piano with jazz

Can Classical Pianists Play Jazz?

Are you a classical pianist? Do you want to play Jazz style? What could be the issues and challenges if you start playing Jazz styles with a classical form of Piano training? Precisely, this topic is to discuss about the same.

Classical pianists can play jazz style piano, with proper training and rhythm orientation. Without guidance and practice, jazz style playing would not be perfectly possible for a classical pianist as both of the playing styles are unique and need lot of practice to master the same.

We are further going to take a deep dive on the classical and Jazz Playing styles, their features, characteristics and what it would take to be a Jazz Pianist with an initial classical piano training.


Who are Classical Pianists?

The Piano players who have been specially trained to play and perform classical pieces from famous composers – such as Mozart, Beethoven, Bach (to name a few) are considered as classical pianists.

Here are some of the characteristics of classical piano playing style in terms of score, rhythm pattern, melody and fingering techniques as well as instrument choices.

  • These pianists focus on Piano scores for the learning process.
  • Improvisation scope is limited usually. Classical pianists play the exact scores/sheet music which are usually the composed pieces by the famous composers.
  • Syncopation in the piano in classical playing style is usually not used. Any playing variations or impromptu chords and arpeggios are not used predominantly for classical music.
  • Classical Piano playing style uses a medium tempo / song speed for rendition of the scores. Most of the songs are usually composed with medium or slow tempo ranges.
  • Classical Piano scores are completely structure driven, with very little scope of deviation from the original score.
  • Classical Pianist uses simplex chord progressions such as Major, Minor, Suspended, Octaves, Power and some triad chords. Most complex chords (such as 7ths and 5ths) are usually not used in classical piano scores.
  • Classical Piano music is usually also accompanied by classical orchestra oriented musical instruments – such as brass sections, string sections and orchestral percussive instruments when played within an orchestra.
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What is Jazz Piano Playing style?

Jazz Pianists are a different genre of piano playing artists. They are specially trained on Jazz improvisation techniques on Piano.

Here are some of the characteristics of Jazz piano playing style in terms of score, rhythm pattern, melody and fingering techniques as well as instrument choices –

  • Jazz pianists use a wide variety of piano jazz scores and sheet music to play jazz songs.
  • Improvisation scope is extremely good for Jazz Piano styles. Jazz pianists often go out of the exact notation / staff notes and improvise with chords, riffs and arpeggios to set the jazzy mood for the song.
  • Syncopation in the piano for jazz playing style is used frequently. Using up-beat playing sequences such as 3/4th riff inside a 4/4 Time signature music piece are therefore used extensively.
  • Jazz music is usually used wide a wide variety of tempo ranges spanning between medium and high temp ranges upto 300 Bpm sometimes.
  • Jazz music uses complex chord progressions and structures including the 7th major and minor chords, along with most of the regular chords such as major, minor, suspended etc.

Jazz music, unlike classical music has a different set of musical instruments accompanying the piano which could possibly include – saxophones, acoustic drums, brush kits, brass section, horn sections, guitars and violins at times.

Can Classical Pianists Play Jazz?

Classical pianists need a transformative training on Jazz Piano music to understand the concepts and improvisations of the later form of piano style. With the proper guidance of a Jazz Piano mentor and Jazz Piano books for reference, a classical pianist can mould himself/herself to be a Jazz pianist in the long run.

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There is no doubt on the fact that Classical pianists can play jazz with training. However without training of variety of chord progressions, improvisation techniques in jazz playing, their score would keep on sounding classical style without the jazzy touch.

In the next section we shall cover on the aspect on how to be a jazz pianist and what are the steps to follow.

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Photo by Chris Bair on Unsplash

How to be a Jazz Pianist with a Classical Piano Training?

Here are some the step-by-step tips a pianist must follow to be a Jazz expert after the initial step towards success.

  • Listen to Jazz Music frequently and please watch Top Jazz Pianists perform live or recorded sessions regularly
  • Learn Jazz Music Theory from a Jazz Piano Mentor for the transformation within you from a classical pianist to the Jazz Style.
  • Switch over from slow and medium tempo range to higher tempo ranges during practice of jazz piano songs.
  • Improvisation is the key for jazz piano music. As a pianist, you need to learn to improvise within the chord family used in the specific song.
  • Playing syncope such as ¾ or 7/8th piano riffs within a standard 4/4 rhythmic song are usually a flavor of Jazz Piano styles.
  • You are advised to read the jazz music books which are enumerated in the below section. Doing so, will definitely help you get many steps closer to your goal of being an accomplished jazz pianist.

If you want to know more about learning jazz piano, you can follow our step by step guide written especially for the beginners.

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Best Jazz Piano Books for reference

Here is the list of the top 5 Jazz Piano books for quick reference. These books will help you to understand the concepts of Jazz Piano and help you in your journey of transformation as a Jazz Pianist:

Please grab a copy of any of these books from Amazon and super-charge your journey towards learning Jazz Piano concepts.

Here are some of the characteristics of Jazz piano playing style in terms of score, rhythm pattern, melody and fingering techniques as well as instrument choices.


Classical Pianists can certainly play Jazz, but they need to undergo a transformation training for Jazz Piano style. The time signature changes, independent hands playing and music syncopation are the key areas of focus for the transition. Both forms of piano styles – classical and Jazz are unique, brilliant and have their own identity in the music fraternity. So, we urge our pianist readers, to go the transition and play Jazz Piano with ease and perfection!!

For more insightful articles on Piano, music keyboards, VST Plugins and much more, please visit our website www.musicdetailed.com

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