areas of study within jazz piano

The 6 areas of study within jazz piano.

“Feel, form, rhythm,” “arranging,” and “technique” are what I call the three foundational blocks of jazz piano playing. Without them, you won’t be able to build anything musically solid because your playing will always lack rootedness, depth, and precision. To improve in the area of “feel, form, and rhythm,” I recommend immersing yourself in some kind of West African musical tradition (Ewe drumming and dance, or djembe and dundun rhythms for example). “Arranging” is about mastering different textures and telling an engaging story. The piano has an inherent orchestral quality due to its wide range and polyphonic nature, so there is a lot to cover here, from bass lines, to chord voicings, all the way up to how to interpret and embellish a melody. As far as “technique” is concerned, some sub-areas are specific to jazz (such as a practicing a snippet of music in a variety of keys) and others more particular to classical performance. This is why I often encourage my students to work on Hanon’s Virtuoso Pianist, and the Bach Chorales and Inventions at the very least (taking separate classical piano lessons altogether, in addition to the jazz piano lessons, being the ideal scenario).

These first three foundational blocks support those that make up the second level in the diagram. “Improvisation,” in my opinion, is the heartbeat of jazz. It’s at the very core of the music, which itself is all about individuation (or “finding your own voice”) if you ask me. At its left, you’ll notice that I represented “listening/transcribing” as an arrow pointing towards “improvisation.” That is because the jazz language you will be exposed to, and eventually internalize, will unavoidably feed into your personal style as an improviser. The elements of tradition and innovation constantly and dynamically coexist in jazz, very much like the yin and yang components of Taoist philosophy.

Finally, all five aforementioned blocks support the final block at the top of the diagram: “building a repertoire.” Now the good news is, this task should be relatively effortless if you’ve studied all the other areas conscientiously… This culminating block is all about having fun learning the tunes you like, or, why not, even writing, practicing, and performing your own!


Visit http://funnelljazz.eu/lessons/ for detailed information about lessons or click on the image below to book your lesson today:

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cycle 5 root motion: an application of the circle of fifths

As most of us musicians and music students know, the circle of fifths is notably helpful when figuring out what key a piece of music is in looking at its key signature. But it also has practical uses and can indeed be seen as the theoretical framework for what is commonly referred to as cycle 5 root motion. Cycle 5 root motion is often used as a way of traveling through all 12 pitches of the keyboard in order to work on anything, from a snippet of music to a whole tune, in all 12 keys. It also underpins the concept of the widely used II-V-I progression.

To go through the cycle, simply begin on any given note, go down a perfect fifth or up a perfect fourth (for a comprehensive review of intervals, click here) to reach the second note. Once there, repeat the process: go down a perfect fifth or up a perfect fourth and reach the third note. Repeat again, and again, and again… Until you are back at your starting point and have completed the cycle!

Cycle 5 root motion: the complete circle of fifths played in the left hand on the piano, starting and ending on the note C.

Oftentimes, you’ll see the circle of fifths starting and finishing on the pitch C (as in the example above). But you can of course begin and end at any point in the cycle. Actually, I recommend starting at different points in the cycle every time you practice something in all 12 keys: repeated transposition can indeed be quite challenging and mentally exhausting, and more than once have I stopped half or a third of the way through the cycle, and forgotten where I left off the next day… So beginning on different pitches every time makes it more likely that you will eventually get through the whole cycle, or at least that you’ll cover some of the more unfamiliar keys!

When you start and end on C, unfamiliar keys (such as Ab, Db, Gb/F#, B…) are located towards “the middle” of the cycle, whereas the more familiar ones (fewer flats or sharps) are on “the edges.” Beginning the cycle on say the pitch Ab is a way to ensure that you’ll venture through unfamiliar territory during practice!


Visit http://funnelljazz.eu/lessons/ for detailed information about lessons or click on the image below to book your lesson today:

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Tree of Light

◀️ Clicking on the image to the left will take you to a low resolution JPG file (1st page only). If you’d like to purchase complete sheet music (higher resolution PDF) for “Tree of Light,” please visit the Funnelljazz catalogue page.

“Tree of Light” has not yet officially been released as a single or on an album/EP. Enjoy the video below! 🔽

Tree of Light is one of the last compositions I completed in 2020 (hence the silver Christmas tree) and the very last one Akiko and I filmed and recorded from our apartment in Sunnyside (Queens, NY) before moving to Reykjavík (Iceland), where we are currently based. Two of the baddest cats originally hailing from the Seine-et-Marne French département, namely Dominique Muzeau and Thibault Perriard, joined us virtually in this transition, contributing amazing bass and drum parts from their homes in the Paris Region and lifting our spirits in the process. I’m sure they’ll lift yours too! Enjoy 🙂

Akiko Horii – conga
Thibault Perriard – drums

Dominique Muzeau – bass

Jim Funnell – piano & composition

Recorded in Paris and New York in November/December 2020.
Mixed by Dominique Muzeau in January 2021.
©2020 Funnelljazz (ASCAP, SACEM)

“Farewell, New York!” AfuriKo livestreams from Sunnyside, Queens

New York City has been good to Akiko and I. We’ve certainly lived through a lot over these past four years. And now it’s time to move on. This month, AfuriKo moved to Reykjavik, Iceland!

To say goodbye to America, kick off the year, and celebrate the beginning of this new chapter, we played two sets from our home in Sunnyside on January 2, 2021 at 3PM and 8PM EST. If you missed them, you can replay them on YouTube. Just click on the videos below!

Program (both sets):
🎵 In B Town (AfuriKo) – inspired by Bamaya, a traditional Dagomba rhythm from northern Ghana
🎵 Up in the Air (AfuriKo) – inspired by Agahu, a traditional Ewe rhythm from Ketonu in Benin
🎵 Bulgarian Traditional (unknown composer and title, arr. by AfuriKo)
🎵 Kotedjuga (AfuriKo)
🎵 Kassai (Ou Yoshida, Taiji Nakamura, arr. by AfuriKo) – solo section set to Kassa Soro, a traditional Malinke rhythm from Eastern Guinea

Two short pieces for cable and electric piano

“Two short pieces for cable and electric piano” are a couple of spontaneous improvisations wrapped around the buzzing sound of an audio cable. The piece is in two parts:

I. EMF Storm
II. Fugue and Postlude

While the piano parts are totally improvised, the cable parts were shaped using automation in Logic.

Jim Funnell – electric piano and sound editing

Recorded in New York, NY in October 2020.

new single: Igneous Alloy by AfuriKo feat. Corey Wallace & Alex B. Smith

Back in 2019 (May through November) and then again more recently in July and August of 2020, AfuriKo had the pleasure to invite both Corey A. Wallace (on trombone) and Alex Busby Smith (electric bass) as guest artists as part of our monthly residency at Tomi Jazz (a Japanese bar & grill in Midtown Manhattan that features nightly live jazz). The shows in both trio formats were a blast, and Igneous Alloy, a composition of mine first recorded on Spirit of the Snail (2015), was one of the tunes we played almost every time. So we decided to record a quartet version of it (this time with both Alex and Corey featured on the same track!) to document these good times and make a little something available to those of you who weren’t able to make it out to Tomi’s. The arrangement was refined to suit this particular instrumentation, including trombone melodies, synth counterlines, and a new bass line/riff to support Akiko’s percussion solo. Our friend Laure Lang from the Hauts-de-France region added her grain of salt with a magical mix and crafty video editing. Enjoy!

💽 Support us by getting your digital track on Bandcamp 🙂

Corey A. Wallace – trombone
Alex Busby Smith – electric bass
Akiko Horii – percussion
Jim Funnell – keyboards
Laure Lang – mixing, mastering, and video editing

Recorded in New York, NY in August and September 2020.
Mixed and mastered in Betz, FR in September 2020.

5-note 2-hand voicings: example of a minor II-V resolving to Ima7

The example above is a great exercise to practice some solid sounding 5-note voicings for a minor II-V (resolving to a Ima7 chord, just like in the second half of the bridge to All the Things You Are¹). So buckle up and get ready to take this whole thing through the cycle of fifths in all keys! You might well end up with a brand new, hip sounding chord or two in your toolbox. 🙂

The first chord, F#mi7(b5), is built using what Mark Levine (1989) calls the insen pentatonic (B C E F# A). You can construct it yourself (without looking at the sheet music) by first playing an E below middle C (as the b7 of the chord, that E respects standard low interval limits), then skipping the F#, playing the A, skipping the B, playing the C, and so forth (in other words, playing every other note in the insen pentatonic scale and sounding all the notes together with both hands). As you can see from the example above, I have notated all five inversions of that chord (first ascending, and then descending all the way back to the inversion chosen initially). I find it very beneficial to practice in that fashion in order to create a “sheet of sound” effect (like McCoy Tyner comping for John Coltrane!); having all five versions of the chord under your belt will also enable you to voice lead as smoothly as possible in any situation, taking into account where you’re coming from and where you’re going harmonically. Lastly, if the tune you’re playing calls for dwelling on a certain chord for a somewhat prolonged amount of time (a few bars), there lies a perfect opportunity for you to explore some of those inversions for the sake of variation…

The second chord is a B7 to which we have added a b9, a #9, and a b13. These tensions form a C2 triad (C D G) which when inverted gives us either two perfect fourths stacked on top of each other (D G C), or a Gsus triad (G C D)². Therefore we have an upper structure triad chord (UST) voiced with the aforementioned triad on top (played by the right hand) and the guide tones in the bottom (in the left hand). To be musically consistent with the phrasing used for F#mi7(b5), I have included several “inversions” here too (to be precise: inversions of the top triad in the right hand, and inversions of the guide tones in the left).

The final chord to which this progression resolves is an Ema7 chord (with thensions 9 and 13). The building process here is the exact same as for F#mi7(b5) (with the playing and skipping of every other tone in the scale), except that this time, a “regular”³ anhemitonic (containing no semitones) pentatonic is used (B C# D# F# G#). Notice how each individual voice outlines the pentatonic scale melodically… Neat, huh? I sure like it! (the same thing goes for the insen pentatonic we talked about above).

And there you have it: three solid sounding, 2-hand voicings for your minor II-V resolving to a major I chord. I hope you’ll enjoy practicing this snippet and that it will prove to be a valuable addition to your harmonic vocabulary!

Notes

¹ Click here for a transcription (example #2) of guitarist Remo Palmieri soloing over the bridge of All the Things You Are (Gillespie 1993).

² Click here to see these quartal triads (2 and suspended) in root position and their inversions notated in treble clef.

³ In order to differentiate this particular pentatonic scale from other kinds of 5-note scales (such as the insen pentatonic mentioned earlier), I usually refer to it as “global.” After all, it “has been found in use upon every single continent of the planet Earth.” (Hewitt 2013)

References

Gillespie, Dizzy. Groovin’ High. Savoy 152. 1993 (originally released in 1955).

Hewitt, Michael. “Section 5: Pentatonic Scales.” In Musical Scales of the World, 125-134. The Note Tree, 2013.

Levine, Mark. “Chapter 15: Pentatonic Scales.” In The Jazz Piano Book, 219-237. Petaluma: Sher Music Company, 1989.


Visit http://funnelljazz.eu/lessons/ for detailed information about lessons or click on the image below to book your lesson today:
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Echoes of Cyan

◀️ Clicking on the image to the left will take you to a low resolution JPG file (1st page only). If you’d like to purchase complete sheet music (higher resolution PDF) for “Echoes of Cyan,” please visit the Funnelljazz catalogue page.

“Echoes of Cyan” has not yet officially been released as a single or on an album/EP. Please enjoy the video below! 🔽

Echoes of Cyan is kind of a tribute to the tune Blue in Green by Bill Evans (or Miles Davis?). The 15 bar form for this new composition is somewhat unusual, echoing Blue in Green’s 10 bars, and the (mostly) descending stepwise melody reminiscent of the famous ballad on Kind of Blue (1959).

Franck Vaillant – drums
Takashi Sugawa – bass

Jim Funnell – piano & composition

Recorded in Tokyo, Paris, and New York in July 2020.
©2020 Jim Funnell (ASCAP, SACEM)

AfuriKo livestream from Sunnyside / July 1, 3PM