A key skill to develop in jazz piano is to become freely independent. This is the same as studying drums. Drummers all have the skill to play something in one hand, which is free from another hand, which is free from each foot. This is no easy task. Jazz pianists have to do this too.
Think of the drummer, guitarist or pianist who sings when he plays. He has to have the playing totally subconscious so that he can freely sing. It’s my belief that singers should sing “against” the groove, not with it. Singers breathe and phrase. They tell stories and create moods. This can only be done when the musician is freely independent.
The question is: “How do you develop independence?” The answer: “One-step-at-a-time.”
There is a gland in the center of our brain called the Corpus Callosum. It controls the right and left sides of our body and brain. It also causes us to “freeze up” when we are trying to be independent on the piano. In a sense, you have to train this gland. It’s not easy.
Here are the steps that I recommend to train the Corpus Callosum:
- Sing a groove. Yes, just make up a language which sounds like a groove that you want to play.
- Play (and sing) the groove using an easy chord progression. This could be a II V, or II V I, or I VI II V etc. Start in an easy key, like C major. Eventually, move to all keys. Keep the groove specific.
- Once you can thoroughly and easily play this groove . . . start talking. Yes, just speak normally. You will probably find that this is very difficult to do. It will take practice to get to the point where you can carry on a conversation while continuing the specific groove. Think of the drummer or guitarist who has to sing while continuing to play accompaniment patterns. Once this is easy . . . it’s easy and free.
- Once you are able to freely talk . . . then, perhaps, try singing. When you sing, make sure you are breathing and phrasing normally and not “meter-beating”. Don’t sing to the groove. You have to be free from the groove.
- Then, play singable ideas while playing the groove.
- This is also a great way to also develop odd-time soloing. Sing and Play the odd-time groove over and over until you are secure. Then start speaking while playing it. Then, move to singing and playing a solo against the groove.
Make a daily practice of developing independence. This is a key to becoming a successful improvisor. It also develops a great style.