figured out the progression fairly quickly and immediately fell in love with the “jazzy” sound
  • I didn’t resort to using sheet music! This is a big one for me. I practiced strictly by ear.


  • A realization that playing jazz is a lot more difficult and mentally involved than I thought

Resources used:

Aimee Nolte’s YouTube channel is supposed to be great according to recommendations from my jazz friends. My only complaint is there is a lot of talking before you get to the main practice.

That’s a wrap on week 1! For the next week I will continue my 2-5-1 practice in all keys and maybe starting working on a more sophisticated 12 Bar Blues.

12 thoughts on “Week 1 – How to Play Jazz Piano

  1. I loved watching your video, Catherine! A co-worker of mine often says that the most iconic jazz players are the ones that have an extensive musical background because it really is so complex. It looks like you’re off to a great start. Did you use iMovie or a different program to edit your video?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for watching/reading! It is definitely a mental workout. I used WeVideo – it’s super user friendly! I tried using iMovie on my phone for a bit, but I prefer to edit on my computer and I don’t have a Mac.


  3. Looks like you are off to a great start Catherine! I was reviewing iMovie for our Oct. 15 assignment and also tried it out to show my week 1 learning project progress but your WeVideo looks really polished! I think I will give it a try sometime this semester. I totally understand not wanting to use iMovie on your phone.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. If you decide to try WeVideo out, let me know! There is a link from Stu Harris to sign up through the division. I think you will get more features with that version.


      1. Thanks! I will let you know. Seems like the paid WeVideo version allows you to add a bit more creative flair with the textual elements than iMovie but I’m still new to iMovie so there could be features I’m missing!


  4. Catherine,
    I love your vlog! I am amazed by you playing without sheet music. Being a total beginner, I was amazed how smoothly your fingers move, no sign of “flying finger”. 🙂 Thank you for sharing the 12 bar blues with so much detail. I will totally try it. I really enjoyed the 3 Exercises to Master Blues Piano. I think it is quite easy to follow.
    Thanks for sharing your expertise as well as great online resources!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I guess all those years of practicing scales is finally paying off. At least my hands can “look pretty” if it doesn’t sound great!


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