The #1 Stride Piano Exercise

Instructor
Jonny May
Quick Tip
Level 2
25:30

Learning Focus
  • Exercises
  • Practice Tips
Music Style
  • Stride

A worthy endeavor for aspiring jazz pianists is the mastery of the stride piano techniques that dominated early solo jazz piano styles for nearly half-a-century. In today’s Quick Tip, you’ll discover a high-leverage stride piano exercise that will enable you to step out with confidence and play an authentic stride style reminiscent of James P. Johnson, Fats Waller and Art Tatum. You’ll learn:

  • Left Hand Chord Coloration
  • Left Hand 10ths Technique
  • Chromatic Diminished Chord Approach
  • Right Hand Chord Coloration
  • Right Hand Rolls

In fact, this stride piano exercise is so practical, you’ll find yourself coming back to it again and again.

Stride Piano: Technique and Genre

Stride piano has two different meanings. On one hand, stride piano generally refers to a left hand accompaniment technique. Stride accompaniments move from a bass note on beats 1 and 3 to an after-chord on beats 2 and 4. Moreover, this combination of bass-note/after-chord is often characterized as having and “oom-pah” sound. In short, left hand stride accompaniments can be found in American music spanning from ragtime in the 1890s to bebop in the 1950s. On the other hand, stride also refers specifically to the musical genre of the Harlem piano school that emerged in the 1920s and 30s led by pianists James P. Johnson,  Willie “the Lion” Smith, Fats Waller and Lucky Roberts. Stride pianists of the ’20s and ’30s frequently harmonized their bass notes in 10ths and played more complex after-chords. Stride pianists also displayed virtuosic embellishments, none of whom exceeded Art Tatum.

Chord Progression for Stride Piano Exercise

To begin, let’s review all the diatonic triads in C Major. Afterward, we’ll introduce you to an exercise that prepares you to play any diatonic chord in the stride piano style.

Diatonic Triads in C Major

Diatonic Triads in C Major

When arranging these triads in an ascending chord progression, it is more common for the bass note E to support the 1 chord (1st inversion) rather than the 3 chord. Similarly, when the 7th scale degree appears in the bass (B), it most often supports the 5 chord (1st inversion) as opposed to the diminished 7 chord. Here is an ascending chord progression that features these modifications:

Modified Chord Progression

Next, we can create some pleasant chord colors by adding an additional note to each of these triads. The major chords (1 chord, 4 chord, 5 chord) frequently appear in the stride style as Major 6th chords. Similarly, the minor chords (2 chord, 6 chord) are frequently are colorized as minor 7th chords. The 5 chord also commonly appears as a dominant 7th chord. The progression below features each of these common chord colorations.

Colorized Diatonic Chords

Colorized Chords for Stride Piano Exercise

 

Finally, the stride style often approaches diatonic chords from a ½ below using fully diminished 7th chords. The following example demonstrates how to approach each target chord from below. (Note, stride pianists also approach target chords from a ½ step above in a similar manner.)

Chromatic Approach with Fully Diminished 7th Chords

Ascending Progression with Chromatic Diminished Chords for stride piano exercise

In the next section we’ll look at how to develop this progression into a characteristic left hand stride feel. Meanwhile, be sure to download the lesson sheet and backing tracks that are included with this Quick Tip. They appear at the bottom of this page after logging in with your membership. You can also easily transpose this lesson to any key using our Smart Sheet Music.

Stride Left Hand

In this section, you learn how to construct a left hand stride feel for any chord. There are two components to the left hand stride pattern—the bass note and the after-chord. Together, these two components form a 4 count oompah, oom-pah pattern.

LH Stride Turnaround Progression Example

The Bass Notes

Stride bass notes generally appear on beats 1 and 3 and form the oom of the oom-pah pattern. Today’s stride piano exercise features bass notes that are harmonized in 10ths, which is a common stride convention. While this interval can be difficult to reach for many pianists, it actually isn’t necessary to be able reach a 10th to play in the stride style. Many stride pianists have adopted a technique called “rolled 10ths” or “broken 10ths” in which one of the notes of the 10th interval is played as an anticipation to beat 1 or beat 3. Today’s lesson sheet, for example, features rolled 10ths in which the bottom note enters on the “and of 4” or the “and of 2.” Consider the following excerpt.

Left Hand Stride Piano Exercise—Rolled 10ths

The After-chord

The after-chord portion of the stride pattern occurs on beats 2 and 4 and forms the pah of the oom-pah pattern. After-chords in ragtime music generally used triads. However, the Harlem school of stride piano most often used 4-note chords associated with early jazz harmony. The after-chord should be voiced to sit in the tenor register of the bass clef. Furthermore, adjacent after-chords should be connected with the closest voicing-leading possible.

LH Stride Afterchord Range

Stride Piano LH After-chord range

In the next section, we look at right hand stride piano techniques.

Stride Right Hand

Melodic improvisation and ornamentation are common characteristics of right hand stride piano technique. Today’s stride piano exercise features an example of great-sounding right hand rolls. In addition, the rolls serve to lead into each chord change.

RH Stride Rolls

Now, let’s watch at all the pieces come together in the final section of today’s lesson.

Stride Piano Exercise: Combined Hands

Finally, the example below demonstrates how the two hands come together in the first two measures of today’s #1 stride piano exercise that accompanies this Quick Tip.

Stride Piano Exercise—Combined Hands

What a great sound!

If you enjoyed today’s lesson, then you will love the following PWJ full-length courses for further stride piano learning:

Thanks for learning with us. We look forward to having you with us again soon!

 

Blog written by Michael LaDisa / Quick Tip by Jonny May

Free Lessons

Get free weekly lessons to your inbox!

More Free Lessons

Discover the most beautiful minor chord voicing on piano, The Sorrow Chord. This rich minor 11 chord voicing is great for expressing complex emotions.

Learn to play beginner cocktail jazz piano improvisation in 3 simple steps. You'll learn to play jazzy rootless voicings and 3 essential solo techniques.

How do you keep from playing amateur sounding piano accompaniment patterns? Use these 3 simple steps to upgrade your accompaniment texture today.

Looking for downloads?

Subscribe to a membership plan for full access to this Quick Tip's sheet music and backing tracks!

Start Your Free Trial

Join Us

The Piano With Jonny Membership


Guided Learning Tracks

View guided learning tracks for all music styles and skill levels

Progress Tracking

Complete lessons and courses as you track your learning progress

Downloadable Resources

Download Sheet Music and Backing Tracks

Community Forums

Engage with other PWJ members in our member-only community forums

Become a better piano player today. Try us out completely free for 14 days!

Get Started