Piano Player World

Common Intervals Used in Jazz Piano

recognize chordsIt doesn’t have to take long for an ear to be trained to recognize intervals. Piano students can recognize melodies by ear and replay them simply by being familiar with scales and replicating the intervals that they have heard.

One additional tool in a pianist’s tool belt is knowing ahead of time what common intervals are used so that whether playing a piano song by ear or improvising an original piece, the fingers can almost automatically go into the correct keys.

This is especially true for jazz piano, a style of music that relies on a unique blending of chord and melody combinations.

While a student’s standard music education typically begins with learning the basic major and minor chords on piano, learning the common intervals used in jazz piano requires that they expand on their chord knowledge. The most common interval the aspiring jazz pianist needs to learn is the seventh.

Frequently, you will see chords in jazz written like V7 or iii7, referring to both the note of the scale the chord begins on but also the additional seventh tone. If required to play a C7 chord, for example, you need to play the standard C, E, and G triad of the scale as well as adding a Bb.

Adding a seventh in a C7 chord means finding the seventh note of that chord’s scale – in this case a B – and lowering it by one half step to a Bb. This is true for any major seventh chord: an F7 means adding an Eb to the chord.

jazz piano lessons 

seventh intervalThe seventh interval in jazz chords adds a unique flavor to the sound of the chord that helps distinguish it from other styles’ sounds. Other intervals in addition to the seventh also contribute to jazz’s definitive sound quality.

You’ll also see chords like Fadd9, F9, F11, meaning for each of these chords you add the note in the F scale that corresponds to the number written. A ninth in F would be G, and can be played by stretching fingers to play F, A, Eb, and G, or by playing F, G, A, Eb (the seventh is included in 9 or 11 chord).

Other common intervals used in jazz piano include what are known as diminished or augmented intervals. If beginning on middle C, a diminished fifth, for example, would be the fifth note from C lowered half a step – in this case it would be Gb. Augmented works just the opposite – an augmented notes raises the tone half a step.

You will likely encounter chords written like G7b5. The flat (“b”) sign indicates that the third of this chord should be flatted, or diminished; so this chord would be played with the notes G, B, Db, and F. In the same way, a G7#5 means to raise the fifth a half step, producing G, B, D#, and F.

Each interval within chords have their own unique names and ways they are written. Learning how to accurately play these common intervals used in jazz piano means to familiarize your eyes in looking at these chords and familiarize your fingers with landing on them and all their inversions. Learning these intervals means you are well on your way toward comfortably playing your own jazz improvisations.

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