The piano has been an integral part of jazz bands since the origin of jazz. The best thing about it is that you can play jazz music as a soloist or as part of the band and thus the piano is also the most flexible musical instrument in a jazz band with its myriads of playing techniques.
Furthermore, most musical instruments in a jazz band can only play single notes with the exception of the vibraphone which at most can play two notes together, the guitar and the piano the latter two being able to play multiple notes as in a chord or single notes as and when the musician choose to do. That is why playing the jazz piano can be a very challenging but gratifying experience.
In the beginning, the jazz piano player’s role was just a percussionist role of keeping tempos with repetitive chord combinations. Those days are now long gone and the pianist now can choose any style and techniques to play with the band or to accompany singers such as using short sustained chordal and melodic fragments known as comping in the jazz fraternity.
If you want to be a good jazz pianist, you must be good at sight reading, playing by ear as well as being very skillful at improvising chords and notes. Furthermore, you must be very adaptable to the playing styles of various bands because playing jazz is often a jam session with other fellow musicians and very often in unrehearsed impromptu sessions.
Because of the extended range of notes on the piano keyboard, the jazz pianist have a much wider choice of notes and chords to improvise with and if you are a good pianist, you will enjoy yourself very much given the wide variations for your musical interpretation. No other instruments in a jazz band can come close to this flexibility and range. This being the case, the jazz pianist must master many more techniques and skills to be a master of his instrument.
One of the most common technique in jazz piano playing is a style called “striding the piano”. When you are striding on the piano, your left hand alternates positions very quickly playing notes in the bass register and chords in the tenor register. Your right hand usually plays the melody line of the song, but may also play the song’s harmonic content whether chordally or in octaves.
One duty of the jazz pianist is to provide a clear and swinging rhythm to the music. This can be done by striking a beat with the right hand just after a weaker beat with the left hand to give the feel of a swing so as to mimic the combination of a cymbal ride and the walking bass notes and strides. This technique is usually used in close collaboration with the bass player.
You can see that many jazz pianist play by holding their hands together in a fork like shape joining index, the third finger and the thumb to form a central group, while the last two fingers are spread outwards.
This technique is to enable the pianist to use the left branch fingers to play bass notes, the middle fingers to play the guide notes and the right branch fingers to play the higher melodic lines on the higher notes of the piano.
The above are just some of the many techniques jazz pianist are expected to be accomplished at. Yes, the demands placed on jazz pianists are very high indeed. However, if you can master the skills and techniques of playing jazz piano, you will find that it is one of the most gratifying experiences anyone can feel.
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