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I am a piano player, new to the world of jazz/blues and have just bought myself a copy of Jamey Aebersold's Blues in all keys and wanted some advice on how to practice using it, starting from simple tasks and progressing in the 'right' way. The following is the plan I have developed so far for each of the 12 tracks:

  • Transcribe (in my head) or invent a walking bassline with LH
  • Play the chord (once per chord change) in the RH
  • Add more of a rhythm to the RH chords when I feel comfortable
  • Sing some licks and add them into the RH when I feel it
  • Play along to the track once in its written key and transponse the exact same thing to all other keys

Are there any other important things I should be thinking/doing when working from this book/CD?

EDIT: I mainly want to improve my solo piano improvisational skills

  • The best way to practice will depend partly on whether you'll be playing primarily solo piano or in a group. For example, walking bass lines isn't something you'll really ever do if you play in a quartet with a bass and drums, but it would be useful if you plan to do a fair amount of solo piano. Which is more relevant to you? – jdjazz May 29 '18 at 22:23
  • Good point - solo piano for the time being, I have a couple of background piano gigs coming up – dippynark May 29 '18 at 22:24
  • What's wrong with Jamey's advice? On page 7, he walks you through a way to imprint the form and harmony in your muscle memory, by playing along with the First (1/2/3/5) notes of each scale, using chord tones, etc. Beyond that, I would sing a few solos and then try to play what you sang. – The Chaz 2.0 May 29 '18 at 22:28
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    It's good advice and I have been using it, but I feel I need something else to take it further – dippynark May 29 '18 at 22:30
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    You have a plan, try it. It seems like you are asking for more than just getting better at soloing. That process takes time so just get into the exercises and it will follow. Soloing is really composition on the fly. Learn the classic approach to composition, arranging, harmony theory etc. Beyond that the 2 basic changes are 12 bar blues (which you have) and Rhythm changes. Get these memorized to free your mind from overthinking. – ggcg May 30 '18 at 15:42
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Overview

If your focus is improvisation, then I recommend you start by practicing:

  1. a simple chord voicing in the left hand, and
  2. a simple improv technique in the right hand.

It's fine if you can't initially play both hands together (most people can't). Start with your left-hand voicings first, and practice these alone until they become automatic.

Voicing in the left hand

For your left-hand voicings, start with Bud Powell/shell voicings, and then move to rootless A and B voicings. Shell voicings contain only two notes: the root + either the 3rd/10th or the 7th of the chord. In a ii-V-I, you switch between the 1-3 voicing and the 1-7 voicing. Practice both voicings for each chord. This might require playing through the recording twice, switching every chorus, etc.

Improvisation technique in your right hand

For #2 (improvisation techniques), try these:

  • playing a single chord tone (e.g., the 3rd, then the 5th, then the 7th, etc.)
  • approach a single chord tone (same exercise as above, but approach the tone from a half step below, a scale step above, or some combination of both)
  • playing chord arpeggios followed by scale runs
  • playing scale patterns
  • finding lick you likes from a recording, transcribing them, and practicing them over the blues in all 12 keys

Improvising solo piano in a jazz context is ultimately a mix of many different skills. The left hand alone has many different techniques you'll ultimately want to master and have at your disposal while improvising with your right hand. My recommendation is to start with a smaller group of skills (like the list above) and making progress on those before moving on. In solo jazz piano, it's easy to overwhelm oneself with trying to learn too much at once. Walking a bass line is something I'd recommend doing later. It tends to be less used in an improvising/soloing context, and it's much more difficult to achieve independence between your two hands.

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