Brand new and looking for advice

I have only been here a few days but am kind of frustrated at trying to connect my piano playing with these lessons. I am coming from a background of childhood lessons then large gaps of time interspersed with pure sight reading playing. My frustration, as best I can express it, is that all the theory just really bores me and I have a real hard time sustaining interest enough to get over the ‘hump’ that I know I must to be able to get to another level of playing. I play arrangements pretty much note for note using the subscription service SCRIBD which gives me access to a ton of
written music,

I can amuse myself playing from the Real fake book but know I cannot take if farther until I learn some theory. I love playing the Christmas transcriptions and understand that going from the fake book chord structure to that is what I need to learn how to do. I am wondering if there is anyone else out there who has had a similar feeling of frustration coming from a sight reading only background and has found a way to connect with the theory taught so well here.

Thanks very much.

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Hey Jim,

First of all welcome, and thanks for sharing your position and aspirations.

I’ll start by giving you my advice, and I’m sure our other students will give their advice and insights from their own learning journey.

When someone posts in the forum, I get an immediate notification, and then notifications are sent out via email and so there is often a short delay before all of our community members will get the latest forum posts.

Let’s start with reading notation vs. playing spontaneously

I’d say that most of our community (myself included) started with a teacher giving us some musical notation to read. Whether that be scales, arpeggios, preludes, etudes etc…

This is an invaluable stage of development just to understand how to read music. So firstly, I would look at that as an asset, not a hindrance. For students that haven’t had musical lessons before, I want to be able to help them to learn to read music too. This is something I’d like to work on for a future section of our platform.

Anyhow, continuing with our discussion…

The nice thing with lead sheets is that we are given a very limited amount of information; just the melody, the chord symbol, and the note value.

As a jazz musician, you can interpret that however you want to. You can change or embellish the melody, we can substitute chords, and we can add our own bits of ‘jazz language’ based on the recordings we have listened to.

The PianoGroove System Of Learning

In all of our jazz standard lessons, the goal is to demonstrate how to arrange tunes from a lead sheet, and also ‘sprinkle in’ theoretical nuggets of information.

I’d recommend that first you should simply copy what is demonstrated in the arrangements. Then after learning maybe 20 of the arrangements, you will begin to see lots of similarities in the chords, the progressions, and the melodies.

Then I’d recommend that you try to think to yourself:

“What have a learnt in other jazz standards, that I could apply to this one”

For example, take a simple tutorial like the one on Misty:

First watch the lesson and learn the arrangement (both the simple and advanced versions).

Then watch this lesson on inner voice movement:

This lesson should immediately ignite your brain into the possibilities you have available during a performance for major, minor, and dominant chords. Remember you can apply this to any tune you are working on too!

Theory Studies vs. Jazz Standards Lessons

Pure theoretical studies can be a tedious activity, and so I’ve ensured that the PianoGroove syllabus is intertwined with jazz standards so that our students can apply the theory themselves. And then apply it to other tunes you are working on.

I guarantee that with focused daily practice, you will see improvements by following the courses in the PianoGroove syllabus.

I’ll stop there as I don’t want to ramble, but check out the links above, and I hope that will give you some insight into how the development occurs, and how many options you have available to you when playing jazz.

I have tonnes of fun with moving inner voices around when I’m playing. I love visualising the inner lines and that’s what I have tried to share in that lesson. That’s just 1 lesson on the site.

Let me know what you think, and I’ll happily give you some more direction if you like.

I’m sure some other members of our community will be happy to share some ideas too.


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well I certainly am with you in not feeling at all enthused about theory!
as far as transitioning from sight reading /notation playing to chords/ natural play:
I found that staying away from the even viewing the full transcription is better for weaning yourself away from notation when you are trying to learn chords and jazz.
Start with a SONG lesson, NOT a theory lesson. The needed theory will sink in as you have fun learning a song!

I always begin by printing out the pianoGroove lead sheet (several copies because I write all over them) and have it in front of my while i watch the lesson video. I do this AWAY from the piano. (so I don’t noodle over Hayden’s voice) and I take notes on that lead sheet as I watch and pause the video. I write down the root, the 3rd, the 7th on the lead sheet or whatever he was describing. (I am not a sight reader or note reader, so I actually write “A flat” or “E flat” i don’t even put real notes on the staff - thats how bad I am !! :wink:
Then when I go to the piano, I bring the iPad with me and watch the video all over again only two bars at a time - I then play those two bars repeatedly till they feel ok and that my brain connects that this is the R-3-7 and melody note or an upper structure for example. then I add the next two measures and i only play those four for a while (sometimes I only have 4 bar phrases for several days) as I learn the 4 bar bits, I begin to glue them together into the A section or the B section. When those are really in my hands and brain, I notice that effortlessly I begin to make it my own with small changes in voicing or expression.
I also discovered out that in just learning the tunes and not at all worrying about THEORY details that I accidentally learn the theory stuff Hayden is teaching us! suddenly I will realize that I actually hear an interval and a chord or my eyes/hands are doing something and I suddenly “get it”.

Most important thing is to go ahead and make mistakes and have fun and PLAY piano.
not “work” piano… play. laugh. try stuff. be brave…
on Nov 8 I am going to sit in on a jazz jam at a local pub and probably play lots of mistakes (and just keep going)… and it is doubtful I will have any idea what theory is taking place in my playing. but it will be fun. PianoGroove has made this possible for me.


Nice tips @LoriNelson

I think the key point @jim is to build an association between the notes that you are playing and the scale degrees of the underlying harmony.

For every chord you play, look at each note and say to yourself "that’s the root, that’s the 3rd, that’s the 7th, that’s the 9th etc… "

And very gradually, you will build an awareness of where everything is located. Before long, you will see the chord symbol on the lead sheet, and your hands will almost subconsciously find voicings from the muscle memory you have acquired.

Here’s some additional forum posts I think you will find useful:

The beginner Road Map contains a lot of information on various aspects of theory, and how this is essential in learning to interpret lead sheets, here’s the thread:

and also check out how I structured my practice time in the earlier parts of my journey:

Hope this helps and any other questions just let us know.

Hello friend, i olso have a frustrasting history with jazz but i Will tell you a little secret.You should find people your age who olso play jazz and start befriending them…it is what keeps me on track, all the friendships i made by beign around jazz music…music is meant to be shared.go to your local jam and start making your face known…and if you can find a mentor…sadly me and my mentor are no longer interacting with music because of life choises but he is still my friend…what motivates me is not Just hearing jazz on you tube but beign there on that social setting…go see jazz taking place live…sometimes it can blow your mind…start playing with this dudes…there is no fear…majority of jazz audiênce are either jazz musicians or a very seleçted group of people…nobody gives a sh@# if you are there or not…olso search for people who play jazz and other styles…a lot of jazz musicians use their jazz knowledge on other musical styles like funk,r&b, gospel,blues,progressive rock…a musical world will beign to open for you …all starts with jazz.


Really great tips Ivan :sunglasses:

Finding jam nights and meetups is so beneficial, in many ways:

  1. You will be listening to, or playing live jazz - nothing can replace this
  2. You will be exposed to different perspectives on learning jazz
  3. You can ask questions to people who are in a similar position
  4. Perhaps you can find a mentor
  5. The list goes on!

@jim - check out the website and search for jazz meetups in your area. If you are in, or close to a big city, I’m sure you will find some jazz related meetups or hangs.


Hi everyone!

I can almost echo @jim feelings, with the small exception that I’m not totally bored with the theory. I actually find parts of it fascinating, mentally. BUT I am having a hard time getting to the point where I know “that’s the 4th, that’s the 6th” and so on. I have to stop and think about it almost every time.

I guess I just have to trust that someday it will click. So here are some questions for @Hayden

I know that eventually i will need to know each of the numerical scale degrees in every key. Should I try to master one key at a time?

When I took piano lessons a thousand years ago, I practiced two octave scales a lot. But it was for technique. Now, is it ok to skip doing the two octave scale thing and just focus on drilling the numbers into my head as I’m playing one octave up and down?

I very much believe that knowing the numbers in every key (1-7, 9, 11, 13) is the key to unlock everything! So I’m looking for the right practice drills to burn this into my brain.

On another note, I so much enjoy this forum, very helpful, thank you to @LoriNelson for her tips on learning from the lead sheets. I travel a lot. I can apply some of what she said while sitting in my hotel room, away from my piano.

Thanks to all for your contributions!

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Hi Patrice.

Thanks for sharing this. Let me help you out here:

This will come with time.

For beginner students - within our first 1 to 2 years of jazz piano study - I recommend the following as key goals or objectives:

  • The 12 major scales
  • The 12 major 251 progressions
  • Understand the concept of extensions (9s, 11s, & 13s)
  • Rootles Voicings / Rootless 251
  • The Minor 251
  • Being able to play 10 - 20 nice jazz standard arrangements

Also understand that with 251s, you can always get better at them for the rest of your life, what I am referring to above is understanding the theoretical underpinnings, and having at least a reasonable grasp of them in 12 keys.

The Minor 251 is the challenging one, but I like a challenge so I’ll leave it in the above list :grinning:

9s, 11s, and 13s

My upcoming practice guide on the Chord Extensions Course covers 9s, 11s, & 13s, the 251 progression with extensions, and also sets the foundation for learning rootless voicings.

I will post this below as soon as it’s ready Patrice, as I reference and relate to many beginner elements too, such as learning scales numerically, and so it will allow you to see how everything is related.

I explain that whilst working on chord extensions, we are also in the process working on all preliminary theory.


It depends on your goals Patrice.

I would say yes, focus on learning scales numerically, and less on the 2 handed mechanical drills, purely because learning scales numerically is the foundation for understanding jazz harmony.

If you have the desire to whizz up and down the keyboard with fast fingered scale runs, then, by all means, I would recommend that you play scale up and down the whole range of the instrument with a metronome and focus on accuracy.

For myself, I have more of an interest in exploring harmony, and so I have focused my practice time on this.

So the simple answer Patrice is that it depends what you want to achieve.

Give me 24-48 hours and the latest Practice Plan Lesson will give you everything you need to know on this.

The lesson came in at 54 minutes long, and so I might chop it into multiple shorter studies.

I just recorded the lesson 2 days ago and it addresses this exact area. I know you will love it!

That’s wonderful to hear Patrice… I’m very happy with how the community is developing and there is so much more potential to share and collaborate in our pursuit to learn and mater jazz.

Yes thanks @LoriNelson for your valuable insights and guidance. As one of our longer-time students your input here is super helpful :slight_smile:

I’ll get back to you shortly Partice with the new practice guide lesson on extended chords.

Hi Hayden,

Came across Patrice’s post in this thread from Nov 2018 and your reply and wanted to know which of the beginner lessons covers the learning of scales numerically - I’m having a hard time grappling with that.

Hi Arun,

You can find that reference in the lesson on major scales, see chapter 6 “assign numbers”:

When playing jazz piano, aim to learn and memorise the numeric construction of everything: scales, chords, licks/lines/runs, progressions, melody lines, etc…

When we can clearly visualise each note of the 12 major scales as 1-2-3-4-5-6-7 then all the scales/keys become equal. The first very important step is to learn those 12 major scales numerically.

Then apply this same process to everything we learn. For example, every time we learn a new chord voicing, notice how we place a lot of emphasis on memorising the numeric scale degrees of each note in the chord. See these lessons:

This makes it easy to find the chords in any key. Also notice we pay special attention to the top note of the voicing which helps us to apply the voicing when playing jazz standards.

For example, the top note of the So What Voicing is the 5th, and so whenever we have the 5th in the melody over a minor chord - which happens a lot in jazz standards - this voicing would sound great.

Study the lessons and try to remember these little details. Slowly but surely we build an awareness of jazz harmony and how to apply these cool chords and voicings in context of our favourite songs.

It’s a fun process!

This! Viva la harmonia!