Jazz Piano

Authors: Robert Christopherson, Ross Ramsay   •   Course Code: OPIAN-315

The piano has played a fundamental role in defining jazz as we know it today. Its melodic and harmonic capabilities create endless musical possibilities that continue to evolve over time and are performed in a wide variety of contexts including solo piano, accompanist for a singer or instrument, and ensemble settings. Jazz Piano is designed to teach you timeless techniques that develop your ability to meet the demands of a working pianist in dynamic situations.

Starting with the basics, you will explore jazz chord voicings with tensions, how to interpret melodies and phrases with an authentic jazz feel, improvisation, jazz bass lines, and developing effective intros and endings to songs. The course focuses on jazz blues, swing, standards, and bossa nova, while laying the foundation for you to expand into any of the jazz-influenced styles.

In addition to cultivating your technical and improvisational playing of the instrument, you will learn the history of the genre and how the European classical traditions melded with African rhythms to give birth to a new sound of jazz. A multi-faceted approach to learning will be offered with the utilization of audio and video demonstrations to further your comprehension of the material. Featured artists will include some of the most influential jazz artists of all time: Jelly Roll Morton, Erroll Garner, Thelonius Monk, Art Tatum, Bud Powell, Marian McPartland, Bill Evans, and McCoy Tyner. Each week, you will work with flexible play-along audio tracks, which provide a strong platform for practicing performances with complete control over tempo, enabling you to progress at your own pace.

Jazz Piano is an essential course for any pianist looking to enhance their originality, versatility, and compositional skill within the jazz genre.

By the end of this course, you will be able to:

  • Identify historically significant jazz pianists and their music
  • Properly interpret jazz rhythms and phrases
  • Feel confident recognizing and playing a wide variety of chords from unaltered diatonic sevenths through fully altered dominants including the A/B jazz voicings
  • Perform repertoire in the jazz blues, jazz standard, and bossa nova styles in a variety of settings including solo, accompanist, and ensemble
  • Improvise solos using a variety of methods from the pentatonic and blues scale to chord tone and approach notes
  • Create smooth intros and effective endings for repertoire
  • Think like a jazz player and learn songs based on their harmonic analysis and by recognizing common jazz progressions such as the II V I

Lesson 1: A Brief History of Jazz: Swingin' on the Changes

  • What Is Jazz?
  • Major Scales and Swing Rhythms
  • Diatonic Seventh Chords
  • Voice Leading a 12-Bar Blues

Lesson 2: Thinking Like a Jazz Player: How to Label Progressions and Interpret Melodies

  • Roman Numeral Analysis of Diatonic Chords
  • The II-7 V7 Progression
  • Interpreting a Melody

Lesson 3: Playing a Swing Blues

  • Left-Hand Accompaniment (Comping)
  • The II-7 V7
  • The Melody of "Straight, No Chaser"
  • Improvising

Lesson 4: Getting the Jazz Sound: Adding Tensions to Your Chords

  • What Are Tensions and How Do They Function?
  • Applying Tension 9 to Major 7, Minor 7, and Dominant 7 Chords
  • Putting Tensions into Practice
  • Major 6 or Major 7?

Lesson 5: Essential Jazz Voicings and Practice Techniques

  • The Dominant Chord: A Tension-Filled Journey
  • Voicing the Dominant Chord
  • Jazz Practice Techniques
  • Putting Cycle 5 into Motion
  • The A/B Voicings

Lesson 6: Setting the Groove with Bass Lines

  • The "Two" Feel
  • Adding Rhythmic Embellishment or "Kicks"
  • Walking Bass Lines in Four
  • Playing the Bass Line over the Entire Form for "There is No Greater Love"
  • Comping "There is No Greater Love"

Lesson 7: Playing a Bossa Nova

  • Main Architects and Performers of Bossa Nova
  • Comping Patterns for Bossa Nova
  • Arranging Your Accompaniment for "If You Never Come to Me"

Lesson 8: Setting the Mood in a Minor Key

  • The Relative Minor Key
  • Harmonic and Jazz Melodic Minor
  • Using Minor Key II V I in A/B Form
  • Combining Major and Minor Harmonies

Lesson 9: Advanced Jazz—Contemporary Blues

  • Dorian Fourth Voicings
  • Improvising with Two Triads
  • Jazz Blues Improvisation
  • Comping Two Hand Voicing over the Blues

Lesson 10: Playing Over the Changes

  • Approach Notes
  • Creating Your Lines
  • Improvising

Lesson 11: Arranging Techniques for Solo Piano 

  • Playing without a Rhythm Section
  • Thinking Like A Rhythm Section
  • Harmonizing the Melody
  • Drop 2 Voicings; Harmonizing the Melody with Two Hands

Lesson 12: Arranging a Song with Intros and Endings

  • Setting the Stage with an Introduction
  • Ending the Song
  • Tag Endings
  • Putting the Arrangement Together

Robert Christopherson

Author & Instructor

Bob Christopherson is an associate professor in the Piano department at Berklee College of Music. He is a pianist, singer, performer, composer, record producer, and perhaps most importantly, a passionate mentor and lifelong student of music. His interest in music began early in life, given that his father was a violinist with the Cleveland Orchestra, and his mother is a concert pianist with a doctorate in music. Christopherson performs frequently throughout New England, and serves as music director for Boston's Hampshire House. As a sideman, he has performed or recorded with Christine McVie, Chuck Berry, Phil Wilson, and The Platters, among many others. He earned a bachelor's degree from Berklee, and also studied jazz piano and composition with renowned jazz guru Charlie Banacos.

Ross Ramsay

Author & Instructor

James Ross Ramsay, faculty in the Piano department at Berklee College of Music, has been teaching piano for 25 years, and has been included in the "Who's Who List of American Teachers" several times. He composes and produces music for local and nationally broadcast television, radio, cable, and video programs, and has been a featured soloist on piano and keyboards with various artists touring throughout the United States and Europe. Ramsay is a product specialist and clinician for Yamaha Corporation of America, Digital Musical Instruments, and Pro Audio Division. He received a Bachelor of Music from Berklee College of Music in 1986.


Completion of Music Theory 101 and Berklee Keyboard Method, or equivalent knowledge and/or experience are required. You should be able to read notes in bass and treble clef and understand basic rhythmic notation; have a basic knowledge of music theory, including major scales, triads, and basic seventh chords; and be able to record your performances with provided play-along tracks.

Required Textbooks

Real Book: Sixth Edition, published by Hal Leonard Corporation

Piano Essentials: Scales, Chords, Arpeggios, and Cadences by Ross Ramsay, published by Berklee Press

Software Requirements

  • SmartMusic: Please note when purchasing SmartMusic, if you do not wish to receive the free CD (includes shipping charges), you can remove it from your shopping cart and only leave the SmartMusic subscription. A download for the program will be provided.

Mac Users

  • OS X 10.9 Mavericks or higher (click here for system requirements)
  • Latest version of Google Chrome

Windows Users

  • Windows 7 or higher (click here for system requirements)
  • Latest version of Google Chrome

Hardware Requirements

  • Keyboard: Students may use a variety of keyboards for this course: acoustic or electric piano. Many of the techniques in the course require nearly the full range of the piano, so an 88 or 76 key keyboard is recommended.
  • Microphone
  • One available USB port for the optional foot pedal
  • 2 GB RAM (4 GB recommended)
  • 500 MB hard drive space
  • Speakers or headphones
  • Webcam
  • Internet connection with at least 4 Mbps download speed (http://www.speedtest.net to verify or download the Speedtest by Ookla app from your mobile app store)


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  • Level
  • Duration
    12 weeks
  • 3-Credit Tuition
  • or
  • Non-Credit Tuition

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