When is it time to move on?

Have come back to piano groove after a hiatus of about a year. For me learning/developing muscle memory is slow, so it takes a lot of time to get the feeling of a lesson in my fingers. There was no point in continuing course two, when I hadn’t mastered course one. I got a bit stuck. Eventually came back after having taken a break and feeling good about being able to do Course 1 reasonably well, whatever that it. So, my general question, Hayden, is, as a general rule for beginners doing beginner lessons, when is it time to move one? Would hate to spend years practicing and never get past course one, but at the same time don’t want to move on too soon. In other methods, teachers will recommend repeating a lesson until you can perform it at a certain tempo without error, and then moving on to the next lesson or the next course. I haven’t been able to find that discussion here, and I’m guessing it probably exists, so please just feel free to point me at it, or let us know your thoughts?


This is a good question. Hopefully, Hayden will chime in here. I do know he has suggested working through the first three courses at the same time. But how good one should get with each exercise or each standard before starting up something new is something I would like to hear more about also.

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Thanks for replying Mark19! As this was my first post, I was beginning to wonder if I had made a “Community Discussion” faux pax!

As this is my second time subscribing to PianoGroove, I have developed a couple of practice habits based on my first go-round. In the first courses, Hayden recommends practicing 6 items for five minutes a day. I found myself immediately frustrated, because I was barely able to get through a couple of keys with one exercise in five minutes. So I wound up spending the whole half hour just on the first exercise. Eventually, though this paid off, and I was able to get through the whole exercise (e.g., all 12 keys, etc., in five-ten minutes). Then I added the second exercise in a similar manner, then the third, etc., until I was able to get through all six exercises in less than an hour. This took many months.
When I came back to PianoGroove the second time, I started adding a new lesson, and removing the first lesson, which, by this time, I could do with relative ease in all keys in less than five minutes. I developed a habit of warming up with scales in a specific key: major, minor, harmonic and melodic minors, modes, That becomes my starting key for the day for each exercise (i.e., rather than always starting on C), and then I move on to whichever six exercises I am currently practicing. The first exercises are the oldest, so I can not only do them in 5:00, but I can also do them to a metronome, which makes them feel more musical, and allows me to identify any problem keys, etc. Exercises four through six are progressively newer, and require more time, typically 10:00 for 4, 15:00 for 5, and 20:00 for six, to get through all keys in the manner described. When I get through all twelve keys of the scale, I stop practicing the first exercise, and add a new one. So, since there are 12 scales and six exercises, I spend 72 practice sessions on each exercise, about 10 weeks. This has the feeling of both being too long and not long enough haha (sometimes I feel like I could spend the rest of my life learning just one lesson!).

And then I try to spend a roughly equal amount of time practicing the standards, which is a whole other topic…

I’m curious how others arrange their practice sessions, and how they decide it’s time to let an exercise go, and move on to a new exercise.

And, of course, what Hayden and/or other teachers recommend.

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Hi @Rickz,

I too have struggled with how to arrange my practice schedule. After picking up habits from other platforms, designing my own methods and such, I must say that @Hayden has an approach that seems to work best for me!

In a nutshell, (1) 40% time on Theory Exercises/Drills, (2) 40% time on Standards, and (3) 20% time on Listening/Ear training. It’s a very simple schedule to follow. We all learn at our own pace, so some drills will take longer than others. I drill for the allotted time and then move on. Same with Standards and Ear Training.

To your question, I have been playing for over 10 years and still find that even some of the easiest drills are not 100% in my fingers. I’m not sure that we ever move on. We just keep ‘making the rounds’. I just found that my left hand doesn’t do triad inversions up and down the keyboard without hesitation. I found out by revisiting a drill I was sure I was already fluent in - NOT! So, my point is to just keep pushing through the motions and don’t get stuck on just one drill for too long as you might lose motivation. Switch it up!

I’m not sure of your playing level, but beginners may find they need to spend more time on Theory drills before the Standards lessons start to make sense. That’s fine. Just know though, that playing the piano is a lifelong journey that cannot be rushed, so take as much time as needed (months, or even years) to get through the material. From one practice session to the next, I jump between different Theory drills to keep things interesting and always see progress when returning to a previous drill.

There are rewards along the way. Just be patient!

If you haven’t already seen, here’s a great Seminar that touches on these points:

Hope that helps!


@Rickz: Can I ask how much time you set aside for your daily practice sessions? I believe you should keep the proportion of technique versus repertoire practice time relatively constant.

I don’t abandon technical exercises; I keep them all in my daily practice sessions. Scales (majors; natural, harmonic & melodic minors, in 10ᵗʰˢ, formula patterns), tonic triads (broken & solid), ABA and BAB 251 progressions in triads, 9ᵗʰ chords around the circle of fourths. If I add in Czerny Opus 821 exercises, the whole of my technical session takes about an hour. (The time required shortens as I become more proficient.) That leaves one or two hours on repertoire, plus some extra for watching lesson videos.

In the context of PianoGroove, I see my primary objective—not to learn a dozen jazz standards by rote—but to understand the theoretical and technical foundation elements of jazz piano (7th chords, chord extensions, chord progressions, stride piano, rootless voicings, etc.) and how to incorporate those elements into building and playing my own arrangements from lead sheets.

Hope this helps,

Thanks for taking the time to share this scottm1100. I’ll check out the link, and yes, that appears to be the path I’m on!

Can I ask how much time you set aside for your daily practice sessions?
About 2-3 hours.

Thanks for your comments goforasong. They are especially helpful in that they mirror my interest in PianoGroove.

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Great question here @Rickz

It’s difficult to give an exact answer as it depends on one’s previous experiences and also one’s goals, but I have provided some insights and recommendations below.

For beginner jazz piano students, my recommendation is exactly as Scott outlines:

For me this approach covers all bases.

This time allocation is weighted towards learning new theory and extending/developing our repertoire. The end goal for most students is to play tunes and standards, and so learning theory (voicings, progressions etc…) and then directly applying this to tunes that we like is the best way to achieve this.

The final 20% of practice time spent on ear training or transcription is also very important, but as a new jazz piano student, if we don’t understand the foundations of the jazz language then we can’t really analyse or understand what we are hearing on our favourite records.

This is why it’s weighted 40% theory, 40% repertoire, and to start with, just 20% listening and transcription. As we consolidate the essential theory and build out our repertoire to incorporate a nice selection of tunes, we then naturally spend more time listening, transcribing, and emulating our favourite players.

But to try answer your question @Rickz - in my opinion there are some very important theory areas to master which I view as the ‘Beginner Jazz Milestones’.

So What Are The Most Important Theory Areas For Beginners? (In my opinion :smile:)

Well I often mention that the following 4 PianoGroove courses contain the ‘must-know’ theory areas for beginner jazz students:

I see these 4 theory courses as the bulk of the ‘beginner jazz theory’ but at the same time I am not suggesting that they are easy topics to learn. Realistically, it takes at least a few years to really get to grips with this theory (it did for me anyway, probably longer).

My view is that once we understand these 4 topic areas, we can then move forward in any direction that appeals to us, in any style of improvised music, and we will always have the foundations in place to understand what is happening harmonically in the music.

I’m still improving at these 4 theory areas every time I sit down at the piano and so by no means am I finished studying and practicing these areas.

I’d say that around 80%+ of the harmonic theory that goes into my playing and my jazz piano arrangements, is based on these 4 theory courses.

The other important area for me is Chord Substitution & Chord Reharmonisation. The latter is really a never ending study, but with the former, the key substitutional devices that I use in my playing and when arranging are:

  • Tritone substitution
  • Suspended chords
  • Passing chords

If I could add a 5th course to my list of “most important theory areas for beginners” it would be the Chord Subs & Reharmonisation course where we cover the 3 topics above.

Yes I agree with this.

It’s exactly why I suggest students to study the above 4 courses simultaneously as a lot of the theory is related, and realistically it take a tonne of time to learn and master this stuff in all 12 keys.

It’s Important To Mention Where Jazz Standards Fit Into This

The reason why I advocate a 40% practice time allocation on jazz standards, is that it allows us to be more focused and creative in the sense that the goal of our practice is not just:

  • “take [theory drill] around all 12 keys”
  • repeat this everyday

but rather a practice session could look like this:

  1. “take [theory drill] around all 12 keys”

  2. “Apply [theory area] to the limited number of progressions and keys present in 1 or 2 jazz standards, incorporate the melody” and then we are already creating music.

  3. The final step is to listen to recordings of the tune(s) in question (the 20% of daily practice time), transcribe anything within our grasp, and then incorporate it into our arrangement.

Then in my opinion we have accomplished something really great in our day’s practice, which is:

  1. Learnt and drilled some new theory

  2. Applied the theory to a tune so that we understand the practical application

  3. Enhanced our arrangement with inspiration from one of our favourite recordings

My view is that this approach is both an effective and enjoyable way to learn jazz piano.

Reverse The Process

An interesting point is that I often do the reverse of this process during my practice time:

Step 1: Listening
I will start my day by listening to something that I like, and I will find something that I want to incorporate into my own playing, for example a melodic or harmonic fill over a 3625 turnaround on a Beegie Adair recording.

Step 2: Repertoire
Once I have transcribed the material and analysed it, I will try to include or ‘insert’ the same idea into some of my arrangements. This is really fun to do.

Step 3: Theory Drills
Once I have this new piece of material, and I’ve confirmed that I like the sound of it and I know it works well in my arrangements or my improvisations, I will then transpose the material into different keys, perhaps take it around a whole step 251 pattern, or even around the circle of fifths.

This isn’t necessarily completed in a day, it’s something that I may come back to over multiple days or even weeks depending on the complexity of the material and how much I like it.

The most important thing is to see those 3 elements:

  • Theory Drills
  • Repertoire
  • Listening & Transcription

@Rickz check out these 3 seminars where explain these ‘essential theory areas’ in more detail:

Scott already shared the first one:

These 2 seminars are very similar but with a focus on chord progressions, and allocating our practice time:

As a final note, this is my personal approach that I recommend to students who want to learn to play solo jazz piano.

There will definitely be alternate approaches, perhaps some work better for some students than others.

There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ and that’s one of the nice things with learning jazz is that there are many ways to go about it. That’s what makes jazz musicians’ playing, and the style itself so unique!


Thank you for the thoughtful and detailed reply Hayden. As I’ve mulled over your response and the others here, I’ve realized that a better way to formulate the question may be: “How do we keep practices novel, engaging and interesting without sacrificing integrity?”. There’s a wealth of ideas in these responses about how to do this that I can draw on as I move forward.



A few resources you may want to look at as a means to vary your daily practice regime:

  1. Mastering the Scales and Arpeggios by James Francis Cooke (free download). I believe scales are fundamental to skill at the piano, and they are more than simple two-octave ascending formula. There’s also scales 3ʳᵈˢ/10ᵗʰˢ and 6ᵗʰˢ, contrary motion, double 3ʳᵈˢ and 6ᵗʰˢ, varying rhythm patterns, etc.
  2. Oscar Peterson: Jazz Exercises, Minuets, Etudes & Pieces for Piano
  3. Carl Czerny, 160 8-Measure Exercises, Op. 821
  4. Easy Jazz Hanon: 50 Exercises for the Beginning to Intermediate Pianist Musicians

If you guys are interested in these books, and others like them, check out Scribd. You can download them for offline viewing. There’s also a number of lead sheets and transcriptions. You get 30 days free; then, it’s $11.99 per month. Given the prices listed on Amazon, this a real bargain.



Thanks again for the great added suggestions Peter and Scott. Very much appreciated.

Hi Rickz!
As a complete beginner to piano 3 years ago i found the practise planner to be “to hard” - so i played maybe 60 % standards to have the joy and keep motivated and to familliarise myself to notation and playing.
I did focus on learning the 12 scales in both hands and the triads, and the 3 note wholestep 251 around the circle.

I must say it was a relief when the simplified planner came:

Also Tumo says in one of the workshops that one can fokus on the jazz scales; G, C, F, Bb,Eb, Ab and Db. And to tick of in the planner when done.
I found this very productive!

I dont get around all those every day, but i started with one, and then increased gradually when getting upp to speed. I find it speeds up the learning process and sticks better in memory not to expose oneself to all 12 keys.



Thanks gisle! It’s really interesting to hear how you have figured out how to navigate the mountain of information on PianoGroove! Appreciate your sharing that.

I’m trying to renew my practising and enthusiasm, having made very little progress over the past year. I like having structure to what I’m learning, so I appreciate the courses etc here, but I’m still slightly puzzled about how to structure my learning over months/years.

For example, the Syllabuses are new to me and look great but, I have questions:

  1. Is the idea that a beginner would work through the Courses in a Syllabus in order, complete them, then move on to another Syllabus?
  2. Or would you work on some/all of the Courses within a Syllabus concurrently?
  3. And/or would you work on more than one Syllabus at a time?
  4. Are the Syllabuses for the theory/drills section of practice? Because I can’t see the Beginner Jazz Arrangements Course, for example, within any of the Syllabuses.
  5. If that’s the case – the Syllabuses are for theory/drills – is there a suggested order in which to work through other Courses/pieces for the Standards portion of daily practise?

Feel free to answer my questions in order or concurrently :slight_smile:

Hi @philgyford :wave:

We have students of many levels with different musical backgrounds and so it’s difficult to give a ‘one-size-fits-all’ recommendation on how to work through the material. The syllabus pages offer some possible routes to navigate through the material on the website.

Based on your questions, here is what I would recommend for you:

Firstly download the latest version of my beginner jazz piano roadmap:

This document outlines what I deem to be the most important theory milestones for beginner jazz piano students. There are links to the 4 most important theory courses for beginners and I also outline the most important drills to master in these courses with links to the specific lessons where I show these drills in all 12 keys.

There are also links to my 3 latest jazz standard courses at the bottom which I encourage new students to study simultaneously, in combination with the theory courses. More on this below in point 3.

How To Structure Your Practice Time

Visualise your practice time split between the following 3 general areas:

    1. Theory & Practice Drills ( 40% of practice time)
    1. Jazz Standards & Repertoire ( 40% of practice time)
    1. Ear Training & Transcription ( 20% of practice time)

I recommend this split for beginner students, but it can be tweaked to your preference.

Here is some more information on each of these areas:

1) Theory & Practice Drills

I explain the above roadmap in detail in the following seminar “Voicings For Beginners & Beyond” and we use the tune “Misty” to demonstrate the drills and exercises and how they are applied in the context of tunes:

This below seminar follows the same structure, but with more of a focus on chord progressions:

and finally in this seminar we discuss how to structure your practice time:

Please watch these courses and it should answer all of the questions you have posted regarding theory and how to approach the courses.

2) Jazz Standards & Repertoire

Over the past 12 months I have been creating more detailed jazz standard courses which contain up to 20 lessons on the same tune. The idea with creating these courses was to encourage students to play tunes more spontaneously rather then learning set arrangements note-for-note.

The 3 courses are:

These courses will show you the results of drilling the theory that is outlined in the Beginner Roadmap and how this is applied in a real setting.

These courses start with the most basic voicings possible, and then we graudally layer in more sophisticated voicing techniques as the courses progress.

The first 2 courses also have modules on improvisation so that students get started with drills and exercises for improvisation (chord tones, approach patterns, arpeggios, alterations, blues scales etc…)

Ear Training & Transcription

Also be sure to spend a little time each day on ear training, you can find 150 ear training exercises here:

These exercises are designed to help students improve their listening and transcription skills. Do be patient and diligent with the exercises and watch the featured video on the ear training home page to learn how the exercises work.

The ear training exercises will allow you to join the dots between what you are learning in the PianoGroove lessons, and what you are hearing on your favourite piano recordings.

There’s quite a lot of into here, so let me know if you have any questions.

The theory seminars I outline should be very useful for you to see the key milestones ahead and specific drills that you need to master.


Wow Hayden, thank you so much for taking the time to share all this – it’s very much appreciated! I’ll work my way through these and try and figure out a plan that’ll work for me.

I’ve been playing (very off and on) since I had lessons as a kid, over 30 years ago. I can read music, sight-read OK, play scales and arpeggios… BUT I never learned any theory, and until PianoGroove I’d never managed to memorise any pieces – never mind improvise even slightly – I always needed the sheet music.

So I feel like an odd mixture of experienced competency and a complete beginner – I couldn’t have told you what a Cm7 chord was until starting PianoGroove, despite playing piano for decades!

(Incidentally, I only realised recently that my fairly old piano teacher in the 1980s would have been young when the boogie-woogie pieces she had me play between studying for Grades were first published. I should have asked her if she liked and played and danced to that music back in the day when it was the latest thing! But as a child it never occurred to me.)

Thanks again. Now that you have so much stuff here, it must be hard to provide good ways in and through it all, given the very different previous experience everyone has.

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