by Gjermund Sivertsen
How To Play Jazz Waltz (Piano)

If you have never played jazz-waltz, now is the time to start! It is quite different from "normal" waltz with its bouncing feel, and it can make you smile if you do it correctly.

I've enjoyed playing jazz waltz since the day my piano teacher showed me how he did it. It was hard at the start, but after some time, I made it. Now I'm happy to share what I know about this subject. 

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How to play jazz waltz for jazz piano.

As you probably have noticed: Nearly all jazz standards are written in 4/4 time. At least 90% of them, though, I don’t have the exact number here.

Jazz waltz vs "normal" waltz.

To play jazz waltz is quite different, and there are many ways you can do it. Personally, I've always stuck to three principles: The Bouncing- effect (1), adding ghost notes (2), playing 2 over 3 (3).

Here they are:

1. The bouncing effect.

The idea with the bouncing effect is to make it swing a little more. The usual waltz would be just an OM-PA-PA way to play, where you play the root note on the OM and the chord on the PA.

Instead: Try to play similar to this pattern.

By playing like this, you get a little more bouncy sound. It makes the waltz a little more lively rather than using the OM-PA-PA way of playing.

2. Adding ghost notes

For some reason, I like to speak about ghost notes rather than grace notes. Mostly, they are the same thing: Notes that you add here and there to make the music more lively. They are there for percussive purposes, and it does not matter so much which notes you choose to play.

Here is an example of ”ghost-notes”

3. Playing two notes/chords in the space of three

A few years back, a drummer-friend said to me: Why do you play two over three so much when you play waltz? I never thought of it at all! I didn't even notice that I played two over three, as I had never practiced this concept.

Now that I know, I use it occasionally to make a rhythmic effect when I play jazz waltz.

The theory behind this concept is to play dotted quarter-notes in the space of three quarter-notes. If you try to tap three on your lap with one hand and two at the same time with your other hand, you'll see that this is more tricky than what it sounds.

See example:

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How to practice

Lucky for you who read this, I've created multiple exercises and play-along tracks for you to test out all of these principles.

In my experience, working with tunes that are written in 3/4 is the best medicine. So, please enjoy the jazz waltz tune with this lesson and test out all of the three principles here. Then you can also play other jazz standards such as Someday My Prince Will come, Bluesette, or Footprints.

Enjoy this little lesson and take care of your music!

- Gjermund Sivertsen