If you are a pianist looking to branch out into the wide world of jazz piano, you might be wondering where to start. What are some famous jazz piano songs that you can learn to play?
In this article we will give you a list of ten jazz standards from some of the best composers and pianists in history.
Which Songs Should You Learn?
If you are new to jazz piano it can be beneficial to expose yourself to different styles. The jazz genre is vast and includes styles such as smooth jazz, bebop, blues, swing, and many more.
In addition to the varying styles, you should consider the number of different techniques composers use in their music. If you’re not familiar with the typical jazz piano nuances, read up a little on the popular methods jazz musicians use to make their musical compositions unique and interesting.
Lastly, make sure you are playing songs that you like! If you start learning a new song, and it’s not bringing you joy in learning and playing it, that’s ok. Put it aside and move on to something else. Playing an instrument is supposed to be enjoyable, after all. If you’re not having fun, then what’s the point?
Famous Jazz Piano Songs to Learn
Here’s a list of popular jazz songs you can learn to play. This list is just a sampling of the songs you can practice.
These songs are all well-known jazz standards, so once you master them, playing them for a crowd is sure to get everybody’s feet tapping.
Jazz Piano Songs for Beginners
“Autumn Leaves” by Joseph Kosma (1945)
“Autumn Leaves” is another great choice for students learning jazz piano. This song is considered a jazz ballad. The slow pacing makes it great for new players. It has a simple A, A, B format, whick allows for easy memorization as the melody repeats. It also uses what is probably the most popular chord progression in jazz, sometimes called the ii-v-I.
Mastering the ii-v-I is a must for jazz piano players.
“Summertime” by George Gershwin (1935)
“Summertime” is a popular bluesy jazz tune from the musical Porgy and Bess. It’s a great study for new jazz pianists due to its slow tempo, and its use of the pentatonic scale.
The chord progression used in this song is a popular choice for jazz written in the blues style. This song us good for beginners because it uses a simple one note melody that repeats and is easy to learn.
“Ain’t No Sunshine” by Bill Withers (1971)
This popular song is good practice for playing in the minor keys, particularly A minor, and E minor. It features a lot of repetition, making it easier to memorize.
The left-hand rhythm is moderately simple, giving you a great chance to practice playing melodies with the right hand. It’s also another great lesson in syncopated rhythms, with a lot of the treble phrases picking up on the off beats.
“C-Jam Blues” by Duke Ellington (1942)
This bluesy bebop style jam is notorious for being easy to learn for beginners. It uses the standard 12-bar blues format, typical blues progressions, and is in the key of C major.
It’s a great song for newer jazz pianists and can be learned quickly. The melody is a simple repeating two-note phrase, making a great first tune to learn.
“Take the ‘A’ Train” by Billy Strayhorn (1941)
This swing-era jazz standard is another tune that every jazz pianist should have in their repertoire. It embodies the “swing” feel of jazz songs from this period.
It was written by Strayhorn but became one of the most well-known songs of Duke Ellington and his Orchestra. It’s mostly played in the key of C major, which makes it accessible for new players.
Jazz Piano Songs for Intermediates
“Take 5” by Dave Brubeck, written by Paul Desmond (1959)
“Take 5” is the best-selling jazz single of all time. What better place to start than with the most popular piece ever written! Brubeck was well known for using uncommon time signatures, and this song is no different. It is written in 5/4 time. It uses uneven phrasing that makes it a good exercise in syncopation. Syncopation is an important technique to practice when learning jazz piano.
This song might be a little advanced for beginners. But once you master the rhythms, it will come together easily.
“Isn’t She Lovely” by Stevie Wonder (1976)
This song is a perfect choice for those looking to learn a song they can play in public. “Isn’t She Lovely” is a well-known tune that spans generations and genres. It’s sure to get the crowd singing along with you! Stevie Wonder uses the popular ii-v-I chord progression as well as a variety of others that are common in jazz.
This song also provides good practice for playing chord extensions. The faster pace, combined with the length of this song, make it good for intermediate students.
“Dolphin Dance” by Herbie Hancock (1965)
Hancock is one of the true legends of jazz piano music, and his work Dolphin Dance is a complete study of jazz technique. It supplies piano students the chance to practice key changes because this song is full of them.
It’s probably one of the most difficult songs on this list for newbies, but don’t let that scare you away.
“Round Midnight” by Thelonious Monk (1944)
Thelonious Monk is one of the greats and choosing just one of his songs for this list was beyond difficult. His song Round Midnight is one of his most well-known compositions. Playing this song will get you some practice playing block chords.
Its simple rhythms make it easy enough for beginner piano players to tackle, but not as easy as some of the others on this list.
If you’re looking for a song that swings a little harder, check out the song “Blue Monk.”
“Ain’t Misbehaving” by Fats Waller (1929)
Let’s end our list by going back to the beginning.
Fats Waller was popular in the 1920s era and comes from the early days of jazz music. This song is labeled as “stride” jazz.
The term stride comes from the way the left-hand moves across the piano in large strides. Mastering the stride technique can be tricky, which is why this song is great for intermediate students.
Explore More Great Tunes
The songs listed here are just a starting point for players wanting to learn some classic jazz tunes. The composers listed here are famous for being jazz masters. So, if you’re looking for more songs to learn and play, this list is a great starting point to find even more.
It’s important to remember that jazz is highly improvisational. For every song listed here, there are numerous variations available online. The compositions can range from beginner level to expert. If you’re still learning, aim for songs that have simple rhythms.
Or choose those compositions that are meant for beginners. Once you have mastered the basics, you can move on to more complicated versions. And you can even improvise and make it your own!
Also, if you want to learn to play jazz, you can consider the Piano for All course, as well.
Learn to Improvise
Once you have mastered these songs, you will have a feel for the many techniques jazz piano players use. And that will allow you to improvise in your playing. Improvisation is the true backbone of jazz music. Once you know the chord and key changes in a song, you can improvise with the melodies and make it your own.
Jazz piano can be intimidating for new pianists looking to grow their knowledge base but remember that practice makes perfect. Now that you have a list of famous jazz piano songs that you can learn, you will be well on your way to tickling the ivories like a pro in no time.