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Page of hand written sheet music
Jazz LoungeVirtual Piano
Virtual Piano, The essence of jazz Ray Bryant's Hands, 1957
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Play Along with Our Virtual Piano!

Requires the free Shockwave 8 plugin

Almost everyone has heard the song Mary Had A Little Lamb. The notes you sing are the melody. Jazz musicians are artists who use melody as a foundation to create new works of music.

With our Virtual Piano, you will learn how the same melody can sound fresh and new when played with a different rhythm, a different instrumentation, or a free-spirited combination of the two called improvisation.

Open the Virtual Piano
Open the Virtual Piano
Virtual Piano Instructions

When the Virtual Piano opens, click on "Watch and Learn" to hear Mary Had a Little Lamb played as a normal melody. As the melody plays, watch the notes on the musical staff just above the keyboard. These written notes tell the musicians what notes to play on their instruments.

In the Normal Melody mode, you will notice that there are a relatively small number of notes on the musical staff, mixed with occasional rests — the small squiggly lines — which tell the musicians when to be silent.

When you're ready, click "Play Along" to test your musical skills. You can either click directly on the piano keys with your mouse, or click the corresponding letters on your keyboard's middle row. The goal is to match the melody as it plays in the background.

Syncopation Melody

Imagine a loudly ticking clock. The normal melody notes of Mary Had a Little Lamb match the ticking of the clock exactly. Syncopation, however, means playing those same notes either just before or just after the tick — in other words, "off the beat."

As you look at the notes on the musical staff, notice how there are a few more notes and a few more rests. The melody is getting more exciting — but you can tell by listening that it's still the same song.

Slurs and Bent Notes Melody

When musicians rapidly combine two or more notes, sliding smoothly between them, they are said to be "bending" or "slurring" the notes. This is sometimes called playing a "grace note."

Musicians use slurs and bent notes to convey a feeling or emotion. Even though the notes of the melody now look radically different on the musical staff, you should still be able to hear the familiar tune.

Improvisation Melody

Improvisation is when musicians use slurs, bent notes and syncopation in order to recreate the melody in new and interesting ways. Just as no two artists would paint the same scene the same way, no two musicians improvise a melody in the same way.

You can see from the notes on the musical staff that some are normal, some are slurred, and some are syncopated. Skillful jazz musicians are able to combine all of these techniques to create new works of art right off the top of their head. This new creation is inspired by the original melody, but it represents the personality and feelings of the musician.