This post may contain affiliate links. Info here.

If you’re just getting started with learning jazz piano, sheet music is possibly the quickest way to start playing real tunes that your friends and family will recognise.

Here’s out guide to the different types of written music and what to look out for.

Of course, nothing beats an in-person piano lesson with an experienced player when learning jazz, but these written resources are a valuable companion for this.

So what is it exactly and where can you find the most reliable versions to learn from?

Well, when talking about written music for jazz, we’re generally thinking about two main types of content:

1. Sheet music

Jazz piano sheet music relates to books or PDFs which notate every single note you need to play, from the melody line through to the chord voicings and dynamics.

This could be in the form of a transcription (copying a piano solo from a jazz great like Keith Jarrett, for example) or a performance of the melody.

Most good sheet music books also add the relevant chord symbol above the bars, so that you can also study how the notes are connected to the underlying harmony.

Of course, this requires at least a basic ability to read music, but if that’s not an issue, you can find yourself sounding like the real thing in a very short space of time!

2. Lead Sheets

Lead sheets provide the player with all the basics required to play a given song, but leave it up to the individual musician to decide on the specifics of the performance.

These lead sheets are most commonly used for jazz standards and contain the melody of the song, accompanied by the chord progression which is displayed via chord symbols above the music.

Using this, experienced jazz musicians can get together to perform, without even having heard the song before.

Or, in the case of the solo piano player, allow them to perform both the melody (as written) and the accompaniment (using the chord progression) at the same time.

In a usual jazz setting, the musician(s) will perform the melody (otherwise called the ‘head’) and then continue to follow the same chord progression during an improvisation.

Of course, understanding and interpreting a lead sheet requires a certain level of jazz and improvisational experience, but it provides a quick way to make original versions of your favourite tunes.

Whilst there are countless lead sheets available online in PDF format, most serious jazz students invest in a physical copy of ‘The Real Book’ – a sort of dictionary of tunes containing hundreds of famous jazz standards.

The Real Book - Volume I - Sixth Edition - Mini Edition: C Edition
  • Hal Leonard Corp. (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 464 Pages - 02/01/2007 (Publication...

Recommended Jazz Piano Sheet Music

Looking to expand your repertoire as a jazz piano player?

There are a lot of great resources out there, but here’s our top picks:

First 50 Jazz Standards You Should Play on Piano

From the highly trusted Hal Leonard Corporation, this book will help you get started playing some of the most famous jazz piano songs of all time.

It includes tunes such as All the Things You Are, the ballad Body and Soul and the legendary Bossa Nova The Girl from Ipanema.

First 50 Jazz Standards You Should Play on Piano
  • Series: First 50 Format: Softcover...
  • The arrangements, although easy, are...
  • Lyrics are also included
  • This collection features 50 of the best...
  • Do you feel you've learned enough piano...

The Best Jazz Piano Solos Ever

Rather than focusing on learning tunes, this book will help you perform 80 classic jazz solos from artists ranging from Miles Davis to Thelonious Monk.

The Best Jazz Piano Solos Ever: 80 Classics, From Miles to Monk and More
  • Various (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 320 Pages - 01/01/2014 (Publication...

Jazz Standards: 40 Sheet Music Bestsellers Series

Our third and final pick features a collection of jazz songs picked for their playability on piano.

As such, it’s a great way to get started with tunes including Cry Me a River, Dream a Little Dream of Me and I Got Rhythm.

Jazz Standards: 40 Sheet Music Bestsellers Series
  • P/V/C Mixed Folio
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 160 Pages - 07/01/2011 (Publication...

Good luck with your jazz piano adventure and, if you’re looking for more inspiration, check out round up of some of the greatest jazz pianists of all time

Matt Fripp
Matt Fripp

International jazz booking agent, manager and host of Jazzfuel.
Join the mailing list for more free content, or become a member of Jazzfuel Manager ( for 1-to-1 support & feedback.

Last update on 2021-11-29 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API