Nice Info-graphic on Essentials of Reading Piano Music

Good morning (3:30 am here in California).  I’m keeping musician’s hours as usual!

One of my readers has suggested I might like to share this info-graphic on the essentials of reading piano music, which he created. I think it is quite good, so here it is!

Piano Keys and Notes

Mr. Nguyen’s site has lots of good material so check it out!





Kent’s Latest Course on Udemy. Get your $9.99 promotional discount now!

Due to high demand, the enrollment cost of my course “Blues/Rock Piano: Turbocharge Your Playing in 12 Lessons” has gone up.


There’s no need to get the summertime blues about that. If you missed out on the lower price, or you didn’t take advantage of my previous discount offer from March, you can still get a steep discount on lifetime enrollment, via the link below.

I created this discount coupon to temporarily override the Udemy price.

You must use this link to get the offer, and coupons are LIMITED.  Following this exclusive link will take you to the course landing page, with an option to enroll at this very steep discount.

Don’t put this off!


Do you need to read music to learn jazz or blues piano?

Wassup! Today I’m sharing my reply to a question from a student at Udemy.


Hi, Kent!

This is a two part question; first off, is there anything you recommend (videos, specific techniques, etc) to improve my sight-reading that won’t make me want to shout profanities?

I’ve Googled it obviously, but I’m curious about your opinion, as I enjoy your method of teaching.

Secondly, do you find skilled sight-reading necessary for jazz and blues? In other words, in your professional opinion, can I learn to be a proficient jazz and blues pianist without tackling my fear/hatred of sight-reading?

A little background to help explain the reasoning for my questions – Simply put, I hate sight-reading. Frankly, I’m intimidated by it. So much so, that I’ve ignored it for the 13 years since I stopped taking lessons, and basically refused to use it once I learned a new piece as a kid. I play and compose by memorization and by ear (which drove my strictly classical instructor insane) and in my rebellion and stubbornness, my sight-reading is just…hilariously slow. Everything I compose is in my head, besides recordings. I couldn’t commit my music to paper to save my life, though software helps.

I consider myself a skilled(ish) pianist, but I’m not sure if I’ll ever get over my hangups with sight-reading. I don’t aspire to play jazz and blues with other musicians, though it would be fun, but I want to finally break my dexterity from the grasp of rigid classical, and have the skills to compose what’s been sitting in my head.

Any little suggestions are appreciated at your convenience!


Thanks so much for your questions!  I would like to answer the second part first:  The history of jazz and blues is filled with amazing players and composers who could not read a single note of music, let alone sight-read.  Myself, I can read music, but I am a very crummy sight-reader.  I hope that answers the second part in a nutshell, and I hope it ignites a new passion in you, by eliminating some major doubt about what you can accomplish.

I do recommend learning to read chord charts (lead sheets).  You can be “hilariously slow” at it, but it is a great skill to have.  This involves being able to interpret chord symbols (like C7, Fm, etc). To be a good jazz or blues player, the most important thing is to learn about chords and scales.  If you visit my website,, you will find a review that I wrote about some jazz piano books by John Mehegan.  If jazz and blues is your passion, THIS is the stuff you want to focus on.

Now to the first part. Myself, I have a love-hate relationship with sight-reading.  I am painfully slow at sight-reading as well.  But I really wish I was better at it. I am always resolving to spend at least a half-hour a day reading music I have not seen before, which is, by the way, my best recommendation for improving that skill.  And yet, I do not stick with that resolution. I generally end up improvising, about ten minutes into the session!  In my classical studies I do exactly what you do:  I memorize.  My classmates in college would sometimes ask what my secret was, when it comes to memorizing.  My secret was, I had no other choice!

I hope this helps!


Your answers are beyond encouraging! Definitely not what I expected, and I’m so happy to hear someone with your skill and experience having the same curse/blessing of automatic memorization. I’ve always considered it a hindrance in improving my skills, but a great asset for composing or being able to sit at any keyboard and play something I’d memorized years ago.

I took lessons from ages 6-14, and am now 27 – I let my skills, especially sight-reading, stall after I stopped lessons (due to relocation, not by choice), and though I loved my instructor, he was curmudgeonly and strict, and I enjoyed being able to play without judgement! But without being pushed to learn, it got me stuck in a comfortable Gb rut of composition, and slowly but surely, played less and less when my hands always found their way back to the same chords and scales. Everything just sounded the same.

I wish I knew that Udemy was around years ago, and that the techniques to get the right sounds are such simple additions to what I already know. I’m excited to play again, and have even reharmonized some of my own progressions for practice. My left hand synchronization is still having a trouble staying in time, unless I’m improvising with my right! Haha. Practice, practice, practice will improve that, though.

Thank you for your recommendations, as well! I’ve been looking through your website, and there’s a lot of material there I’m excited to review. My technical knowledge of chord symbols and scales is somewhere in my head, but long forgotten – I have a lot to brush up on to really feel more comfortable. For once though, I’m not intimidated to do so! 

I greatly appreciate your honesty and all the information, Kent – thank you, so much! (and thank you for reading all my rambling thoughts). 


You are very welcome, Tierney. I’m glad you feel encouraged, and that I was able to help!  By the way, I have a course in the works which is all about demystifying chord symbols, and also describes a simple method for constructing any standard chord-type off of any root, without resorting to rote memorization of each chord.  When it goes live on Udemy, I will be sending a course announcement to all students who are enrolled in the Blues Piano Crash Course, as well as those enrolled in “A Study in Blues Piano.”

Regarding the John Megan Books, he also published a summary volume called “Improvising Jazz Piano” which consolidates the material of the original four-volume set.  I highly recommend it.

You mentioned my honesty. I believe the best teachers are the ones who have struggled, thereby finding ways to overcome, which they can share with their students.  Therefore, I am always eager to share my own shortcomings, and to let people know how I either overcame them, or just ignored them, and found another path 🙂


Tetrachords, Scales, and Modes: Answer to a Student Question

Hey there folks, I got some more theory for you today.  Yipee!

The following is a question and answer thread from my YouTube channel, regarding my video about how to quickly visualize any major scale on your keyboard, by using something called the major tetrachord.  First, the original video, and then the Q&A.

Student: Is there something that is just as easier to use to identify minor scales?
Me: Thanks for your question! I will answer in terms of the “natural minor,” although this answer applies to the harmonic and melodic minor scales as well. First of all, the standard minor scales, as well as each of the “modes” of the major scale (dorian, mixolydian, etc), can all be broken up into tetrachords. The bad news is, the lower tetrachord of a minor scale has a different whole-step/half-step pattern than the upper tetrachord. (The cool thing about the major scale, on the other hand, as I describe in this video, is that the lower and upper tetrachords have the same pattern.) You may still find it helpful to break any scale type into two tetrachords. I hope this helps!
Student: Thank you for your reply. Do you have any videos going through each modes (Lydian, Mixolydian etc) and the easiest way to identify them using the tetrachords? Different modes have different patterns.
Me: I don’t have any videos on that yet. When I get a chance I will make a blog post (soon) on, which will give a description of my own approach to memorizing the modes. Meantime, try using C-major as your master reference. Starting there, realize that the modes of C Major all share the same pitches as C-major (the white keys of the piano). That is, Dorian mode of C Major starts on D. Phrygian starts on E. Lydian, on F. Mixolydian, on G. Aolian (aka the natural minor scale) starts on A. And finally, Locrian, which starts on B. Since these are all the modes of C major, they all use just the white keys of the piano. Use these modes as your master reference to building any given mode starting on any note. It helps to attack the problem from several angles. One angle is to break up each mode’s unique pattern into two successive tetrachords. Another is to be able to find the major scale (the parent scale) associated with the mode you want. For example, E-flat Dorian is the “Dorian mode of D-flat Major.” (By definition, they share the same pitches). Yet another angle is to become a master of every major scale and every natural minor. Then learn the modes as distinct variations of either the major or the minor. For example, Mixolydian is simply a major scale with a flatted seventh. This last approach is the one that I find easiest But in different contexts I use all these approaches. As far as the modes go, focus on Dorian, Mixolydian and Lydian. These are by far the most commonly used modes.


A Lesson in Modal Jazz

Hi folks!  This article is not for players who are brand new to piano, or brand new to improvisation.  That said, if you are a newbie in either category, you may still find it interesting.

I wanted to give you a brief introduction to the idea of “modal jazz.”  We’re going to look at probably the most famous example of modal jazz, a tune called “So What,” by Miles Davis and Bill Evans.  This track is eternally famous because (1) the modal jazz idea was pretty new at the time, and (2) because “So What” is the most well-known track on the best-selling jazz album in history, called “Kind of Blue.”

It seems to me that contemporary modal improv, which had its birth in the late 1950’s, led the way to the most groundbreaking improvisational rock of the 1960’s, and has never stopped being at the heart of improvisational pop/rock/jazz solos until this very day.

My goal here is to show you enough about modal improvisation to start jamming along with these guys, as they improvise on this classic tune.  The way to “jam along” here is to play your own improvised lines along with each soloist in the recording.  In that sense, you and the soloists will be improvising simultaneously. This kind of interwoven conversation is not unheard of in jazz, so don’t feel like you’re interrupting the masters LOL.

There are three links below to YouTube videos of “Kinda Blue,” as taken from the original recording.

In a nutshell, modal jazz is more concerned with exploring scales and modes than with creating melodies based on chord progressions.  I’ve included a link to an excellent Wikipedia article on modal jazz, in case you want to know more.  For now, this article is sufficient in terms of experiencing and practicing the modal approach.

(1) “So What” explores improvised melodies using the “Dorian” mode.  (The terms “scale” and “mode” are sometimes used interchangeably, and the distinction is somewhat academic, depending on the context ).

(2)  If you start on “D” and play every white key on the piano, going up or down one white key at a time (as in D, E, F, G, A, B, C, D.), you have just played a Dorian scale.

(3) Academic note: The scale of “C Major” uses only the white keys, as well (C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C).  It is considered the “parent scale” of D dorian mode.  I won’t go any deeper than that in this article, because this post is about jamming, and we want to jam now.

(4) “So What” improvisation alternates between D dorian and Eb dorian.  So here are the two scales you will use:

D Dorian = D, E, F, G, A, B, C, (D) 

Eb Dorian = Eb, F, Gb, Ab, Bb, C, Db, (Eb)

(5) I’d like you to discover when the band goes from one mode to the other (D dorian and Eb dorian) by just listening.  Feel free to peck at the piano or keyboard to confirm your suspicions. As I said, “So What” alternates between the two dorians. That is, D dorian, Eb dorian — D dorian, Eb dorian…over and over. The original chart has a fixed number of measures specified for each mode, but it’s better for ear-training to fly without instruments.

(6) Once you are comfortable with the notes of D dorian and Eb dorian, try playing your own lines along with the masters as you listen to the recording.  You can try imitating their lines, and/or you can just belt out some of your own. I recommend both: the former is for validation, and the latter is for finding your own voice.

The track starts with an intro, and then sets up a groove.  The chords used in the set-up groove are Bill Evans’s famous “So What” chords.  (More on those chords in another post.)

OK!  If any of the above is unclear, or if there is not enough information, please comment on this post and I will respond!

Three links to “So What”

Wikipedia article on Modal Jazz

Wikipedia article on musical modes

Please comment with questions, feedback, etc!

Video: Ray Charles “What I’d Say” — Practice your blues licks with this one!


What’s up, Blues Cats and 12-bar Chicks?

If you want to get better at your blues piano playing, who better to learn from than Ray Charles? Try playing this video while throwing in your own blues licks on top.  Also try to imitate or paraphrase some of Brother Ray’s.

Here’s some insight to help you:

(1) The key is E.  You can start joining in by using the E-minor blues scale, throughout the whole jam, right hand only.  The E-minor blues scale is E, G, A, Bb, B, D, (E). Even if that’s all you practice here — which is quite valuable — it still helps to realize the following things about the chords involved . (If you’re especially ambitious,  you can try playing these chords in your left hand, while riffing with the right.)

(2) The chords are E7, A7 (added ninth, optional), and B7.

(3) The chord progression is a classic 12-bar blues, in its most basic form, outlined here:

E7 — 4 measures (bars)

A9 (or just A7) —  2 measures (bars)

E7 — 2 measures (bars) 

B7 — 1 measure (bar)

A9 (or A7) — 1 measure (bar)


E7 — 1 measure (bar)

B7 — 1 measure (bar) 

Now go back to the top.

(4) Repeat the above progression over and over, as you would in any 12-bar blues.  EXCEPTION: You may notice that the B7 in the turn-around does not happen in the 12-bar introduction, where Ray is playing the left-hand bass line and nothing else.  Here, E7 is implied throughout the last two bars.

(5) In the sections where the band stops, but the singing or soloing continues (called a break, or “stop-time”), the prevailing harmony is four bars of E7, as usual. Each time this break happens, we are sitting at the top of the 12-bar cycle. Therefore, each break leads us right into the A7 at measure 5.

So here’s the video, and have fun!

Blues lick #12 from “A Study in Blues Piano”

Hi folks!

Below is a sample lesson from my course “A Study in Blues Piano — Focusing on Twelve Licks.”

You can get the full course at a big discount by following the link below:

“A Study in Blues Piano” from PianoWithKent

Watch the Video of Blues Lick #12

Get an automatic discount for the entire course here:

“A Study in Blues Piano” from PianoWithKent (DISCOUNT COUPON)


Versatile left-hand voicings for Jazz Chords on piano (Part One)

“Rootless voicings” for the left hand on piano are great for handling big jazz chords that normally can’t be covered by one hand alone. This lesson shows you how to play a rich sounding II-V-I in the left hand, while allowing the bass player (or you, on another beat) to cover the root. This is part one of a pair of lessons. It stands OK by itself. The second lesson is just another way of doing the same thing with the notes in a different arrangement.