2 Things Classical Pianists Need to Know About Learning Pop and Jazz Chords

Classical pianists often have a lot of difficulty playing the chordal style of jazz and pop music. Perhaps it’s because classical piano emphasizes technical passages that value scales, arpeggios, and counterpoint above straight chords. Or perhaps classical piano’s emphasis on reading skills de-emphasizes the deep listening and kinaesthetic experience of playing chords (often from chord symbols) that jazz/pop pianists are so familiar with.

At any rate, most intermediate classical pianists have some catching up to do, and their affinity for playing some sort of popular music is tempered by the difficulty of working through a lot more chords than they are used to reading in a piece.

Here are two steps for getting the chords right:

  1. Read the correct notes for each chord from bottom to top. Don’t just get a general sense of the chord or guess at it. Read every single note from bottom to top to ensure full accuracy. Yes, that includes accidentals too. 
  2. Remember the sound and feeling of where your fingers go. This is the area where non-classical pianists really shine. If you’re developing these skills as a classical pianist, focus on the particular sound quality of the chord, as well as the distances between fingers and relationship of white to black notes.

Transferring to kinaesthetic and auditory memory as soon as possible is very important for classical pianists learning jazz and pop music. If this doesn’t happen, you might find yourself in the unenviable position of having to re-learn the notes every single time you play.

Once you’re comfortable with the style, next steps include learning how to play from chord symbols alone and discovering the improvisational art of jazz.

from The Collaborative Piano Blog


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