I'm a keyboardist with classical training since childhood, and an unresistible urge to play pop (rock, funky, ballad, progressive rock, radio pop, anything non-classical) music. I want to become a professional musician but I have relatively small interest in jazz. However, it seems to me that every professional pop musician (see the Toto keyboardists, Lady Gaga session musicians, etc.) come from a jazz background.

I do have a huge respect for jazz music and I'm not completely ruling out excursions to jazz. But I can't really imagine myself spending many years in exclusively jazz education.

I also would like to learn sound synthesis, as an integral part of any keyboardist's work today. And they definitely don't teach that for jazz pianists.

Is it possible to become a trained professional musician without heavy jazz studies?


And where to look for such training/education? Institutions or private teachers?

  • 1
    Most pop-like genres (e.g., rock, hip-hop, etc.) came from jazz. Knowing how to play jazz can be very helpful when playing those genres.
    – Luke_0
    Commented May 16, 2013 at 19:18
  • 3
    If you'd like to be a professional, it's ideal to at least be able to "fake" most all genres.
    – user6164
    Commented May 16, 2013 at 21:40
  • My dilemma is I don't know which answer should I accept :) They are equally good...
    – marczellm
    Commented May 28, 2013 at 7:53
  • check out berklee.edu
    – Hilmar
    Commented May 28, 2013 at 12:45
  • @Hilmar Not a bad idea! Too bad they cost a fortune, and are an ocean away. Seriously thinking on getting there somehow.
    – marczellm
    Commented May 28, 2013 at 13:04

4 Answers 4


The simple answer is yes - it is of course possible to become a trained professional musician without any study of jazz. There are various extremely successful keyboard players who did not come from a jazz background - take Rick Wakeman, for example.

You will slightly limit yourself if you explicitly avoid jazz, but it is not absolutely necessary.

The reason I say this is that jazz has had an influence on almost every genre of current music, so no matter what you do you will pick up bits of jazz technique without even being aware of it.

I am not a huge fan of jazz myself - I cope with blues-jazz, but I have trouble deciphering some of the atonal/arhythmic modern jazz styles. I do, however see the value in trying to learn at least the basics - the direct benefits are some alternative changes when soloing (as I'm a lead guitarist this helps my repertoire) and potentially a wider range of session work I can get paid for. As I learn more of other styles of music I find myself able and wanting to try more avenues, so jazz is creeping in more - and you may find the same happens :-)

update I attended the Edinburgh Guitar and Music Festival this weekend, and had the privilege of attending a seminar by Hugh Burns (played the guitar on Gerry Rafferty's Baker Street, George Michael's Careless Whisper and many others, and has made a good living as a session musician since the 70's.) The topic was 'Making it as a session musician'

His guidance was that while you didn't need to cover all genres, the more you knew the better your opportunities for work. And being able to read music was a huge differentiator for him. He also said that the greater part of his skill came from playing with other skilled individuals, so although he went into session work with some training, what counted was enthusiasm, ability to learn, and just playing with others.


It's really okay if you're not in to Jazz Music, and still be a professional musician. That case of yours is the same case like those professional rock musicians who do not play classics as well.

Besides, accordingly, it would take you 20 years of experience playing jazz music just to be branded as a Jazz musician. However, if POP is your main genre, there are a lot of Pop variations that apply some Jazz Principles, i think if there will be times that you cannot avoid studying jazz, just take it but do not hardly focus on it. Just for the sake of improvement.


Teasing out some meaning from some of your terms...

If you want to be a professional, that means making money. That means gigs or sessions.

For sessions, you need the ability to get a lick or riff or vamp right after just a few tries (or straight off the page). That means sight-reading. So your classical training should serve well here.

For gigging, you need to ability to keep going despite a mistake. Even better if you can fix the mistake by echoing or resolving back into the groove. This is where jazz skills will serve well.

The best way to learn, IMO, is not from a teacher, but from peers. Join or start a jazz ensemble, road trip to the store and get everybody a Real Book (ask at the counter, they'll know what you mean). For rock and pop styles, Count Basie and Duke Ellington ballads would be a good place to start. A night in Tunisia, Caravan, One-o-clock Jump: these all rock pretty hard.

As always, you'll need a Bass and a Drummer. And a Horn would be good, so you don't have to cover rhythm and melody (an extra complication).

A small ensemble is good for learning musical communication. How to lock into a groove. How to notice when somebody is trying to do something different. How to react to that.

  • The OP is trying to avoid jazz :-)
    – Doktor Mayhem
    Commented May 28, 2013 at 9:45
  • True, but he also said he's not trying too hard. :) I tried to emphasize that there are jazz tunes that aren't too jazzy. Radiohead, at least, found a way to incorporate jazz and rock without going all Steely Dan. :) Commented May 28, 2013 at 9:50
  • Good point. Have an upvote
    – Doktor Mayhem
    Commented May 28, 2013 at 10:26

I'd say that a lot of jazz players cut their teeth on classical or serious music, then felt the need to take things further, so into jazz.Most will know the classic rules of music, which still apply in jazz, even if they're not obeyed all of the time. The classical training you probably had may have left you staid in your playing - mine did on piano - and it'll take a while to shrug that off and start to wear a new mantle. Playing with pop and other players, as many and often as possible, will give the opportunity to start developing your own slant on music, rather than playing what (and how ) is dictated in classical stuff.

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