Chords 101

People often ask me how to begin to learn to play jazz piano. Unfortunately, even if you are (or were once) a fairly skilled classical player there is no one semester class or latenight video infomercial lesson series that is going to work for this. You need to become somewhat obsessed – listening to a lot of jazz and also spending significant time at the piano learning chords, voicings and theory. Both of these will feed into your playing in a noticeable way if you keep the intensity up. To get started learning ‘jazz chords’ I recommend first learning to play all root chords by their notation symbol in all keys. You really can’t begin to tackle a leadsheet and understand jazz piano voicings and harmonies until you can bang these chords out on demand, picture them in your head when you see the symbol and hear them when they are played to you. Rather than reinventing the wheel, I will point you to places that convey these concepts well.

Chord construction/shortand

Mike Titlebaum’s Java Applet Ear Trainer

Chord Visualizer

If you feel you have this down you should be able to answer the questions below without much thinking and you are ready to think about how to voice these chords for piano.

What notes are in the following chords?
Ab major

Gm7

Fmaj7
G+

PZM live piano miking

PZM live piano miking

I decided a while back that it would be fun to record my steady piano gig. I thought it would be good for my playing to listen to what I was doing after the fact and I also hoped that I just might capture the odd moment. I have a nice portable DAT machine but the problem was figuring out how to set up a couple of mikes. This is a pretty suboptimal recording situation to say the least. The room can be pretty loud. I came to the conclusion that the best way to deal with this was the trusty Realistic PZM. These were inexpensive mikes made by Crown for Radio Shack in the 80s that have maintained a loyal cult following because they sound amazingly good. I had one lying around from when I was in High School and just grabbed another one on eBay. They really do an amazing job isolating the piano if i record with these guys taped onto the lid and the lid closed. Things do sound a little “boxy” but the stereo separation is good and I think I can do some postproduction to make it sound a little less like I am playing in a coffin. Apparently you can convert these things to run on Phantom Power but I haven’t done that yet.