by Gjermund Sivertsen
How To Play Fast Jazz Piano

How do you play fast jazz piano? To me it was a big mystery before I cracked "The Jazz Piano Code".

Now I made a video about what I did and what to take into consideration if you want to be able to master the skill of playing fast.

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How To Play Fast Jazz Piano.

To play fast jazz-piano, or to be able to navigate around an up-tempo tune where you create meaningful music, is not for everyone. I mean, it is not required of you to become able to play fast to play jazz piano well. Fast music can scare some people away. I get it. I see it like this: If you master playing fast, it will become easier to play slower tunes.

The music used in the YouTube lesson is from The Jazz Piano Step-by-Step Course, in lesson 57 to 59. If you feel that this is way more difficult than what you can currently play today, remember that throughout the course, we’ve built it up to this point through many lessons first. (The scales, chords, how to think, how to practice, and a lot more).


You can play fast lines on a ballad. I don’t consider it to be fast jazz. When I speak about fast jazz, I mean when the tempo of the tune is crazy fast.

290 Beats Per Minute (BPM) is fast. I’ve played in tunes up to 350 BPM.

Before I got to the point where I could play fast jazz piano, I thought that I would never be able to play fast tunes. I remember being in jazz clubs in my hometown, Bergen, and when the musicians were playing fast tunes, I thought that I might as well give up on my playing. Maybe I should stick with pop-music after all. But no. I was determined to find out how to crack the code. If they could do it, I could probably make it too.

So, then I went home to practice. I had no idea how to practice and what to practice improving, but I discovered that my fingers got used to move fast if I played scales from slow to fast. A friend of mine who also is a musician said: “If you want to be able to play fast, simply practice playing fast on the fast tunes”

At some point, I got access to Jamey
Aebersold’s Burnin’!!! Containing all up-tempo

I practiced for hours. I also transcribed several
up-tempo solos, including Bill Evans, Herbie

I practiced the eight scales, arpeggios, chords, turnarounds, and so on and so forth.

Slowly, but surely, I got to the point where I, too, could get around those fast tunes. It was hard work and not done overnight.

Still, I have to admit I don’t think I will ever be able to play and improvise as fast as Oscar Peterson, and I have to accept my limits. His left-hand was extremely good. The same goes for Art Tatum.


There is not a quick fix to speed up your fingers.
As mentioned above, you can practice the eight
scales, arpeggios, chords, turnarounds, etc. There is one more thing I’ve done to speed up my fingers:

I’ve practiced the book of Hanon. The same did
Oscar Peterson, by the way. (I just practiced part 1- 2). Also, if you play some classical music, that can help you out.

1.) GO SLOW!

The fundamental concept of being able to play fast is
to be able to play slow first.
Practice S-L-O-W-L-Y!!!

Second, I would recommend going to a classically trained pianist to make sure you have the optimal sitting-position, hand position, and whatever else you should have.

If you are not used to playing fast, you might have a mental block telling you that you cannot play fast. I used only to play pop music and jazz ballads. Since that was all I knew, at the time, I believed I could ONLY play ballads and medium tunes. That felt like a roadblock, and I limited myself by appealing to my old beliefs.

To get out of this way of thinking, I played together with records where the musician played fast jazz. I pretended to be the pianist. Even if what I played did not make sense, I visualized how the pianist was playing and pretended to be him. Over time, I changed my paradigm. I’ve found that it is important to just throw yourself into the music and DARE. Only decide that you’re going to do what you can to make music at any given circumstances.


As there is little or no time to think while you’re playing, you’ve got to trust your gut instead. To do that, you should go through everything I’ve mentioned already. Play scales, chords, arpeggios, transcribe music, practice together with playa-long tracks, etc. In other words: Prepare well!


Whenever you’re going to play over a fast tune, you should know the chord changes and the melody well of that particular tune.

In the tune Lonna Dee, it means:

    A) Learn the melody well!

1. Play the melody slowly with a metronome or a play-along track. It should feel as you’re in control of what you’re playing.

2. Play faster.

3. Play fast. If you did steps 1 and 2 and feel ready for it, move on to step 3. Depending on your experience, give it a few hours before you’re ready to play in 290 bpm (And still sound relaxed).

    B) Learn the chord-changes.

Ideally: Sing through the chord-changes. I usually sing the root of the chords to
get to know the form of the tune. Then I sing broken-down chord-notes.
Then, play the chords only using different voicings. Remember: You can play as if
you were playing solo-piano, together with another solo-instrumentalist, in a
trio, or a quartet. All of it will demand different approaches from you.

In the video example, when playing with a band, I used A/B voicings, Block chords,
Upper-structure voicings, and Red Garland voicings, to mention some. All of
these require its own lesson and attention.

To play interesting harmony, you should make sure to vary the way you play by
creating contrasts. For example, You play first tight chords. Then you contrast by
playing the chords spread apart.


When you’re playing accompaniment, you play mostly chords, which is a lot easier
than playing the full melody with chords. Again, you have to consider the context.

1) If you play with just another oloinstrumentalist:
Play chords where you’re adding the chord's bass-notes. Now you will sustain the chords more than if you were playing in a band.

Tip: See if you can play swell-chords where you play the root + the 10th with your left hand, and your right-hand plays the other chord-notes.

2) If you play in a band: Play more staccato.

Now you don’t need to play the bass-notes, as the bass player will take care of that. Instead, play mostly rootless voicings by default. Sometimes, you can play A/B voicings, and other times you can play Upper-structure voicings and block chords. Rhythmically, you play more staccato. You’ll mostly play on the beat, but occasionally you can both play sustained chords and syncopations.

3) If you’re playing in a trio, you can “open it up” and play fewer chords. When there is a bass solo, you can play rootless voicings.

Tip: Play left-hand voicings only first (see
image), then add contrast by playing more
massive chords later on.


Playing up-tempo tunes is not as stressful as it may sound. What I’ve found out is that by merely counting the FIRST beat of each bar (only), you’ll reduce the inner stress-level to ¼.

Let me explain:

Original tempo 290:

Instead of counting all the beats, simply count the first beat in each bar! That will help you calm down and relax!


To play a solo over an up-tempo tune is similar to play a solo over a slow- or medium tune. However, now the harmony is moving so quickly that it is hard to follow. It is also more challenging to play something that makes sense when the tune is fast than if you’re playing on a slow jazz ballad.

I’ve already explained what I did to overcome the challenge of playing something that makes sense over an up-tempo tune, but there is one more critical ingredient that I’ve found to be essential. That’s what I call Fast Trick.


A fast trick is similar to a “lick,” but not quite.
    1) The fast tricks should be easy to play fast
    2) The fast tricks should be easy to add anywhere in a solo.

If you know enough fast-tricks, you can rely on these throughout a solo (in combination with some scales, arpeggios, and bebop-lines).

I’ve picked up some fast tricks along my way, and I usually name them from whom I’ve stolen them from.

Here is an example:

How to practice: Simply learn one trick, then try to add it anywhere. What I’ve done is to use a play-along track, then I’ve added the trick intentionally anywhere throughout the form of the tune. Of course, you’ll need to tweak the trick, so it fits with the chord changes. Alternatively, you can add it anyway and then play something else that somehow resolves what you already played.

Here is another example that I’ve called “The Esbjörn Svensson” trick. (He played it a lot)


Even if you know some fast tricks, you should improvise where and how to use the
tricks. To do so, you need to develop your ears to anticipate what to play and where. In essence: Experiment and listen a lot to others who’s done it before you.


If you’re new to jazz, you should probably master playing on slow or medium tunes before you challenge yourself on playing up-tempo tunes. If you have some experience but feel that the fast stuff is still above your head, I challenge you to give it a try. As I said in the intro: Playing fast tunes might help you become a better musician.

To practice and master the skill to play over a fast tune is a tough and bumpy road. It will probably help if you get guidance from a professional that can show you what to practice and what order. I’m glad I had my lessons with my teachers, but even more, I’m happy that I practiced a lot. If you feel overwhelmed by all of this, please remember Rome was not built in a day. Your music is no different.

Take care of your music, and happy practice!


-=Gjermund Sivertsen=-