How Long Does It Take To Learn Jazz Piano?

Whether you’re already classically trained or just looking to delve into the world of jazz, learning to play jazz piano can be a long but exciting process. Although many of the fundamentals are shared and it’s played using the same instrument, jazz piano is quite different from classical piano and requires an entirely different skill set.

Jazz piano is a style of piano playing that typically features atypical chord progressions and improvisation. In order to play this style of music, the musician needs to have a deep understanding of music theory, jazz scales, jazz theory, and piano technique. While playing in this style, jazz pianists also need to continually listen to the musicians around them and create melodies based on what others are playing.

Although the piano is one of the easier instruments to learn, this particular style of playing is much more complicated and demanding than its classical counterpart.

It takes approximately 12 months to learn simple songs and become a novice jazz pianist but grasping more complex songs and techniques could take five years or longer, depending on musical background and level of commitment.

However, like any other instrument, mastering jazz piano is a lifelong journey that will require regular practice and continuous learning.

Is it Difficult to Learn Jazz Piano?

Jazz piano is typically considered difficult due to the style of playing. Unlike learning other instruments, jazz piano is less about learning to play the notes on the page and more about understanding how to create music based on chord progressions.

To learn how to play jazz piano, you’ll need to have a basic understanding of how to play the instrument itself — proper posture, hand position, and understanding of which piano keys play which notes. Once you have those basics down, you’ll also need additional knowledge of jazz chord progressions, jazz theory, and jazz improvisation.

Jazz chords are typically more complex than standard piano chords. Common in jazz are seventh chords and ninth chords, which each add extra notes to standard piano chords. Additionally, jazz typically uses a ii-V-I progression (as opposed to I–V–vi–IV, which is the most common chord progression in pop music), so a jazz musician should understand how to fit their playing into that chord progression.

In order to become a successful jazz pianist, it’s helpful to have some basic piano or some kind of musical background. Music theory skills will also be essential to growing your jazz piano skills. But more importantly, you’ll need patience — jazz piano is not easy to learn, but even the greatest jazz pianists had to start somewhere.

Do I Need to Know Classical Piano Before Learning Jazz Piano?

Although learning classical piano isn’t necessarily required, having that knowledge can be helpful in your jazz piano journey. Although there are fundamental differences between the two styles, knowing classical piano means you already have an understanding of piano basics such as posture, hand positions, chords, and basic music theory.

Because jazz songs are so different from classical music, there isn’t much beyond the piano basics that will translate between the two. In fact, many expert classical pianists report having trouble attempting to switch to jazz piano, even with such an in-depth knowledge of the instrument. Cross-learning in general is also fairly uncommon; most piano students will begin by studying the fundamentals, then decide between either classical or jazz to continue with.

To start playing jazz music, pianists will need to learn jazz theory, which can be simplified to mean the language jazz is written in. Knowing the blues scale and how the different notes fit together to create a major chord, a minor chord, and a melodic line to get that specific jazz feel is key to becoming a great jazz player. Once you have that knowledge, putting it into practice will lead to the improvisation that jazz musicians are known for.

Main Differences Between Classical Piano and Jazz Piano

Standard Chord Progression

Unlike what you may be used to hearing in pop songs, jazz tunes typically use a standard ii-V-I progression. ii-V-I (sometimes written as 2-5-1) can be modified, substituted, or extended to create limitless variations on the series. Altering chords or changing the chord voicings also allows jazz musicians to get creative with their own playing over the basic progression.

Music Notations

For most other instruments, including classical piano, sheet music is notated with the exact notes the composer wants the musician to play. In jazz piano, musicians will instead follow a lead sheet, which shows the basic melodic lines along with chords throughout the song. Although it’s still important to be able to read sheet music, the exact notes never matter as much as with other instruments.


For classical pieces, you can expect most performances to sound nearly identical in their notes. For jazz playing, however, no two performances will ever sound the same. This is due to improvisation. Because jazz musicians are often just following chords, they rely on their own ears along with their fellow musicians to play the song in whatever way they’d like.

Where to Begin in Learning Jazz Piano

Before learning to play jazz piano, it’s important to establish a basic understanding of jazz tunes. Start your jazz education by familiarizing yourself with jazz music — listen to big band jazz, blues songs, western music, and artists such as Duke Ellington or Miles Davis. Take note of the harmonies, improvisation, and overall style of the songs.

In addition to the style of music itself, you’ll also want to learn jazz and music theory to assist you in improvisation. Knowing the mathematics behind the theory and what notes sound good together in practice is a foundational step in being a jazz musician. Memorizing blues scales, major scales, minor scales, and the ii-V-I chord progression will also be helpful as you get into the actual music.

Once you’re well-acquainted with jazz standards and the theory behind them, you can make some informed decisions about what kind of playing you like. Each musician has their own style and improv techniques, some of which you will like more than others. Based on what you hear from these master jazz pianists, you can determine what your ideal playing style might be and begin to learn how to play it.

What is the Best Way to Learn Jazz Piano?

Beginners can start learning jazz piano in a variety of ways. Hiring an instructor is fairly common and can be very effective, but many prefer to utilize books or the internet to get free or low-cost lessons. The best way for you will depend on your learning style, your budget, and your overall commitment to the instrument.

Jazz Piano Lessons

Working with a private instructor to learn to play jazz piano can be the best option in many cases. Instructors are typically extremely experienced in both the instrument and the style of playing, and they’re able to work one-on-one with you to teach you the basics and give you customized lesson plans based on your already-established knowledge and overall jazz piano goals.

Jazz piano is very complex, so attempting to learn it on your own can lead to confusion or frustration. Because it isn’t as simple as reading the music and playing the notes written, someone who’s experienced in playing jazz music and improvising in practice can help pass on their strategies and techniques for knowing what to play and when to play it. An instructor can also hold you accountable to regular practice sessions.

The downside, however, is the cost of lessons. Piano lessons are fairly inexpensive — approximately $15 to $30 per half-hour lesson on average — but jazz piano teachers will typically charge a premium due to the limited number of musicians who can teach the style.

Depending on location and the demand for lessons, regular instruction could become quite expensive. Working with college students or less experienced teachers can be a great option for budget-conscious beginners who feel they would benefit from individual instruction.


Teaching yourself jazz piano will be difficult, but it’s not impossible. Successful self-taught jazz pianists will often go in with an understanding of piano fundamentals or at least some kind of musical background. Starting from scratch is possible as well, but it will take significantly more time to build up to being able to play the jazz style.

Videos and other online music lessons can teach beginners the basic structure of jazz piano and the best ways to get started. Many will start by establishing the differences between a major scale, a minor scale, and a blues scale and how to play each of them. They’ll also teach how to manipulate chords with additional notes or other modifications to get that signature jazz sound. Then, everything can be tied together by teaching the ii-V-I chord progression and how it fits in with other jazz elements.

While there are many great resources online, self-taught jazz pianists will need to pay close attention to each lesson and diligently practice to solidify the information. Irregular practice can lead to slow progress and frustration with the instrument. Missed information or improper technique can lead to poor playing or plateaued progress down the line.

Skills & Knowledge Required in Playing Jazz Piano

In addition to basic piano techniques, there are several skills that are unique to jazz and jazz piano. Learning jazz piano will require regular practice and dedication to learning the instrument and all the new concepts that go along with it. It’s also important to note that many of these skills come with repetition and experience putting them into practice.


Improv is an essential part of jazz music, especially jazz piano. In order to be able to improvise, a musician needs to understand the theory behind the music being played. They should also know which keys to press or which chords to play in order to get their desired sound for a particular song.

In addition to understanding music theory, jazz pianists should possess the ability to listen to their fellow musicians to create a sound that will work well with other parts of the song. Lastly, in order to become good at improvisation, a musician needs to have confidence in what they’re playing and the music they create.

Ability to Play by Ear

Being able to play by ear is a great skill for any musician, but it’s especially important in jazz. Playing by ear refers to the ability to recreate songs based on what you hear without seeing it notated in sheet music. This also applies to being able to play the music you hear in your head.

Without exact sheet music to guide you on what to play, much of jazz songs will be improvised at the moment. Ensuring that the keys you press are what you think they are is important when improvising, and being able to produce the melody you want is essential to creating the music you want to play.

Music Theory

Although you don’t have to be an expert, having at least a basic understanding of music theory will help jazz musicians learn and improve, especially in the beginning. Music theory — specifically jazz theory — helps musicians to understand what they are playing.

Music theory can also help jazz pianists figure out how to play the chords or melodies that will fit in well with whatever song is being played. By understanding music theory at its most basic level, jazz pianists can better communicate the music they want people to hear. However, music theory is only the beginning; more advanced knowledge of the jazz language will come with time and practice.


Learning any new skill, especially a new instrument, will require patience and dedication. Because jazz piano is such a complex instrument with unique skills, it will require even more commitment to practicing in order to improve and get to the point when you’re ready to perform.

Practice should become a standard part of your daily routine if you wish to learn jazz piano. Ideally, you should plan to practice daily, but five to six times a week can also be sufficient. In order to prevent overexertion or burnout, stick to shorter practice times more regularly instead of irregular marathon sessions. Practicing for 10 minutes 6 days a week is much better than playing for 60 minutes one time per week.

Harmonic Knowledge

Jazz music in general is made up of a magnitude of harmonies. Harmonies create chords, and deciding which notes make up the harmonies will set the path and tone for the song. The more harmonies that live in any given song, the more freedom musicians have to explore their own parts within them.

A jazz pianist needs to understand how each note works together to create harmonies in order to play the piano in a way that will create them. Without this harmonic knowledge, a musician wouldn’t be able to create music on the spot or stay with the musicians playing in their group.


Can you teach yourself jazz piano?

Teaching yourself jazz piano can be tricky, but it’s possible with the right amount of practice and learning aptitude. Beginners who already play classical piano or another instrument may have an easier time picking up the instrument on their own, but people starting from the very beginning could find success with online lessons as well.

What is the easiest jazz song to play on the piano?

There are many basic jazz songs that are perfect for beginners to learn, but there are also abridged versions of more complicated songs that could be beneficial as well. One of the most popular easy jazz songs to learn is “Fly Me to the Moon” by Bard Howard, later made popular by Frank Sinatra.

Can I learn jazz piano as a beginner?

Everyone had to start as a beginner at some point, so you’re never too new to get started. If you have no prior musical experience, it may be helpful to familiarize yourself with common music concepts before delving into the world of jazz. Instruments take time to grasp, so patience is key as well.

How many years does it take to become a jazz pianist?

Beginners can typically grasp a basic understanding of jazz piano and play simple songs within 12 months. In order to feel comfortable with the instrument and be able to play more complex songs, it will likely take several years. However, mastering an instrument will take a lifetime, as there are always new things to learn.






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