Do you want to introduce jazz piano to your students? Or maybe you’re interested in finding out more about jazz piano for your own personal musical development? Curious Community Manager, Hannah O’Toole shares some of her favourite teaching activities and resources at all levels to get you started.
1. CREATE FIRST DUET & SOLO EDITIONS – FORREST KINNEY
If you want to introduce improvising right from the first beginner piano lesson, the late Forrest Kinney’s resources are excellent. You’ll quickly create a culture where improvising is normal, expected, and fun. We’ve featured Forrest and his work in many of our previous blogs, and in several of our Curiosity Boxes. You can read what he says about improvising (not just jazz piano) here. The full range of his publications are available to purchase as digital editions on his website here.
Create First is a fantastic resource for beginner piano lessons. My copy of the Duet edition lives on the Kindle app of my iPad, ready to pull out in a variety of situations. It works as a lesson starter, to fill the last few moments, or to reinforce concepts we have learned in the lesson. The flexible Pattern and Variation layout of the teacher part means you can play for as little or as much time as you like. Don’t Give Up! and Bottom Line Blues are great for introducing the Blues scale to the newest of beginners. All the black notes plus A make the blues scale on E flat. Number 1 of our Guiding Principles at The Curious Piano Teachers is “Making music should be at the heart of each lesson”. As a result, this is the perfect resource for cutting out teacher talk and just making music.
2. JAZZ FOR KIDS – RICHARD MICHAEL
Richard Michael does a phenomenal job of taking children from zero knowledge of jazz to being confident improvisers, with his new best-selling book published by Hal Leonard. You can read my full review on the Musicroom blog here. The videos are everything in this book; don’t skip them! You and your students can’t fail to be inspired by Richard’s passion for jazz. I promise you will be falling about laughing after working through the first two units of off-bench rhythm activities together; the perfect mood-lifting, ice-breaking activity!
Members of The Curious Piano Teachers can access the recording of an exclusive workshop with Richard in our May 2021 Curiosity Box: Teaching Jazz Piano, where he gives his insights on using the book with your students. This is a method that you could easily set for some students to work through independently over their summer break, especially if your students have access to an online learning platform such as Cadenza or Musico. By the end of the book, students will be ready to begin exploring ABRSM jazz piano grades from Grade 1; Richard carefully sequences the material to get them to this point (more on this below).
3. TAKE TEN – JUNE ARMSTRONG
We love working with June Armstrong at The Curious Piano Teachers. Her collections of educational pieces are a firm favourite with our members and their students. If you enjoyed Alphabet (which we explore in detail in our September 2019 Curiosity Box on rote teaching) and Paint Box (from which came the ABRSM Grade 2 piece, Dusty Blue), then you’ll love June’s latest collection, Take Ten. Watch the replay of our free webinar where June introduces each piece here:
June suggests how you can use these pieces, which range from approximately Grade 1 to Grade 3, to inspire your students to improvise. The last page of the book sets out the scale that each piece is based on; a great touch. All of June’s collections are available from her website as both hard copy, and a studio licence, so you can supply copies to your students. June has also contributed a video mini-series to our May 2021 Curiosity Box where she shares some ideas to get you and your students improvising. Students working through the Piano Safari method will easily be able to jump into these pieces as supplementary or performance repertoire. We’re already excited about June’s next jazz piano collection, the follow-on to Take Ten, Razzamatazz, which June says will be a step up rhythmically, harmonically and technically… watch this space!
4. ABRSM JAZZ GRADES
Richard Michael’s Jazz For Kids is the ideal introduction to ABRSM’s suite of jazz piano grades that run from Grade 1 to Grade 5, as you’d expect, given that he played a major role in developing the ABRSM Jazz Syllabus. Students who have worked through Jazz For Kids will feel at home opening the ABRSM Grade 1 Jazz Piano pieces as the layout of the pieces are very similar. Even if actually taking the jazz exams is not the end goal for your students, they will still have a lot of fun working through the pieces with the backing tracks, and developing their own improvisations to contemporary jazz pieces and standards such as I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free and Take The ‘A’ Train.
Candidates have to prepare three pieces, a quick study, scales and aural tests. The consensus is that although ABRSM’s Jazz Grades finish at Grade 5, the pianistic standard required to do well at that level is actually much higher. The comprehensive manual Jazz Piano From Scratch with accompanying audio examples explains all the requirements, and is a treasure trove of teaching ideas for group and solo lessons; I haven’t finished mining it yet…
5. EXPLORING JAZZ BOOKS 1 & 2 – TIM RICHARDS
Tim Richards is also an ABRSM jazz examiner, and has been active on the jazz scene since the 1980s with the group ‘Spirit Level’ from Bristol. His 2 volume series Exploring Jazz Piano 1 and 2 is ideal for adult or intermediate/advanced level students. Piano teachers looking for a solid introduction to jazz technique and improvisation will also enjoy it. I have used it successfully with a 17-year-old post Grade 8 student. It introduces each concept in a practical and systematic way with plenty of technique exercises and improvisation starting points. I plan to work through it too; highly recommended.
6. THE JOY OF JAZZ
This repertoire book from the “Joy Of” series by Denes Agay was published in the 1960s. I loved it so much that I borrowed it on repeat from the local library and sight-read my way through the lot as a teen… (I did eventually buy my own copy). The pieces are described as “Easy To Medium Grade Solos” and would be suitable for students from Grade 3 upwards. Styles covered include ragtime, blues, swing, be-bop, 52nd Street jazz, rock and roll and modern jazz. For the classically-trained musician, it’s a brilliant collection that teaches the jazz language, and still one of my favourites.
7. A CLASSICAL APPROACH TO JAZZ PIANO IMPROVISATION – DOMINIC ALLDIS
A composer friend gave me this book when I first started out as a piano teacher. She invited my husband and me to an anniversary party, and Dominic Alldis played a wonderful set on the piano that her husband had bought for her! A Classical Approach To Jazz Improvisation, published by Hal Leonard is a useful resource for jazz scales, fingerings, and voicings. It is suitable for adult students, or classically-trained teachers wanting to learn jazz improvisation. I can open it at any page and quickly learn something new so it’s another one on my study list…
8. THE JAZZ PIANO BOOK – MARK LEVINE
Likewise, this book recommended to me by a friend is hefty, but a good grounding in jazz piano. Teachers wanting to understand jazz harmony and voicings in a practical way will find it helpful. Levine’s writing style is easy to follow, and there are plenty of listening suggestions to back up the exercises. My friend’s top tip was to learn how to play the II-V-I progression in every key with a three-note voicing. Levine covers this in Chapter 3…
9. TWO TO READ
Ted Gioia’s book, The History of Jazz, is one of the most authoritative places to start for an overview. This playlist on Spotify picks out all of the tracks mentioned. The new edition looks more at the contributions of women to jazz, and recent developments in the genre.
Barry Kernfeld’s What To Listen For In Jazz is a great resource providing an analytical look at jazz. The audio examples are good if you just don’t know where to start. I’m listening as I type…
10. OUR CURIOSITY BOXES
Inside The Curious Piano Teachers’ membership we have several Curiosity Boxes covering jazz and improvisation. There’s May 2021: Teaching Jazz, September 2020: Getting Started With Improvisation, and February 2018: From The Blues To Beyonce featuring exclusive videos by Christopher Norton and Olly Wedgwood and members also have access to our private Facebook group, The Curiosity Lounge.
In conclusion, these are my top ten jazz piano resources for the teaching studio…there are many more I could have mentioned including anything by Nikki Iles, the Jazz Piano Solos series by Hal Leonard, Martha Mier…the list goes on! Why not add your favourites in the comments and keep the discussion going?
For more online teaching tips, repertoire suggestions, and exclusive discounts, why not join our supportive Community of piano teachers? Your first month of support is absolutely FREE. Click here to join and enter the code FREESUPPORT to claim your first free month, and after that, our usual subscription rate applies.
This blog post was written by Hannah O’Toole, Community & Marketing Manager, The Curious Piano Teachers.