Intermediate Jazz Courses Roadmap

Howdie PianoGroovers :cowboy_hat_face:

Congratulations on completing the beginner lessons and courses… you are well on your way to jazz piano mastery!

This post contains the recommended sequence to work through PianoGroove’s intermediate-level tutorials.

The Intermediate Courses Roadmap

Course 1: Altered Harmony & Upper Structure Triads

In the beginner syllabus, we covered the concept of extended harmony where we extend the notes of the chord past the 7th to access the upper extensions 9, 11, & 13.

Well, we will now take this a step further by introducing you to the altered tones/altered tensions which can be accessed by raising or lowering the upper extensions of the chord.

The first lesson in this course introduces the altered major 251 progression. In this lesson, we explore how you can add alterations to create more interesting progressions in major keys.

The altered tones include b9s #9s #11s and #5s / b13s - there’s only 4 of them! - and in this lesson, we systematically work through each one to accustom ourselves to the sound and ‘colour’ of these interesting note choices.

Next up we explore some useful voicings sets for a 2 handed minor 251 progression. By learning this progression in all 12 keys, it will help you to visualise the common alterations over any V7alt chord.

The useful sets covered in this tutorial have either the b9 or the #9 on the top of the voicing… learn these in all 12 keys and you will get a new appreciation for dominant chords and the role of the 9th as a tension.

After watching these 2 lessons, you will begin to understand how alterations can be applied to both major and minor 251 progressions.

The Main Event: Upper Structure Triad Voicings

After introducing you to the concept of alterations, the rest of this course is dedicated to the study of Upper Structure Triads - also known as Upper Structures.

Upper Structures Triads are a complex topic to grasp, and understanding them will take your playing forwards to add both sophistication and interest to your dominant chords.

Learning and memorising upper structures is no small task and it will take you many years to fully explore this vast topic. However, the following 3 lessons on Upper Structures will springboard your understanding so that you can start applying these cool voicings to your playing right now! :sunglasses:

  • Upper Structure Triads Intro - An introduction tutorial to explain the basic concept behind upper structure harmony

  • Practicing Upper Structures - Advice & guidance on how to practice these upper structure shapes so that you can see and visualise the voicings in all 12 keys.

  • Upper Structure Application - In this tutorial we apply Upper Structures to the tune “Blue In Green”. By analysing the scale degree of the melody note, we can quickly identify whether an upper structure triad would be a good choice of voicing. This approach can be applied to any jazz standard you are working on.

The jazz standards in this course have been specifically selected to further demonstrate and explore the theory:

Applying the theory in the context of jazz standards will further solidify your understanding and give you a strong working knowledge of altered harmony and upper structure triads.

Course 2: Chord Substitutions & Reharmonisations

As jazz musicians, we can substitute the chords of any jazz standard to add interesting variations to common chord changes and progressions. It’s also common to add additional chords to create more harmonic interest and movement.

We start our study of chord substitution with Tritone Substitution. When studying jazz, tritone substitution will likely be the first type of chord substitution that you will learn. The substitute V7 chord is a nifty trick that can be applied to any 251 progressions to achieve a smooth, chromatically descending bass line from 2 to 5 to 1.

We cover a number of examples of tritone substitution and also explore a drill to familiarise yourself with the tritone pairs, and useful tritone voicing sets.

Next, we examine the use of a minor voicing - the So What Voicing - over a major tonality. Aptly named the “So What Major Variation”, this lessons will broaden your perspective on the relationship between major and minor keys, and illustrate how one voicing can be repurposed over a different bass note to serve different harmonic functions.

Moving on, an integral area of study in this course is Sus Chords & Suspended Harmony. A Sus Chord - shorthand for “Suspended Chord” - can be used as a temporary stepping stone between the 2 and the 5 chord.

Sus chords are particularly effective when resolved to an altered dominant chord. Understanding this principle will help you add movement to your 251 progressions and bring out interesting inner voices in your progressions. We cover many examples in the theory and jazz standard lessons in this course. You should be excited to add these Sus sounds to your repertoire! :star_struck:

Finally, a useful concept to understand in jazz music is Passing Chords. Passing chords can be viewed as additional stepping stones between the chords in any progression. These enhancements to the harmony are an effective device to delay the sense of resolution and make your arrangments sound more interesting and dynamic.

The most common type of passing chord is a dominant chord a half step above the target chord. We explore some of the many different options available to you when adding passing chords to your playing.

In the jazz standard lessons in this course, we apply all of the theory topics in the context of actual tunes. The arrangements have been carefully selected to demonstrate the theoretical aspect of the course:

Moving on, our next course is all about voicings and arranging tunes:

Course 3: Arranging For Solo Piano

A key requirement for the solo jazz pianist is to know a wide range of voicings.

As a solo jazz pianist, you must to be able to create a selection of different sounds, ‘colours’, and ‘textures’. :man_artist:

The theory lessons in this course systematically work through the 3 main chord types and explore a wide range of voicings options and possibilities:

In these lessons, we work through every possible melody note you could come across, and we explore the different voicing shapes that would work underneath that melody note.

As mentioned in previous lessons and courses, the key to expanding your repetoire of voicings is:

  1. Find a voicing you like
  2. Memorise it in terms of scale degrees
  3. Take it around all 12 keys --> don’t skip this step!!
  4. Apply to jazz standards

Follow this process with every chord voicing you learn, and you will soon have that sound and shape at your disposal.

For the jazz standard studies in this course, I walk you through my thinking, and my methodology when creating an arrangement from a lead sheet. The tunes we cover are:

Course 4: Unusual Chords & Voicings

This course pays special attention to the chords that students tend to find difficult.

We start with Slash Chords which are commonly seen on scores and lead sheets. Whilst the symbols for slash notation might look complicated, the meaning behind the slash is most often very simple to identify and interpret. In this lesson, we look at many different examples of slash notation so that you are familiar with the meaning of this type of chord.

Next up we explore Cluster Voicings which are tightly spaced ‘clusters’ of notes. These versatile voicings are sharp and tense sounding which makes a nice to contrast to open position voicings. They are also harmonically ambiguous so 1 ‘cluster’ can function as many different chords.

The final theory topic in this course is Major & Minor Upper Structures. Similar to the dominant upper structure triads, there are also benefits of applying this logic to major and minor chords. By visualising minor and major chords in two separate parts, you can manipulate each hand independently to access a wider variety of voicings for the same chord.

Again the jazz standard studies in this course have been specifically selected to apply and demonstrate these unusual chord voicings:

Course 5: Scales & Modal Theory

This is a short course exploring the construction of the most common modes and scales in jazz music. There are different ways to teach modal theory, and 2 of these methods are highlighted in this course.

The major modes are the first step to learning modal harmony, and the melodic minor modes will then give you a more exotic selection of sounds.

Next we cover the altered mode which is well suited to improvisation over altered dominant chords. And finally, we explore some interesting applications of the pentatonic scale to achieve that ''East Coast Sound"… think McCoy & Coltrane :saxophone:

It’s important to have an understanding of the common scales and modes so that you can analyse what you are hearing on records. The next step is to start transcribing from records.

And that’s exactly the topic of our next course:

Course 6 - How To Transcribe Lines & Solos By Ear

Transcription is the most effective way to progress at jazz piano.

After working through the PianoGroove Syllabus, you will now have a strong understanding of the essential theory, chord formation, extensions, alterations, substitutions, and rehamonisations.

At this point, you will be feeling a greater urge to improvise and express your creativity with a spontaneous solo. This is exactly where listening and transcribing can help you. There are certain nuances of jazz, such as swing feel, articulation, and phrasing, that can only truly be learnt from listening, transcribing, and emulating the masters of jazz.

This course starts by breaking down 2 simple 251 lines:

We then explore the basics of transcription and examine a few useful features of transcription software to help you get strated with daily transcription:

Finally, we transcribe a section of an improvised solo over 2 famous jazz standards:

I urge you not to dismiss the immense benefits of transcribing. It’s very difficult at first, but with time it gets easier and you will feel a new found freedom to learn and assimilate inspiration from any of your favourite recordings.

This is the start of ‘Stage 2’ of your jazz education which is a more self-guided approach to discover and develop your own sound.

22 Intermediate Level Jazz Standard Tutorials By Difficulty

Here is a list of all intermediate level jazz standard tutorials. I have listed them in order of difficulty, starting with the more accessible tunes and ending with the more difficult numbers.

If your goal is to play a bunch of tunes, then simply pick some from the list… I’ve also added a star next to my personal favourites… check those out and you won’t be dissapinted :wink:

You will find these arrangements more challenging than the tunes from the beginner courses.

If you have any questions relating to these courses and lessons, or perhaps you’re just looking for some further guidance… simply reply to this thread and we will be happy to assist you.

Hi Hayden, I am working through the Minor 251 chord alteration drills and I must say, the Toggle between Notes and the Descending Altered Melody are my total favourites. Thank you

Natasha :smiling_face_with_three_hearts:

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Is it Christmas? :stuck_out_tongue: So much good stuff announced today! Thanks.

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Hi Hayden, can I ask about the UST 13 #11 drill video ? At 21:11 I see a chord progression of Ebmajor 7, C7b9, F-9 and Bbmajor, I was wondering about the C7b9, you have a VI underneath it, so it’s not a minor 2nd. Why is that ? Can the 6th scale degree be a Dominant ? I thought they were usually minor.
Thanks, Natasha

Hi Natasha :wave:

Good question!

Yes when playing a 1-6-2-5 progression, the VI chord is usually played as a dominant chord.

As you correctly point out, diatonically speaking, the VI chord in any major key would be a minor 7 chord.

However, by making the VI chord a dominant chord, it then creates a strong pull into the ii-7, which leads to the V7, which leads back to the Imaj7.

The 1625 is a beautiful ‘circular’ progression which is commonly used as a turnaround, and can also be used to create intros and endings.

Be careful here… in the key of Eb Major, the V7 chord would be Bb7, not Bbmajor7.

  • Imaj7 = Ebmaj7
  • VI7 = C7 often played with a b9 too (see lesson below)
  • ii-7 = F-7
  • V7 = Bb7

Of course we can experiment with all kinds of extensions and alterations.

We do have a dedicated lesson on the 1625 progression here:

and also throughout our course on “Intros, Endings, & Turnarounds”, we apply this progression in context of tunes. The full course is here:

As a composer, I think learning the 1625 progression in all 12 keys should be a key priority for you. It can be used as a basic framework to apply and experiment with all kinds of theory; voicings, scales, improvisation, inner voices, etc…

Because it creates that circular motion we can cycle around and around applying different colours, tensions, and harmonic/melodic flavours. It’s fun to play around with and I think that understanding the 1625 will be very useful in your compositions/productions.

Let me know if I can assist further here :+1::grinning:

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Hi Hayden, hope you had a good Christmas :christmas_tree:
I have started working through the Advanced Tritone Subs video, and just need some clarification around the naming and content of some Dominant chords:
You mention a V7sus4, which in the key of C would be : CBb / DFAC - is that correct ?
Then there is a V13sus4 , which is the key of G would be : GF/ ACEG - is that correct ?
My question is are they interchangeable, as they both contain a 13th. But when I look at my Rootless Major 251 worksheet, the V13th chord is a 3,13,b7,9 ? Is the difference just that a Sus 4 chord doesn’t have a 3rd ?
Could you clarify this for me, as I’m creating my own study book of information based on these videos, and would like to get it right :):smile:
Many thanks, looking forward to a jazzy 2020

Hi Natasha :wave:

I had a wonderful Christmas thanks, I hope you did too!

Onto your questions about sus chords… a favourite topic of mine :star_struck:

Yes that would be C13sus. The formula is a ‘dominant shell’ in our left hand which is the root and b7, and then a minor 7th chord built from the 9th. The 9th of C7 is ‘D’ and so we have D-7 in our right hand over a C7 shell in our left hand.

The minor 7th chord built from the 9th gives us chord tones 9-11-13-root.

This is a very useful voicing for dominant chords when the root is in the melody. It creates a very ‘bright’ and ‘airy’ sound and we can voice lead the 9, 11, and 13 up or down when the suspension resolves, for example:

  • G-7 → C13sus → C13b9 → Fmaj7
  • G-7 → C13sus → C7#11 → Fmaj7
  • G-7 → C13sus → C7#5#9 → Fmaj7

This gives us lots of choice for internal voice movement.

Yes this is the exact same voicing as outlined above, but built from G7 and not C7.

Sometimes jazz musicians will refer to chords just as “7” for example “Cmaj7”, “Cmin7”, “C7”, “C7sus” even if the chord contains extensions including 9ths, 11ths, and 13ths.

Think of this as ‘verbal shorthand’.

So despite me first saying C7sus, and then G13sus, they are in fact both 13sus chords because they both contain the suspended 4th and the 13th.

Yes that is largely correct.

There are some instances where a sus chord could be voiced with both the major 3rd and the suspended 4th in the chord, but this is rare and personally it is not to my taste.

In the vast majority of cases, the 3rd of the dominant chord is temporarily replaced by the ‘suspended 4th’ which is what turns the chord from a regular dominant into a sus chord.

That ‘suspended 4th’ often resolves down half a step to the major 3rd of the dominant chord, and then we resolve into the 1 chord in the progression.

I like to think of sus chords as an ‘optional stepping stone’ which we can add into any 251 progression to add more movement, interest, and suspense.

So instead of the vanilla progression:

  • G-7 → C7 → Fmaj7

we could have any of these:

  • G-7 → C13sus → C13b9 → Fmaj7
  • G-7 → C13sus → C7#11 → Fmaj7
  • G-7 → C13sus → C7#5#9 → Fmaj7

A final point is that sometimes the sus may not be resolved. Check out Herbie Hancock’s tune “Maiden Voyage” which is composed entirely of sus chords:

This is unusual, but at the same time a very cool and pioneering record of it’s time!

That sounds like an awesome project Natasha, good luck with it and a very happy and jazzy 2020 to you too :sunglasses:

Talk soon!

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