The Practical Guide for Learning to Play Jazz

The word jazz and all types of instruments in a variety of colors signifies learning to play jazz.
Table of Contents

Key Takeaways:

  • Jazz has a unique sound that many people prefer over other genres of music.
  • Learning to play jazz can be challenging.
  • There are specific tools required to learn correctly.
  • Regular practice helps perfect your skill.

Jazz music has a sound unlike any other type of music, and for many, it brings the greatest joy. It has a mystique and charisma not found in other musical genres, especially to the musician. Learning to play jazz is no easy task, however, even for musicians established in other genres. 

The most effective way to learn to play jazz is to employ a practical approach. This guide explores basic jazz theory, the required equipment, and some helpful practice tips that can improve your skill and learn the steps required to master the art of jazz music.

Jazz Theory

Jazz theory refers to the types of chords and sounds you often hear in jazz music. It is the grammar and sentence structure of the jazz language that helps you better understand what you’re playing and how to navigate chord changes.

Required Equipment

Learning jazz necessitates a few pieces of equipment. The basics include:


An instrument is required to learn to play any genre of music. While any instrument can play jazz, some of those more often associated with the genre include the saxophone, trumpet, trombone, bass guitar, and drums.


Let’s face it – new musicians usually don’t sound very good. This can result in frustration, annoyance, and perhaps even rude comments from housemates and neighbors, which can be very demotivational. Ensure you have a quiet, private place to practice your art as you begin learning to play jazz.

Metronome and Backing Tracks

A metronome is a device that helps you develop a good sense of timing. It has a metal arm that swings back and forth, making an audible tick each time. Following along with the set rhythm of the metronome helps you keep time properly.

Backing tracks work with the metronome to help you keep time. Prepared backing tracks are instrumentals recordings that can help you create a sense of style.

Recording Device

Recording your progress is a big part of your motivation. Hearing how you improve from week to week can keep you enthusiastic about your pursuit and proud of your accomplishments. 

Lead Sheets

These notation sheets contain an abbreviated form of the musical data in a composition that specifies essential elements such as melody, harmony, and lyrics. Using them gives the musician some creative freedom while sticking to the essentials.

Jazz Recordings

Listening to as much jazz as possible is one of the best ways to become a great player. You hear new phrases, become accustomed to the swing style, and motivate yourself to push and challenge yourself. 

Use a Practice Journal

 Writing down your thoughts on your practice can be enlightening. It can show you where your challenges lie and how far you’ve progressed. 

These essential tools will get you started on your way to mastering jazz. The next step is developing a practice schedule you can stick with.

Tips for Practicing Jazz

There are no concrete rules to learning jazz. Every musician must find their own way. The first step is to define your goal. It’s hard to reach a destination if you don’t know where you’re going. Here are a few tips to help make practice more fruitful.

Take Stock of Your Ability

Assessing your current abilities gives you a starting point for your musical journey. Being honest with yourself is crucial. Learning jazz is a process of developing a tower of skills upon each other. Ensure you have a strong base for your skills by fully mastering one before going to the next.

Define Your Favorite Style

The sounds of the great jazz musicians are inspiring and help you find your style as you learn more. Listen to as many jazz artists as possible and identify the ones who resonate with you. Make a list of three to five artists and try to find the sounds that make their music so enjoyable. 

Plan the Techniques You Want to Learn

The sounds of your favorite artists will present new challenges to you. Schedule the styles, techniques, and rhythms you want to learn and tackle them one at a time. 

Begin by deconstructing a piece of music to identify characteristics such as tempo, rhythm, pitch, and voicings. Then try to mimic what you hear until you get it right.


Learn and memorize the scales. Practice them along with triads and arpeggios in every key until you know them backward and forward. Don’t stop until they’re second nature. This is the basis of all other sounds you will learn to make.

Instill a Pre-Practice Routine

What you do before you start practicing can be as important as the practice itself. It lets your mind know you’re about to get serious about your music. Set up a pre-practice routine by, for example, shutting off your phone, putting up a Do Not Disturb sign, and changing into your practice clothes. Find something that motivates you to practice and use it as your pre-practice routine.

Work with an Instructor

A skilled music teacher can help you make musical breakthroughs faster than learning alone. They can show you things they learned after years of work, cutting your efforts down significantly. Instructors also keep you accountable and striving for the next goal.

Effective practice is all about focus and intent. Anything that helps you show up consistently to pursue your musical goals can be part of your practice. 

Mastering the art of jazz requires dedication above all. Many musicians believe that playing jazz is a calling and those called to it have a special talent. If this is you, there’s no time like the present to start. 

Talk with an Experienced Jazz Music Teacher

Contact Sloan School of Music today to talk to an expert about your musical education. Our skilled staff can give you specialist advice so you can make an educated choice about delving into the world of jazz. Visit our state-of-the-art facility to pick out an instrument, take lessons, and enjoy performances from a wide range of skilled musicians and teachers.