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Music 72D: Introductory Jazz Piano

Instructor: Murray Low
Time/Location: Braun Music Center Room 111, Time TBD (one hour on Wednesday)
Units: 1
Office Hours: By appointment
Instructor Contact Info: Email: Phone contact available upon request. I can also be found on Facebook in the Stanford network. Feel free to send a friend request and/or a message.

Goals for the Course:

Upon completion of the course, the student should be able to play a piece of music in the jazz style given only a simple lead sheet (chords, melody and form).

Course Description:

Among the topics covered are chord voicing, rhythm training, walking bass lines, improvisation, ear training, and listening to prominent jazz recordings. Much of the instructions is hands-on, and students will get a chance to try the techniques out directly on the piano during class time.


No prior jazz experience is necessary, although helpful. Specific requirements include:

  • Ability to read music - chords, melodic lines
  • Know and play all major and minor scales
  • Know and play all types of seventh chords - maj 7, min 7, dom7
  • Calculate intervals and chord extensions quickly, including alterations (this is key)


Jazz is about creating something new. Hence, the basic idea of the class is to give the student a series of tools and techniques that they can use to create their own renditions of songs, in the jazz style. This is in contrast to learning existing transcriptions note-for-note such as in classical music. We also learn to identify these techniques by listening to existing recordings as illustration of possible ways that they may be used.


The class includes both playing and written assignments. For any given assignment, some people will be responsible for playing their “solution”, whilst the others will be responsible for submitting it in written form. I rotate students through so everyone has the same number of playing assignments over the duration of the course.

This exact ratio of the written to playing assignments depends on the class size will be determined after the orientation. The larger the class, the fewer playing assignments each person will be responsible for; it takes up class time, and we have only one hour per week. You’ll be given plenty of notice as to when it you’re turn to play, so that you can plan accordingly. No surprises.

Assignments are graded individually using a letter grade system. For playing, I am not looking for perfection, but you should have a basic ability to execute what you are studying. Jazz is about playing!

Practice Rooms:

Pianos are available in the Practice Room area on the second floor of Braun Music Center. For more information, follow this link: As a member of 72D the $50 fee is included in the course fee. Once you sign up in the office, your SUID card will be striped for access to the practice area.

Flow of the Course:

Typically, I introduce a concept and hand out both the assignment and write-up explaining the idea early on for students to review it. We’ll work through the first few bits of the assignment together as a class. We will then use a bit of class time for you to work through a bit of the assignment on your own, and I will walk around and help people out individually as they do so (as well as answer any individual questions you may have). Once the concept is grasped, the assignment is typically due in a week.

Final Project:

The final project gives students the opportunity to apply all of the techniques that they have learned throughout the course by writing a piano arrangement of a jazz standard from end-to-end, utilizing the techniques they have learned over the course of quarter. At completion, the student will have developed a rendition of a jazz song that he/she will be able to perform for others.

The final is written and is due at 8:00 a.m. the next morning after the last day of finals. Most students simply submit them in scanned format via email to me or via Canvas. You may also alternatively drop a hard copy of your assignment in my mailbox in the music department office (Braun 101) by 4:00 p.m. the day before, which is when the office closes.

Makeups and Attendance Policy:

Generally speaking, if you’re going to miss a class or assignment due date you must arrange it in advance. All allowances are at the discretion of the instructor. You are allowed a one-time, 24 hour extension on any one assignment without consequence.

Course Materials:

There are no required textbooks in this class. Class materials will be distributed in class as needed.

Basic Course Outline:

Week 1: Orientation
Weeks 2-6: Voicings

  • Two-hand spread voicings
  • Rootless LH voicings
  • Rootless RH voicings
  • 2-hand Rootless voicings

Week 7-8: Rhythm, Comping and Bass Lines

  • Comping patterns for Swing
  • Triplet feel and Accent training
  • Creating Walking Bass lines

Weeks 9-10: Improvisation

  • Blues form
  • Scale theory, modes and continuous scale exercises
  • Guide Tone and Motivic Improvisation