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Key Elements of Learning How to Play Jazz

Here are the elements every jazz player needs to understand when they start their journey into playing jazz for the long-term.

Choose Your Instrument

I personally enjoy playing jazz guitar, but there are countless instruments that you can play jazz on. Depending on the type of music you prefer, you could play jazz guitar, jazz piano, drums, saxophone, or any of the other countless instruments used in the jazz vein.

I typically recommend choosing a variety, and sometimes piano is the best place to start as it helps you learn the core chords you’ll be playing no matter what type of instrument you decide on. Be sure to choose an instrument that makes practical sense for your time and environment. It is extremely helpful if you plan on practicing regularly.

Start with the Standards

Next, you’ll want to learn your standards. Jazz standards help familiarize you with the language of jazz and what it means to play jazz like an expert. Basically, jazz standards put you in a position where you cover all the basic chords and progressions you will be expected to understand as you progress in your journey to become an expert.

Everyone who wants to play jazz music should at the very least understand what jazz standards are and know one or two by heart. The sooner you learn jazz standards, the closer you’ll come to mastering the jazz instrument you’ve chosen.

Understand What You Hear

Another important element of learning how to play jazz music is to understand what you are listening to. Undoubtedly you’ve listened to jazz music for a good portion of your life, which means you probably know what it should sound like. The question is, do you really understand why it sounds the way it does. Chances are, you don’t.

Start by listening to a few of your favorite jazz songs. See if you can figure out what chords and tunes are being played in at least 2 or three bars of the song. You can also use software to slow down your favorite songs and see if you can break them apart so you can learn how to play them like the experts.

Build Your Vocabulary

You may have heard it said before, but jazz music has its own vocabulary. The people who play it expertly are fluent in the language. Just like our language is made of up of symbols we call ‘letters’ and ‘words’, jazz music is made up of chords and progressions that create the songs we love.

To learn how to play jazz music of any kind you have to be dedicated, patient and willing to be wrong. God knows I have been in my journey. Explore these facets of jazz before you pick up an instrument, and you’ll be in a better position to be the best musician you can be.

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