Jazz Piano

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Authored by Robert Christopherson, Ross Ramsay


Course Code: OPIAN-315

Next semester
starts June 24

12 Weeks

Level 3

Level 3

3-Credit Tuition


Non-Credit Tuition


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.

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Starting with the basics, you will learn jazz piano 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. Jazz Piano focuses on 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 jazz piano history and how the European classical traditions melded with African rhythms to give birth to a new sound of jazz. You will learn jazz piano in a multi-faceted approach 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 piano players 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 to learn jazz piano and practice 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
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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: Practice Techniques for Mastering Repertoire

  • Mastering a New Song Quickly
  • Harmony
  • Melody
  • Playing the Chords to "Nostalgia in Times Square"
  • Learning the Melody and Putting It All Together
  • Memorize the Song
  • Chord Tone Soloing
  • Single Notes
  • Two Notes
  • Triads
  • Soloing

Lesson 10: Playing Over the Changes–Using Approach Notes to Expand the Jazz Language

  • 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


Prerequisites and Course-Specific Requirements 

Prerequisite Courses, Knowledge, and/or Skills
Completion of Intermediate Keyboard or equivalent knowledge and experience is 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.



  • Students are required to record video while playing along with a backing track for their assignments. Options for recording video include:
    • Smartphone
    • Digital camera
    • External webcam
  • Note: The camera view must be from above, recording the keys right side up. It is imperative that the videos show the student's fingerings. You may need certain accessories to accomplish this, such as a goose-neck camera holder, tripod, etc.


  • Piano or keyboard instrument with at least 61 keys and a sustain pedal (76 or 88 keys are recommended)
    • If using a MIDI keyboard controller, a high-quality piano software instrument is also required.
    • If using a digital piano or keyboard workstation without built in speakers, an audio interface or amplifier is also required.


  • Students are required to capture their instrumental performance, as well as monitor audio output. Options include:
    • Input (one required if not using MIDI and software instruments):
      • Keyboard connected directly to audio interface (recommended non-acoustic option; alternatively, the microphone options below can be used with amplified instruments)
      • XLR microphone and audio interface (recommended acoustic piano option)
      • USB microphone
      • Built-in computer/mobile device microphone
    • Output (one required):
      • Headphones (recommended option; required if multitracking and/or input monitoring a microphone)
      • Studio monitors and audio interface
      • Built-in or external computer speakers
  • Note: Depending on your setup, you may also need XLR/instrument cables and microphone stand(s).

Student Deals
After enrolling, be sure to check out our Student Deals page for various offers on software, hardware, and more. Please contact support@online.berklee.edu with any questions.

General Course Requirements

Below are the minimum requirements to access the course environment and participate in Live Classes. Please make sure to also check the Prerequisites and Course-Specific Requirements section above, and ensure your computer meets or exceeds the minimum system requirements for all software needed for your course. 

Mac Users

PC Users

All Users

  • Latest version of Google Chrome
  • Zoom meeting software
  • Webcam
  • Speakers or headphones
  • External or internal microphone
  • Broadband Internet connection


Robert Christopherson

Author & Instructor

Robert Christopherson is a professor of piano at Berklee College of Music where he teaches private instruction, improvisation, advanced composition, reading, ensembles, and a survey of piano styles. He is the co-author of Berklee Online’s Jazz Piano course and the book Berklee Jazz Standards For Piano Solo. Robert is a pianist, singer, performer, composer, 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 a concert pianist with a doctorate in music. Robert performs frequently throughout New England as a soloist and with his trio. He earned his bachelor's degree from Berklee and studied piano, improvisation, and composition with the late jazz guru Charlie Banacos and voice with Eddie Watson.

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.


Contact our Academic Advisors by phone at 1-866-BERKLEE (U.S.), 1-617-747-2146 (INT'L), or by email at advisors@online.berklee.edu.

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