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#1140321 - 09/09/08 04:27 PM GUIDE TONES
wajo22 Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 09/09/08
Posts: 9
Loc: Atlanta, GA
I've been trying to learn how to play JAZZ piano for about 3 years now. I've never followed a system, except learning how to play some jazz songs on my own. Although, I know enough theory as far as Jazz chord building is concerned, but it's been hard for me to play at an intermediate level.

My biggest problem is be able to create smooth voice leading progressions, sometimes my guide tones trick me. Also, I'm so bad at accompaniement.

I've heard that it is impossible to master keyboard harmony unless you have a good fundamental understanding of guide tones: be able to recognize and play them with spontaneity. How truthful is this statement? And How can I help myself?

- Show quoted text -

Piano & Music Accessories
#1140322 - 09/10/08 08:52 AM Re: GUIDE TONES
jjo Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/09/08
Posts: 593
Loc: Chicago
By guide tones I assume you're referring to the third and seventh notes of a chord. They are important because they define the sound of a seventh chord. I don't think the focus is on recognizing guide tones so much, as learning how to voice chords in way that allows you to easily move from one chord to the next. I'd make three suggestions:
1. Get Mark Levine's The Jazz Piano Book. It is one of the most respected jazz instructional books.
2. The most basic thing to learn is how to voice a II-V-I progression. For example, in C major, play D, G, and then C in the left hand (roots), and F/C, F/B, and then E/B in the right hand. By moving only one note each time, you will have played a II-V-I progression.
3. If you look at instructional materials, you will have to make a big decision at the outset. Are you looking to play jazz solo, or with a combo. The reason is that much jazz instruction for piano focuses on rootless voicings, which are necessary if you're playng with a bass player, but not usable if you're playing solo.

#1140323 - 09/10/08 11:02 AM Re: GUIDE TONES
wajo22 Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 09/09/08
Posts: 9
Loc: Atlanta, GA
I am more interested in playing solo (tunes without effusive improvisation; I don't care too much about Jazz improvisation. I just want to play tunes by adding nice licks here and there) but some of the chord books I'm using now don't help much. Like you said, most of those books focus on rootless voicings, although sound nice, but unusable for solo piano. I think I need a Chord Book that helps with harmonizing tones when playing solo. I've seen a book called JAZZ KEYBOARD HARMONY...does anyone know if that will help in that area?

#1140324 - 09/10/08 01:09 PM Re: GUIDE TONES
Gyro Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/24/05
Posts: 4533
I'm mainly a classical player, but for
several yrs. now I've been trying hard to
learn jazz/popular piano on my own from
various jazz method books. I've
had scant success with it in the sense
of being able to sit down and belt out
some jazz or popular arrangement of my
own. I've watched some cocktail lounge
type pianists--who do this type of
playing--and talked with some
of them, and from what I've been able to
gather they are apparently doing
the following: if they've had extensive
classical training, which is most of them,
they are not shy about simply memorizing
the arrangements out of various
jazz/popular/rock anthologies
and then playing them that way with maybe
a few improvisational touches of their
own, but the bulk of it is apparently
straight from the printed arrangements;
they apparently do some pure improvisation
of their own, but this seems to be
a minor part of their repertoire--and this
is exensively practiced and committed to
memory beforehand, and so it is not
actually being improvised on the spot;
and then they apparently do a combination
of the previous two things sometimes,
that is, memorized repertoire with
improvisations sprinked in.

Therefore, it appears that for an amateur,
trying to do what the jazz method books say
is not going to get you very far in the
practical sense, because it is too theoretical
and academic. The main focus should be
on simply playing the printed jazz/popular/rock
arrangements in books and them memorizing
them. After a time doing this with many
songs, you'll apparently be able to
add some improvisational touches of your
own to them by ear. And then after more
time you'll be able to improvise such
stuff by ear. But the foundation for
all of this seems to be extensive experience
with playing the printed arrangements out
of books and memorizing them.

#1140325 - 09/10/08 02:16 PM Re: GUIDE TONES
knotty Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/01/07
Posts: 2940
Loc: Bethesda, MD (Washington D.C)
I disagree about rootless voicings. They are very useful in solo piano in many contexts, for example Stride or walking bass, or just if you LH plays root + 3, 5, 7 or 10

It's even used as LH chords in solo context.

I agree with Gyro, the easiest way is probably to pick up a few arrangements and practice them. After a few, you start understanding what chords get replaced, what voicings are used, and how voice leading works.

A little theory won't hurt. Levine is a good place for theory.

Try getting some Preston Keys arrangements. They are easy to play, and they are Jazzy.

Take care.


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