How to Solo on Piano

A foundational instrument in both the rhythmic and harmonic backbone of the jazz ensemble, the piano is often also called upon to play improvised solos. The art of jazz piano improvisation is a mixture of technical skill, fast analytical thinking and pure creativity. While true mastery of this art requires years of practice and experience, a few basic rules and guidelines can help you get started.

Learn the basics of lead sheets. A lead sheet is a piece of music or part of a piece that indicates where a player should play an improvised solo and how. Instead of the measures of music containing written-out parts, they'll have slash marks over them and chord symbols above them. The chord symbols indicate the chord that should be the basis of your solo and harmony during that measure and the next measures, until a new chord symbol is indicated. To learn the basics of reading chord symbols and what they mean, see Resources below.

Realize the chords in your left hand. Traditionally, the left hand lays down the harmony in chords. Though you must play the chord in the proper inversion, you can make your own choices about how to voice them beyond this, including octaves and spacing.

Play a melody with your right hand. The art of improvising a good and interesting melody can take years to master, but as a rule, follow the scale implied by the chord being played and focus on the notes that are in the chord. It's also a good idea to play a melody that reflects the melody of the piece you're playing. For example, you can play a melody with similar notes and different rhythm, or visa versa.

Move through the lead sheet chords. As you move from chord to chord, work on using voicings that will allow you to move your fingers as little as possible. If you are a member of a jazz ensemble, it is also important, as a member of the rhythm section, that you establish the harmonies on the beat that they're supposed to change (usually the first beat of the measure).

Approved by Jesse Anderson