Preservation Hall Lessons – New Orleans Piano Technique

Piano Technique

GRADE: 9-12
GENRE: Traditional Jazz
TOPIC: Piano
DISCIPLINE: Harmonizing Instruments


In this lesson, students will be introduced to New Orleans techniques for performing on the Piano. Students will demonstrate how to incorporate the functions and techniques into their performance. 



  • Demonstrate body posture, arm, hand, and foot positioning.
  • Demonstrate techniques for warming up on the Piano.
  • Demonstrate proper functions and techniques for playing New Orleans music. 



National Core Arts Standards

Music – Harmonizing Instruments, Anchor Standard 5: Develop and refine artistic techniques and work for presentation.
Music – Harmonizing Instruments, Anchor Standard 6: Convey meaning through the presentation of artistic work.



Students should have knowledge of an instrument and an understanding of the lines and spaces on the musical staff. Teachers should review the lesson resources, media, and websites prior to launching the lesson.





  1. Tell students that in order to execute a full tone on the Piano, good posture, arm, hand, and feet positioning are important. Display the Practice, Practice, Practice on slide 3 of the presentation, Piano Technique, to review the importance of practicing.


  1. Display the “Getting Ready” on slide 4 of the presentation, Piano Technique.  Demonstrate and define posture, a relaxed hand position. Posture is the proper position to sit on the bench. Sit on the front half of the bench, feet flat on the floor with your back perpendicular to the surface/floor. Elbows somewhat higher than the keys with your shoulders relaxed. Keep your fingers relaxed.


  1. Allow time for students to practice posture and body positioning techniques. Provide feedback to students on their techniques.



  1. Gather the students around the Piano. Have students review the parts of the Piano. Display the “Piano Anatomy” on slide 5 of the presentation, Piano Technique, to review the anatomy of the Piano. Review the “Piano Technique” procedures: posture and arm, hand, and feet positioning. 


  1. Tell students they are going to learn New Orleans style functions and techniques. Display slide 6 of the presentation, Piano Technique, to review the “Functions and Techniques” of New Orleans Traditional Jazz. 
    • Accompaniment: The term Accompaniment in New Orleans Traditional Jazz is to play chords (three or more notes stacked on top of one another) supporting the melody and the instrumentation of the ensemble. The elements of accompaniments are Bass Note: The root or lowest note of the chord, Rhythm: The movement of music through time w/o being equally spaced, and Beat (Keeping Time): A constant and steady pulse equally spaced. Display slide 7 of the presentation, Piano Technique, to show The Role of the Piano and introduce accompaniment to students. 
    • Chord Progression: Chord Progression is a sequence of chords moving/flowing throughout the entire musical composition. Display slide 8 of the presentation, Piano Technique, to watch the Ensemble: “Yearning” to hear the piano accompany the band with Chord Progressions as the melody is played by the wind instruments. Demonstrate a Chord Progression on the Piano (F, F7, B♭). 
    • Rhythm Section: In a Jazz Band, the Piano, Bass, and Drums are called the Rhythm Section. The Rhythm Section supports the frontline melody (Clarinet, Sax, Trumpet, and Trombone). Display slide 9 from the presentation, Piano Introduction, to review the role of The Rhythm Section.
    • Improvisation: Improvisation is a solo by means of creative and spontaneous ideas. Display slide 10 of the presentation, Piano Technique, to introduce and define Piano Improvisation
    • Piano Tones: A Non-Harmonic Tone is a non-chordal tone or tones that do not belong in the chord being played. Commonly used Non-Harmonic Tones in Chord Progression is the Passing Tones. A Passing Tone is a non-chordal tone passing between two chordal tones. Display slide 11 of the presentation, Piano Technique, to introduce Piano Tones.
    • Piano Voices: Chord Inversions are when you arrange the notes of the chord. Display slide 12 of the presentation, Piano Technique, to watch the Piano Voices video. Model on the piano the three common chord inversions – F, A, and C Chord. 1st Inversion ( F/A, C, F) means the A is the lowest note of the F Chord. 2nd Inversion (F/C, F, A) means the C is the lowest note of the F Chord. 3rd Inversion of an F7 chord (F, A, C, E♭) F/E♭, F, A, C. This means the Eb is the lowest of the F7 Chord.
    • Retardation: Retardation is slowing the song to the end. Display slide 13 of the presentation, Piano Technique, to hear an example of Piano Retardation.


  1. Tell students they are now ready to make a sound. Model and explain to students how to warm-up. Display slide 14, “Warm-Up”, of the presentation, Piano Technique. Warm-up using Major and Minor Scales. Demonstrate Major and Minor Scales for students. Each scale should be practiced in this order: whole notes, half notes, quarter notes, and eighth notes. It is recommended to use a Metronome in order to keep accurate timing.


  1. Have students practice the functions and techniques of Traditional Jazz. Allow students time to practice at home and rehearse at school. 



  1. The teacher should assess students’ knowledge of Piano techniques by demonstrating posture and arm, hand, and foot positioning. Observe and provide feedback as students display how to apply New Orleans-style music functions and techniques on the Piano.



Used with permission. Portions of this work are based on the National Core Arts Standards Copyright © 2015 National Coalition for Core Arts Standards/All Rights Reserved – Rights Administered by SEADAE.

© Copyright 2010. National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and Council of Chief State School Officers. All rights reserved.

Louis Ford, Curriculum Developer and Music Artist Liaison
JoDee Scissors, Content Producer



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