Peterson - Jazz Study No 2


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

You will need a confident touch to play this exercise well. Getting to grips with the swing feel is essential and your student should have a liking for the jazz style alongside perhaps some pride in being able to play with technical authority.

Young aspiring pianists are likely to love the opportunity to show off, and why not?!

Style & Tempo

It is easy to imagine a young Oscar Peterson, with his winning smile and ready technique flying around the keyboard at real speed in what, for him, would have been a very simple piece.

The swing feel needs to be alive and the mood have vitality. Listening to jazz pianists ,and of course to Oscar Peterson himself, is the best way to get to know that infectious feel.

Phrasing & Articulation

The difference between playing the piano as a classically trained or as a jazz trained pianist is considerable - as Oscar Peterson himself says.

It is neither easy nor obvious when it comes to feeling this music in a convincing style if you are unused to doing so. There are, however, a number of exercises you can try out to get a more convincing feel to the accentuation.

Tone & Texture

The predominant quality of tone is a fairly light semi legato touch.

A gluey legato is wrong, as is a staccato feel.

Listen to the quality of tone here in a similar context, this time in 'Alexander's Ragtime Band.'


Achieving a clean and clear rhythmic line within a solid swing groove is the technique under test here.

This can only happen if the fingering is really well known and the rhythmic elements practised at a fairly slow tempo, building up.

Getting the thumb in the correct place is the key to success with much of the fingering.

The finger action itself should be well articulated. For most students this will mean lifting the fingers well above the key surface, but this should not becoma an excessive feature.


There are a few tricky corners. Sometimes re-arrangements can help and certainty about when to use and when not to use the thumb is important.

Teaching Strategies

Feeling the groove in the right way is paramount.

Take sufficient time to ensure that your student gets an ingrained sense of the pulse and timing.

Try the following ideas:

Practice Tips

Two things are essential:

(i) a thorough practice of all things rhythmical - both away from the piano and separate hands at the piano

(ii) an impeccable grasp of the correct fingering which has been worked out to best suit the student's circumstances/hand size etc.


A lack of solid rhythm can so easily cause problems.

If notes are learnt too soon, that is before a solid rhythmic foundation exists, the process is likely to always be on shaky ground and to be a source of irritation rather than pleasure.

Always work together with a beat going.

Listen to plenty of jazz playing, and especially to Oscar Peterson.

Favour rhythmic security over tempo.

Watch out for a quickening of the pulse when the piece is well known.

Final Performance

An excellent performance will flow from beginning to end with an engaging sense of character and panache, even if this is not too quick a performance. The best performances may well go at some speed but this will not impede clarity and rhythmic finesse.

A good performance will have a strong rhythmic sense if probably not as compelling as an excellent one. The tone and finger work will be taut and any slips will be short lived.

A sound performance may well be at a slower tempo although it will not be that slow as to plod along. There may well be a lack of real insight and the mood could be more accentuated and Classical in its feel than jazz oriented.

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