by Gjermund Sivertsen
BeBop Jazz Piano Lesson

How to play BeBop jazz piano in 10 steps. Have you ever seen a magician doing some mind-boggling tricks that you simply cannot understand, no matter how hard you try? The same feeling I had the first time I heard bebop jazz piano! I simply thought this was impossible to play! How can anyone improvise meaningful lines in 300 bmp?

To be honest, I had to work for a very long time to crack that code – but I think I did, and now I’ll break it down for you in 10 steps so you can do the same.

Before you read on, please make sure you’ve seen my youtube video about how to play bebop jazz piano:

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Many jazz pianists that wants to play the bebop jazz piano style starts with the bebop scale. I never did that myself as I didn’t find a good way to combine the bebop lines with other things that made sense. In stead, I had a different approach:

Here is a summary on how I practice the bebop jazz piano style:

1. Get to know the syntax.

That simply means you sing (with your mouth) bebop lines. Try to copy them from the great masters. I sometimes sing bebop improvisations (when I’m alone) and try to experiment with improvisations that very often ends with that famous BE-BOP. So it basically sounds like this “duddeli-duba-duba-daba-duba-duddeli-duba-be-bop”.

2. Play chromatic lines and circle around the notes

When you take it to the piano, start with the chromatic scale and not the bebop scale. At least that was my approach and that worked very well for me. Very often you circle around the note you’re about to play. For example: If you want to play the G, you’d start on the Ab, then Gb before you end with playing the G.

3. Play triplets

When you play old bebop (from the Charlie Parker era), you should add lots of triplets to your lines. Listen to the intro of the tune Donna Lee by Charlie Parker. It starts with a triplet. So in many cases there will be a combination of triplets and swung eight- notes.

Here is an example from Donna Lee by Charlie Parker:

4. End phrases with a “be-bop” and aim for the (b9) on dominant 7 chords.
So what this means is that a “good” bebop line often seem to contain a third-to (b9) on dominant 7 chords. Sometimes it goes straight to the (b9) and other times it goes through a diminished chord. 
Here is an example of a line that includes the 3 in the dominant 7 chord to the (b)
5. Play sevenths to tenths with your left hand (or tenths to sevenths).

In older bebop, the pianist often played sevenths to tenths (or the other way around) when they played on a II-V progression.
This gives a very nice chromatic movement.
In more modern jazz it is more common to play rootless voicings and upper structure voicings.

Here is a tenth to seven on a Dmi7 to G7:

Here is an example of an upper-structure voicing for use when you play more modern bebop: (The chord is a G7)
6. Play the cycles of II-V-II-V-II-V-I

To master the bebop style, I found it very much easier to work through a serie of II-Vs than play a II-V-I progression. The reason for this is that many jazz standards includes II-V-II-V-II-V-I progressions (or similar), and many of the bebop-ideas seem to work well over II-V-II-V-I for example.

In real life: Let’s say you’re playing this chord progression:
Dmi7 – G7 – Cmi7 – F7 – Bb6/9

Then you can “drag” a nice bebop line over that chord progression. (This chord progression is a II-V-II-V-I progression, since we consider all the minor chords as II chords, all the Dominant 7 chords as V chords.

Here is an example of a II-V progression:

7. Practice a lot of up-tempo music

The bebop style can sometimes go at crazy tempos. These tempos are hard to master for most of us, and as I said in the intro of this little article: I thought this was impossible to play. Until…

I started to practice in faster tempos. To be able to improvise in high- speed, you’ve got to practice in faster tempos too.
I did two things to master the faster tempos:

– I practiced a lot over play-along tracks that was for faster tempos. (Also, I created my own)
– I played with people who were used to play up-tempo tunes

How to count in up-tempo music:

8. Play the standard tunes by Charlie Parker

Many people swear to this method. I’ve done it too. Find the bebop tunes and challenge yourself to be able to play the tune(s) at the tempo of the original record. In many cases this can be around 300 bpm. This is fast, but there is a way to think of the faster tempos if you want to master this quicker: In stead of counting the 1-2-3-4, you simply just count the 1s of each bar. Then four bars would be counted as 1-2-3-4.

9. Transcribe multiple bebop jazz piano solos and apply the bebop lines to tunes you’re working on

I think the master of bebop piano was Bud Powell. I’ve copied several of his solos, and that will definitely help you out to get ideas.
Then: Try to extract some ideas and transfer them to another tune that you’re working on.

10. Compose your own “perfect” bebop jazz piano solos and learn them.

This is a trick I learned from when I studied jazz at the conservatory. The idea is that you can compose the perfect solo, practice this and even perform parts of it when you go to a jam session or play a concert. Most likely you won’t be able to play the solos perfectly the first times you perform them, but that’s part of the point. So you’ve then got to improvise your way out of the composed solo that you perform. Test it out for yourself!

I hope at least some of this made sense to you and wish you the best. Take care of your music and your bebop!

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