Category Archives: Teaching

3 Cool Bossa Nova Vamps

This video is designed to teach you how to play 3 cool vamps that sound great on Bossa Novas. Taught by performer/educator Brenda Earle Stokes, the video shows chord progressions, gorgeous piano voicings and even the scales that you need to sound great improvising on the vamps. You will also get a great close up look at the piano keyboard.

Free Download:  Three Cool Vamps for Bossa Novas

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Want to learn jazz piano?  Check out my online course Jazz Piano Accompaniment, which teaches you everything I list in this blog post.

Getting Started: How to use the Teachable Platform

Welcome to the courses!  Here is a quick-and-dirty tutorial on how to utilize the Teachable Platform.  Teachable is such a user-friendly and intuitive platform, which is why I chose it as the home of my entire suite on online courses!  Check out this short tutorial to get oriented!

Want to check out the courses? 

CLICK THIS LINK to see the entire suite of online courses and get started learning piano TODAY!

VIDEO: 7 Reasons you should improvise at the piano

Improvisation is not just for jazz musicians! Improvisation is an incredible tool to build and expand your skills at the piano, while exploring your own creative voice.


Want to learn to improvise?  Check out my new online course Piano Improvisation for Everyone!

What does a jazz pianist need to know?

Playing jazz piano is one of those scary mysteries that can keep people from exploring and excelling.  Whether you are a classically trained pianist who is “jazz curious”, a jazz vocalist who wants to develop some useful keyboard skills or an educator who needs jazz training in order to support their students, it can really seem like a huge mountain to climb.  This blog post is meant to break down the various skills and knowledge base required to become a confident jazz pianist.

Jazz Pianist Bud Powell

I started classical piano lessons as a child and discovered jazz at age 15.  My first lessons were with my high school band director, a saxophonist who taught me everything he knew from 2 semesters of mandatory piano class during his undergrad.  I attended York University in Toronto with a BFA in Jazz Piano and then went to the prestigious Manhattan School of Music in NYC for my Master’s in jazz piano performance.  I have since taught hundreds of people to play jazz piano, teaching for 8 summers at the New York Summer Music Festival, teaching at several colleges, and running a busy private studio.  After all these years, I have been able to formulate a method for teaching jazz piano that is clear, direct and masterfully effective for

Jazz pianist and composer Mary Lou Williams

students of all imaginable skill levels.  Many of my students are professional jazz singers who have been able to take gigs singing and playing the piano, because my method is so efficient and user friendly.

So, what does a jazz pianist need to know?

1.  How to read a lead sheet.  A lead sheet is a form of abbreviated sheet music.  (Show an example). Instead of having all of the music fully notated, a lead sheet consists of the melody, chord symbols and sometimes, the lyrics as well.  Lead sheets provide the general structure of a song – the form, the melody and the harmony, but also leave room for interpretation and improvisation.  In order to play from a lead sheet, you need to be able to play chord symbols.  (Learning chord symbols is always my first step when teaching jazz piano!)

Jazz pianist Bill Evans

2.  How to walk a bass line. Part of the fun of playing jazz piano is that we can replicate what an entire jazz band is doing.  For this reason, I always teach everyone how to walk a bass line in their left hand.  The “walking bass” consists of playing the chord tones in quarter notes to lay down a rhythmic and harmonic foundation.  Add the right hand playing chords and you have the starts of a jazz rhythm section sound!

The unforgettable Thelonious Monk.

3.  How to play chord voicings. Chord voicings are often misunderstood, because they are not just inversions of chords.  Voicings are actually ways of implying the harmony rather than playing the whole chords and we choose certain notes that represent the chords and provide different qualities of sound.  I always teach my students a simple strategy that we build on to create a huge library of authentic jazz piano voicings.

4.  Comping is the rhythmic way we play chords or voicings.  Short for “accompanying”, we learn a variety of comping figures that can be mixed and matched to create a rhythmic accompaniment for the melody and improvised solos.  Once you have mastered several figures, it is easy to improvise the comping based on what is happening in the song.

Jazz legend Oscar Peterson

5.  Improvisation.  This is usually the concept that terrifies people about jazz and is often the reason people won’t even attempt to play it.  When you think about improvisation, you might be frightened by the prospect of creating something out of nothing.  (Where do you even start??). The good news is that there is a great way to learn how by improvising on one simple concept at a time.  Improvising on chord tones, using one rhythmic idea, or even just paraphrasing the melody is a way to get started without being overwhelmed.

6. Jazz Styles. Jazz music includes a variety of styles, including ballads, medium swing tunes, jazz standards, blues and grooves like Bossa Nova and Afro-Latin.  Each of these styles utilizes a different approach, including different bass lines, comping figures and even approaches to improvisation.

Jazz Pianist Wynton Kelly and his trio

7. The great jazz pianists. In order to expand as a jazz pianist, you need to be listening to the great masters including Wynton Kelly, Bud Powell, Oscar Peterson, Mary Lou Williams and Bill Evans.  Jazz is an aural tradition, which means to need to hear it to really get the music into your ears.  There are so many wonderful resources to listen to great jazz and discover your favorites.

Learning jazz piano is such an exciting and enriching journey and one that I think every piano should take.  You don’t need to become a jazz master to reap the benefits of this incredible music, but the skills you gain from learning it will fill your ears with new sounds and empower your hands to play with a new fluidity.


Want to learn jazz piano?  Check out my online course Jazz Piano Accompaniment, which teaches you everything I list in this blog post.

VIDEO: Learn to play a blues in record time!

Learning to play on the blues is a lot of fun and is a wonderful gateway into jazz improvisation. The Blues is a style of African American music that came into popularity in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Some important figures are Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, John Lee Hooker as well as Buddy Guy and B. B. King. Singing and playing the blues is very expressive, as the style was created to express sad and frustrating feelings through music.

The blues shows up heavily in jazz and is widely known to have been the precursor to rock and roll and R&B. Understanding the blues not only gives you a snapshot into this important musical style, but it also provides a structure for deeply satisfying improvisations. In this quick tutorial you will learn:

  1. The 12 bar blues form
  2. How to play the chords
  3. How to walk a bass line
  4. How to improvise on a blues

Easy to understand and addictively fun to play – and you learned it in under 15 minutes!

Check out the video!  (Don’t forget to hit subscribe and leave a comment below)


Want to continue learning jazz piano?  Check out my online course Jazz Piano Accompaniment and build authentic jazz skills in a fun and easy way!

Introducing…Piano Improvisation for Everyone!

Drumroll please….I am excited to announce the launch of my brand new online course called Piano Improvisation for Everyone!

Piano Improvisation for Everyone! is a course designed to get you improvising satisfying music at the piano. In this unique curriculum, you will learn a variety of techniques to get started improvising exciting music at the keyboard. Learn how to explore different harmonic material, melodic ideas, accompaniment techniques and started points for creating improvisation compositions. In addition, we cover how to improvise pop piano solos and jam on the blues!

This course is perfect from pianists of any level, from experienced beginner too advanced. Piano teachers will also get some great ideas and exercises to work on with their students. Discover the enjoyment of developing your technique, harmony and rhythm in a creative environment. Experiment with new sounds and ideas to apply to your songwriting or composing. The exercises are structured, but open ended enough that you could take the work in whatever direction you want to go.

Check out the course HERE!

Video: What is your why? Strategies for Success

It is easy to get bogged down with lists of things you have to do, but before that you need to identify your “why”. Why do you want to learn piano? Leave your comments below…

Want to know more about my work?  Check out my suite of unique online  piano courses  –     Piano and Voice With Brenda. Find out why hundreds of people worldwide are raving about this work!

VIDEO Quickie #3: Piano Improvisation 101: The Ostinato

Practicing technique at the piano is often boring and requires a lot of scale running and Hanon playing.  Over the years, I teach less and less rote technical work and spend more time teaching people to improvise.  NO – there is nothing wrong with scales and arpeggios if you are training to be a concert pianist, but what if you are using the piano to accompany yourself singing, or you are a songwriter or someone who has non-classical music on the brain.  What if you just need something new to practice?

If you are a piano teacher looking for a new set of activities to work on with your students (especially now that we are all teaching remotely and need some new tricks up our sleeves!). What if you are just needing a new outlet to reconnect with your muse and find some enjoyment with your music again?

Improvisation is an incredible skill that people of all levels and genres can and should experience.  (You don’t have to be a jazzer to improvise, people!!)  In this short tutorial, I show you a great technique to explore improvisation: using an ostinato.  You can use this technique in its simplest form, or make it more complicated if you are a more advanced pianist.  Give it a try!  (Don’t forget to hit subscribe and leave a comment!)

   Like this post?                     Check out          Piano Improvisation for Everyone! – a unique course that explores improvisation on the piano in many different forms.  Perfect for pianists of every level – from beginner to advanced.  It’s also jam packed full of tools that are perfect resources for piano teachers to try with their students.

VIDEO Quickie #4: Piano Improvisation 101: Erik Satie

This is the fourth video in a new series called “Quickies” – short, info-packed tutorials designed to give you great information you can use TODAY. In this tutorial, I show you how to explore improvisation using a left hand pattern inspired by the Impressionist composer Erik Satie. This improvisation is so easy and creates a satisfying and meditative space for you to explore improvising at the piano.  (Don’t forget to hit subscribe and leave a comment!)

 Like this post?                     Check out          Piano Improvisation for Everyone! – a unique course that explores improvisation on the piano in many different forms.  Perfect for pianists of every level – from beginner to advanced.  It’s also jam packed full of tools that are perfect resources for piano teachers to try with their students.

What Piano Skills Do Singers Need?

As a follow up to my blog post “How does piano training fail singers?”, I wanted to make a clear list of the actual skills that singers need in order to be successful.   Let’s face it:  many of us are going to need to be employed in a range of different ways in order to piece together a living.  Many of the job opportunities available to singers require strong keyboard skills.  Here is my master list of skills singers need.

All singers should be able to:

  • Play voice exercises in 12 keys hands separately
  • Play major and minor triads in 12 keys hands separately
  • Play melodies in the right hand with decent fingerings
  • Create simple accompaniments using chords (“faking”)

This basic skill set will enable a singer to practice on their own, accompany themselves, teach voice lessons, work as a section leader of a chorus, direct a community chorus and lead a singalong with children or adults.

In addition to these above skills, here are a list of piano skills that singers in different genres need.

Pop singers should be able to:

  • Play seventh chords and sus chords in 12 keys
  • Create simple accompaniments that include a bass line in the left hand
  • Play different rhythmic grooves in good time

Jazz singers should be able to:

  • Play seventh chords in 12 keys
  • Play from a lead sheet
  • Walk a bass line in the left hand, while comping rhythms in the right hand
  • Play jazz chord voicings
  • Play a Bossa Nova and other Latin grooves

Music Theatre singers should be able to:

  • Play voice exercises in 12 keys hands separately
  • Play major and minor triads in 12 keys hands separately
  • Play melodies in the right hand, while playing bass notes or chords in the left hand
  • Fake accompaniments of a variety of styles

Classical singers should be able to:

  • Play melodies in the right hand with correct articulation
  • Do simple chord analysis of scores, jotting in chord symbols
  • Play classical style accompaniments like Alberti bass and rolled adagio styles
  • Play at least 2 parts at a time of SATB choral music

Choral Conductors should be able to:

  • Play 2, 3 and 4 parts at a time of SATB choral music
  • Play a wide range of accompaniments for vocal warm-ups
  • Conduct from the piano, while playing exerpts of the score

General Music teachers should be able to:

  • Play simple accompaniments and sing at the same time
  • Play accompaniments for vocal warm-ups
  • Play interpretive music for movement and interpretation

Early Childhood Music Teachers should be able to:

  • Lead a singalong while creating simple accompaniments on the piano
  • Play and sing without looking at the keyboard (looking at student’s faces instead)
  • Play interpretive music for movement and interpretation

I have had the luxury of being employed in every single role I have listed here and these skills have been wildly helpful in my being successful in each position.

Have I overlooked any skills on this list?  Leave a reply above!

Are you missing any of these skills?  Don’t fret!  It is possible to learn each of these skills quickly, easily and inexpensively, with some work and consistency.  Check out Piano Skills for Singers – the only online piano course for singers, created by a singer.