This post contains affiliate links.
So you’re looking for a jazz piano teacher. With so many things you need to learn to play jazz, it can feel overwhelming. So getting a jazz piano teacher to have a structure to follow is a good idea. However, since jazz piano is very different compared to other piano genres, the criteria for a great classical teacher aren’t the same for a great jazz teacher.
Thus, you’re not sure how to find a good jazz piano teacher. What should you be looking for in a jazz piano teacher?
These are the 7 qualities of a good jazz piano teacher:
- Develop your playing by ear skill
- Encourage improvisation
- Encourage creativity
- Make playing jazz fun
- Adaptable to your wants and needs
- Enthusiastic about teaching
In this article, I’ll explain each of these qualities further so that you have a better understanding of what makes a great jazz piano teacher so you can find the best teacher for you and start enjoying jazz piano!
I’ll also discuss where to find jazz piano teachers, as well as when should you consider getting a jazz piano teacher, especially if you currently already have a piano teacher.
What should you look for in a jazz piano teacher?
Here are the 7 qualities of a good jazz piano teacher:
Develop your playing by ear skill
There’s a heavy emphasis on being able to play jazz music by ear. This is because jazz piano traditionally is very aural based, where aspiring jazz pianists learn by listening to jazz music and playing along, without looking at any piano sheets.
This is why it’s important that a good jazz piano teacher gives a lot of ear training exercises to their students to get them to be able to play jazz by ear.
These ear training exercises will make it easier for you to listen to a melody or imagine the melody in your head, and be able to play it on the piano without resorting to pure muscle memory.
Some common ear training exercises your teacher may have you do include:
- Matching pitch: where you use your voice to reproduce the pitch of a tone you hear. Another variation is your teacher playing two notes on the piano and you have to identify which one is higher and which one is lower. It gets harder as the distance between the two notes shortens.
- Playing by ear: listen to simple nursery rhymes or Christmas tunes and play them on the piano, without music sheets.
- Transcribing music: where you listen to simple tunes and write them down on a piece of paper in notes notation.
A good jazz piano teacher will also use every chance they have to encourage you to listen to all kinds of jazz music, to submerge yourself into as many sub-genres of jazz as you can and pick out the ones you want to learn how to play the most.
Improvisation is the foundation of all jazz music. When you think of a jazz pianist, you think of someone that can sit down at the piano and play jazz music on the fly. They aren’t restricted by the rules written on sheet music that dictates what tempo they should be playing or how soft or loud they should be playing.
This is why it’s important that jazz piano teachers teach their students how to improvise. Improvisation is all about being free to do whatever you want, so a jazz piano teacher let their students mess around on a scale, going up and down, backwards, forward, sideways, whatever sounds good to you!
A jazz piano teacher will also show their students how to incorporate some jazz chords into their favourite tunes to make them jazzier.
However, improvisation is hard at first, especially if you come from playing the piano by following sheet music to the tee. You don’t know what to play and hitting “wrong” notes makes what you’re playing sound weird or not pleasant, discouraging a student from improvising.
Thus, a good jazz piano teacher encourages their students to improvise more, make them less hesitant from trying out more, and see what sounds good and what doesn’t.
This quote sums everything very well:
With jazz music having so much freedom, it makes sense that a good jazz piano teacher should have a free and creative mind as well, so they can transfer that creative mindset to their students.
Creativity in jazz piano means that you can take any music scale and make it your own, where you use it in a way that’s personal to you, adding a unique flavour to that scale.
Unfortunately, a lot of jazz piano teachers don’t focus on inspiring creativity in their students, but instead, drill jazz theory in their heads. While jazz theory is important, it should be considered a tool, a paintbrush that a piano student uses to express themselves on the blank canvas we call the piano.
Too much jazz theory restricts a student, making them feel like they have to follow these steps or rules when playing jazz, discouraging creativity and exploration – the aspects that make jazz … well, jazz.
One reason why so many jazz piano teachers focus too much on theory is that it’s easier to teach since there’s a clear structure, whereas it’s harder to teach something ambiguous like creativity. The theory is like building blocks, where you learn harder concepts by using concepts you built previously as the foundation.
Make playing jazz fun
Playing jazz piano is also about having fun. You should enjoy and be proud of what you are able to play on the piano. With so much freedom in jazz, the more fun you have, the better you’ll play. This is as opposed to classical piano, which requires difficult and precise techniques and timing, which can be boring.
Thus, a good jazz piano teacher makes the art fun and enjoyable for their students. They won’t constantly drill dry jazz theory into your head every class but introduce one new jazz concept to apply to your playing, letting you loose to have fun exploring all the possibilities.
Furthermore, having fun will excite and motivates you to practice the piano more.
Adaptable to your wants and needs
A good jazz piano teacher is adaptable. This makes sense since learning jazz is about what you want to be able to do with jazz. If you want to learn a sub-genre of jazz-like bossa nova or bebop, a jazz teacher is flexible and will be able to teach you that.
Also, a good jazz piano teacher will take into consideration your skill level with the piano, how fast you can learn, as well as how much time per week you can commit to practicing piano, in order to make a study plan that’s suitable for you and help you progress as a jazz pianist.
Enthusiastic about teaching
Imagine this: do you want to learn under someone who’s passionate about what they’re doing, vs someone who doesn’t care and is only there because of the paycheck? Of course, you’d want a passionate teacher!
As you study under an enthusiastic jazz piano teacher, that enthusiasm will transfer to you and fire you up and get you to care about what you’re learning. An enthusiastic teacher inspires their students to be the same as them.
Plus, any teacher will be happy to see their students be so excited about what they’re teaching, so it’s a win-win for both sides.
A good jazz piano teacher needs to be patient with their students. Each student is different and has their own strong and weak point, and each progresses at the piano at a different speed.
The good jazz teacher needs to offer constructive criticisms with a cool head and doesn’t let emotions or frustrations at the student’s lack of progress make them accidentally insult the students and discourage them.
They need to understand that each student is unique, and it’s their job as an educator to be patient with all of them, making sure they all get the help with the piano that they need.
Where to look for a jazz piano teacher?
Online on Google
You can search on Google to see if there are any jazz piano teachers near you. When searching, look out for listings that say that the teacher specializes in teaching jazz piano, rather than “also teach jazz piano” in addition to other genres.
This makes sure that you get the best insights and helpful tips from someone who has years of experience with jazz piano. See how long they’ve been teaching and playing jazz piano.
Jazz piano teachers offer lessons either online or in person. If you’ve never taken a lesson virtually Zoom and are wondering how it works, the pros and cons vs in person, check out Virtual Piano Lessons – Everything You Need to Know
Word of mouth
You can rely on words of mouth from friends and families to find a jazz piano teacher. If you are currently studying under a piano teacher, you can ask them if they know or have a jazz piano colleague that offers lessons.
Music shops that sell pianos usually also offer lessons. Check in with some of the music shops near you to see if there are any jazz piano teachers around.
Ask local jazz pianists
You can find jazz pianists at jazz gigs like pubs or cafe shops and ask them if they offer any lessons. Or you can just ask them for some tips and pointers on where to start learning jazz.
When to get a jazz piano teacher?
If you are currently studying a piano teacher, studying classical for example, you may wonder when is the right time to move on to learn jazz.
Using the RCM (Royal Conservatory of Music) levels system and ABRSM (Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music) grade system, you should be at least RCM level 8 or ABRSM grade 6-7 before you should try your hands with jazz.
This is because at that grade/level, you have a good understanding and grasp of the basics, and you can apply those basics in your study of jazz piano.
Also, check with your current teacher first to see if they have any experience with jazz. If they do, consider starting out learning what you can about jazz from them to save yourself the hassle of finding a jazz piano teacher.