I am currently taking jazz piano lessons from a jazz pianist. I am very fascinated by this music style, and listen to it a lot. I found out that I really like the traditional kind of jazz piano, especially Erroll Garner.

The problem is: my piano teacher is more of a modern kind of jazz player. He knows a lot of stuff about Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, those kind of artists. He said to me that he doesn't know a lot of things about traditional piano, so my question is: how can I, besides listening to a lot of traditional jazz piano, become better in that style?

Are there ways to learn more about traditional theory, or certain things I need to know to begin in that direction? Btw, I can't read music.

3 Answers 3


I would suggest transcripts of solos, but...

Btw, I can't read music.

Oscar Peterson wrote a series of jazz etudes for beginners.

I've never played them and I don't know if any jazz teachers use them, but at least they are straight from the source.

According to the NPR bio Monk could read and studied classical piano.

And according to this other NPR bio Garner could not read.

So it's a bit of a mixed bag with the icons you want to emulate whether they could read music. You might consider whether your ability to read and your knowledge of classical repertoire and techniques are important for your own goals.

  • I've looked at this studies some years ago but I couldn't find a great difference to any other boogie or blues books for beginners. I don't think this is somehow it's not a introduction in his style. Jan 16, 2019 at 17:15
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    @AlbrechtHügli, I agree those studies don't seem to exemplify Peterson's own style. But I'm trying to show the OP that not being able to read music is a problem. And it doesn't matter if the style is jazz. The fact that the OP won't be able to benefit from the written transcriptions of these artists is a huge learning barrier. Jan 16, 2019 at 17:44
  • I fully agree! that's what I say. and I hope all beginners have heard it. playing boogie patterns can also be a good help for learning to read. Jan 16, 2019 at 18:11

You might want to take a few lessons with other teachers in your area to see if you can find someone with more experience with the kind of music you like. If you have a good relationship with your current teacher, you may even ask him if he knows of anyone.

There is nothing wrong with trying out teachers to find the best one for you, and you don't even have to stop studying with your current teacher, if you find you're getting benefit from him. Some supplementary lessons from someone else can give you a whole new perspective.

Additionally, transcribing (learning by ear) some of your favorite Erroll Garner solos will also be very beneficial.

  • I had to transcribe the oscar peterson video by emmie nolten (look up my answer) for really understanding what she explains. of course there are people who are learning by listening and others reading and analyzing, but I agree that both approaches are needed. but I will never accept the argument: I can't read. Jan 16, 2019 at 17:06

Even I know that you are not the only jazz musician who can't read music, I conclude of your answer that purchase this competence will help you the most! You will be able to play sheet music and the writings of your favorite composers. You can find some books for free download or on scribd. You will be able to study the theory book of Mark Levine and the music theory of classic music. Otherwise you well always stay dependent of youtube tutorials (which also have a great benefit to you. If you can't find them I will post you some links. I like to watch Amie Nolte e.g. She does really well!

I'd like to add another video:

  • Amie Nolte is a good teacher, but I would say she's more towards the modernist camp, so maybe not the best for the OP.
    – Peter
    Jan 16, 2019 at 16:39
  • yes, she is the most beautiful girl and I love her a lot ;) Jan 16, 2019 at 17:08

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