How to Write Jazz Music: A Beginner’s Guide

This article is a collaborative effort, crafted and edited by a team of dedicated professionals.

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


So you want to know how to write jazz music? You’ve come to the right place. In this beginner’s guide, we’ll explore the basics of how to write jazz tunes that will stand out from the crowd.

Introduction to Jazz

Jazz is a type of music that originated in the early 20th century in African American communities in the United States. It is characterized by a complex structure and improvisation. Jazz is often described as a ” melting pot” of music because it incorporates elements from a variety of genres, including blues, gospel, and European classical music.

What is Jazz?

Jazz is a type of music that originated in the United States in the early twentieth century. It is characterized by a strong rhythmic pulse, improvisation, and a wide range of musical styles. Jazz has been a major influence on American culture, and its popularity has spread around the world.

There are many different types of jazz, including traditional jazz, swing, bebop, and fusion. Each type has its own distinctive style and sound. Jazz musicians often use improvisation to create original melodies and harmonies. This makes each performance unique and allows them to communicate their own personal feelings and experiences through their music.

The best way to learn about jazz is to listen to it! There are many great jazz musicians, past and present, who have created wonderful music that can be enjoyed by everyone.

The History of Jazz

Jazz is a music genre that originated in the African-American communities of New Orleans, United States. It originated in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and developed from roots in blues and ragtime. Jazz is seen by many as “America’s classical music”. Since the 1920s Jazz Age, jazz has become recognized as a major form of musical expression. It then emerged in the form of independent traditional and popular musical styles, all linked by the common bonds of African-American and European-American musical parentage with a performance orientation. Jazz is characterized by swing and blue notes, call and response vocals, polyrhythms and improvisation. Jazz has roots in West African cultural and musical expression, and in African-American music traditions including blues and ragtime, as well as European military band music. Intellectuals around the world have hailed jazz as “one of America’s original art forms”.

The Elements of Jazz

Jazz is a genre of music that originated in the African-American communities in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Jazz is characterized by swing and blue notes, call and response vocals, polyrhythms and improvisation. Jazz has roots in West African cultural and musical expression, and in African-American music traditions including blues and ragtime.


One of the most important elements of jazz is improvisation. This is when a musician creates a solo spontaneously, without planning or rehearsing in advance. Improvisation is an important part of jazz because it allows the musician to express their own ideas and creativity within the framework of the song.

There are a few different ways to improvise in jazz. The most common is to use chord tones, which are the notes that make up the chord that is being played at any given time. For example, if the chord being played is a C major chord, the chord tones would be C, E and G. Another way to improvise is to use scales. A scale is a series of notes that are played in ascending or descending order. There are many different scales that can be used in jazz, but the most common are the major and minor scales.

When improvisation, it is also important to be aware of the tempo and feel of the song. This will help you to create a solo that fits well with the rest of the music. Jazz solos should generally be melodic and flow smoothly from one note to the next. There should also be a good balance between fast and slow passages.

Improvisation is an important part of jazz because it allows each musician to express their own ideas and creativity within the framework of the song


The best way to understand swing is to feel it. When you tap your foot to a swing tune, you should feel like your foot is gently bouncing up and down, almost like it’s nodding “yes.” This feeling is generated by the interaction of the music’s tempo and its rhythm.

Swing is a rhythmic style of jazz that developed in the early 1920s. For the first time in jazz, the rhythm section (the piano, bass, and drums) played with a “swing” feel. That is, they played eighth notes (or quavers) in a way that created a bouncy feeling. This bouncy feeling was achieved by playing the sixth eight note (or eighth triplet) slightly late – after the beat had already passed.

This slight delay gave the music a lagging feel, as if it were falling behind the beat and then catching up to it. The result was a very danceable style of music that quickly became popular all over America.

Blue Notes

One of the most distinctive elements of jazz is the blue note. A blue note is simply a note that is played slightly flat, or “off” from the standard pitch. This gives the note a slightly darker, more melancholy sound.

In Western classical music, notes are played either in tune (in pitch with the surrounding notes) or out of tune (slightly off from the surrounding notes). But in jazz, blue notes are played deliberately off from the surrounding notes, which creates a more complex and interesting sound.

There are two main ways to play blue notes: by bending the note (reaching for a higher or lower pitch), or by hitting the note dead-on (at exactly the right pitch). Each method has its own unique sound, and each jazz musician will use both methods at different times.

Bending Blue Notes:
When you bend a blue note, you’re essentially reaching for a higher or lower pitch within the same scale. This gives the note a hint of tension and yearning. You can bent up to the next pitch (a half step above), or down to the flat third (a whole step below).

Hitting Blue Notes:
Hitting a blue note dead-on gives it a sharp, defined sound. It’s like hitting a target in the dark – there’s a sudden release of energy when you hit it just right. Hitting blue notes can add power and punch to your playing.

Blue notes are an essential part of jazz music, and they’re one of the easiest ways to add some jazz flavor to your playing. So get out there and start bending those blues!


In jazz, Polyrhythms are the simultaneous use of two or more conflicting rhythms, in different parts of the musical structure. The result is a rich and complex textures, with a wide range of rhythmic feels.

One of the most well-known examples of polyrhythm in jazz is the “rhythm changes” chord progression. This chord progression was originally popularized in the 1930s by the likes of Benny Goodman and Duke Ellington, and has since been used by countless jazz artists as a vehicle for improvisation.

The basic “rhythm changes” chord progression consists of two measures of 2/4 time, followed by two measures of 3/4 time. This gives rise to a polyrhythmic texture, with the 2/4 measure being played against the 3/4 measure. This can be difficult to count at first, but once you get the hang of it, it’s really not that bad. Just remember that there are three beats in the 2/4 measure, and four beats in the 3/4 measure.

If you’re having trouble counting this polyrhythm, try tapping your foot to the beat of the 2/4 measure, while keeping your head nodding to the beat of the 3/4 measure. Once you get comfortable with thispolyrhythm, try soloing over it using some basic blues scales.

Writing Your First Jazz Composition

So, you want to write jazz music? Jazz is a genre of music that has been around for over a hundred years. It’s a style of music that is always evolving and has been influenced by many different cultures. If you’re a beginner, don’t worry! This guide will teach you everything you need to know about writing jazz music.

Choose a Key

Jazz is typically played in concert pitch, which means that a C note on a trumpet sounds like a C note on a piano. When you’re just starting out, it’s easiest to write in a key that you’re comfortable with. If you’re not sure which key to choose, try writing in C, G, or F.

Once you’ve chosen a key, it’s time to pick a tempo. Jazz is usually played at a fast tempo, so start with something around 120 beats per minute. You can always change the tempo later if you want to.

Write a Melody

One of the most important aspects of writing jazz music is creating a catchy and memorable melody. Without a strong melody, your composition will likely not hold the listener’s attention. There are a few key things to keep in mind when writing a melody for a jazz piece.

First, it is important to choose the right key signature. The key signature will determine the overall feel of your melody, so it is important to select one that fits the mood you are going for. For example, if you want your melody to sound happy and upbeat, you may want to choose a key signature with sharp notes such as G or D. On the other hand, if you want your melody to sound more relaxed and smooth, you may want to choose a key signature with flat notes such as Bb or Eb.

Once you have chosen your key signature, it is time to start writing some notes! When writing jazz melodies, it is important to make use of “blue notes.” Blue notes are slightly flattened notes that give jazz its characteristic bluesy sound. These notes create tension and release within a melody, which can be very effective in keeping listeners engaged.

When using blue notes, it is also important to remember that less is often more. Using too many blue notes in your melody can make it sound muddy and unclear. Instead, try using them sparingly to add flavor and interest to your composition.

Finally, don’t be afraid to experiment! Jazz is all about taking risks and trying new things. So go ahead and play around with different note combinations until you find something that sounds good to you. There are no rules when it comes to writing jazz melodies, so let your creativity flow!

Create an Accompaniment

Now that you have the melody for your jazz composition, it’s time to create an accompaniment. The term “accompaniment” simply refers to the music that will be played alongside the melody. In most cases, the accompaniment will be played by a piano or guitar.

There are a few different ways that you can approach writing an accompaniment. One option is to come up with a series of chords that would sound good with the melody. Another option is to improvise an accompaniment on the piano or guitar.

If you’re not sure where to start, try experimenting with different chords and see what sounds good. You might also want to listen to some other jazz compositions and see how they approached writing an accompaniment.

Add Chords

Now that you have your melody, it’s time to add some chords!

Jazz is usually thought of as being harmony-based, and chords are a big part of that. In order to create a jazz composition, you’ll need to add chords underneath your melody.

There are many different ways to do this, but as a general rule, you’ll want to start by choosing one chord for each measure. You can then add more chords later on if you want to make things more interesting.

One helpful tip is to choose chords that complement the melody. For example, if your melody is happy and upbeat, you might want to choose major chords. If your melody is sad or mellow, you might want to choose minor chords.

experimentation! Try playing around with different combinations of chords until you find something that sounds good to you.


In conclusion, writing jazz music is a great way to express your creativity and emotions. It can be challenging at times, but the rewards are worth it. With practice, patience and a good ear, you can become a skilled jazz composer.

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