Peterson - Jazz Study No 3


Oscar Peterson was one of the jazz giants of the 20th Century, famed for his keyboard virtuosity.

His pianistic talents were evident from an early age, and he studied with a Hungarian emigree teacher, Paul de Marky.

His first jazz trio was formed in 1947 and by 1950 he had won his first of what was to become a series of awards for Best Jazz Pianist. However his recognition comes from the many associations he made with other great jazz artists of the era along with his prodigious performing career and legacy of over 300 original tunes.

Pupil Match & Suitability

A great piece for those wishing to further their knowledge of playing jazz.

Reasonable sized hands are needed, since the chords stretches and section of fast chords demands a certain amount of strength in the hands and fingers, and this is turn needs more than a small hand.

Style & Tempo

This is an interesting piece since it illustrates well that jazz is not simply a case of playing either in swing or straight 8s quavers. There is more subtlety to it. The style is more that of a ballad with its dreamy opening sequence. It is also a curious piece as it runs with a number of different and not always integrated musical ideas.

Phrasing & Articulation

Typically there is no indication of phrasing or phrase lengths in the score itself. However, it is reasonably easy to work it out from the harmony by looking for chord progressions that lead to cadence points.

That said, the tendency of the 'classical' player will be to over-phrase it - as in the first of the two extracts heard here.

Better to let the quaver lines to be in the background. The second of the two extracts shows more subtle and musical playing.

Tone & Texture

Classical pianists tend to bring out the top note of chords and balance them in a way which makes for a pleasantly rounded sound.

Jazz pianists vary in how they balance notes in chords, but in general tend to play with a more characteristically 'flat' sound. By that we mean something more like what you hear Oscar Peterson doing in this extract, Hymn to Freedom from the album Night Train.

Notice how the harmonic content and progressions come across so clearly and the playing is beautifully clear yet understated.


With big hands - and Peterson had a good stretch - a legato fingering, as in bar 1 LH, is easy, but it is not necessary.

Use the pedal to hold chords - such as the chord in the middle of bar 2 - then reposition the RH thumb to cover the bottom note (A) of the next group of quavers.


Using pedal on the longer chords will help with resonance, but it works best to avoid any in bars 17, 19, 20 and 21.

Teaching Strategies

You will need to ensure that your pupil is motivated to learn this piece and an ideal way to do so is to get them interested in the compositional aspects of this.

Work together to discover the way in which the piece is composed. Set your student the task, then, of finding out more about the the logic of its compositional technique.

You could even suggest your pupil write a piece which uses a similar technique, though perhaps on a simpler and smaller scale.

By this level, the kind of student who will be interested in learning this piece will be likely to be going on to further musical study, and you can help to broaden their scope of interest in this way.

Practice Tips

Be meticulous in working out the patterns of notes, not only as they appear, visually, in the notation, but as they are represented on the keyboard. This enables you to more thoroughly and quickly grasp the patterns.

Also think in terms of chord names and shapes. For example, bar 29:

Think of the LH pattern as Db major 1st inversion, and the RH pattern as A minor first three notes. This will help to make learning easier and more efficient.


Being confident and consistent in your performance will be an essential aspect to master.

Also being absolutely clear about all the correct notes is important, as it is easy to accrue some misreadings.

Bar 22 needs careful work to ensure confident, accurate and clean chord playing.

Final Performance

An excellent performance will have conviction whichever particular style has been adopted. It will have, above all, a rhythmically convincing consistency to it.

A good performance will have musical credibility and careful fingerwork even if it may not always be entirely consistent nor always rhythmically poised in places.

A sound performance may not have the conviction of the jazz feel throughout but it should show some sensitivity and a good overall grasp of the rhythm with a fluent pulse and good accuracy.

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