Similarities Between Jazz and Classical Music

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

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


A lot of people think that jazz and classical music are two completely different genres. However, there are actually quite a few similarities between the two.


Jazz and classical music are two of the most popular genres in the world. Though they share some similarities, such as the use of improvisation and lead instruments, they also have many differences, such as in the form, harmony, and rhythm.

What is Jazz?

Jazz is a music genre that originated in the African-American communities of New Orleans, United States. It emerged in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and developed from roots in blues and ragtime. 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 jazz spread around the world, it drew on different national, regional, and local musical cultures, which gave rise to many distinctive styles. New Orleans jazz began in the early 1910s, combining earlier brass band marches, French quadrilles, biguine, ragtime and blues with collective polyphonic improvisation. In the 1930s, heavily arranged dance-oriented swing big bands, Kansas City jazz, a hard-swinging, bluesy improvisational style and gypsy jazz (a style that emphasized musette waltzes) were the prominent styles. Bebop emerged in the 1940s Sophisticated harmonies Progressive conceptions of arrangement Time Feel Complex melodies Abstract chord progressions Harmonic alternatives Rez Lafayette Park Melodic ornaments Modal jazz

What is Classical Music?

Classical music is art music produced or rooted in the traditions of Western classical music, including both liturgical (religious) and secular music. While a more precise term is also used to refer to the period from 1750 to 1820 (the Classical period), this article is about the broad span of time from before the 6th century AD to the present day, which includes the Classical period and various other periods. The central norms of this tradition became codified between 1550 and 1900, which is known as the common-practice period.

The Similarities Between Jazz and Classical Music

Jazz and classical music are two of the most important genres in music history. Both genres have influenced each other and have commonalities. Let’s explore some of the similarities between these two genres of music.

The Improvisational Nature of Jazz

Jazz and classical music share many similarities, the most important being their improvisational nature. Both genres developed during a time when music was more about feel and expression than technical perfection. This is what sets them apart from other genres, such as rock and pop, which emphasize polished performances and tight musicianship.

Both jazz and classical musicians are trained to improvise, to embellish on the original melody or harmony in order to create something new and unique. This can be done by adding new melodic ideas, changing the rhythm or harmonic structure, or using different instrumental techniques. Improvisation is a key element of both genres, and it is what allows for such creativity and individuality in the music.

Another similarity between jazz and classical music is the use of chord progressions. Chord progressions are sequences of chords that are often used as the foundation for a piece of music. They provide a harmonic structure that can be improvised upon, making them an important tool for both jazz and classical composers.

Finally, both genres make use of similar musical forms. Forms such as sonata form and rondo form were first developed in the Classical era but have been used extensively in Jazz as well. These forms provide a framework for the composer to work within, giving the piece of music some direction while still allowing for plenty of room for improvisation.

The Formal Structure of Classical Music

Classical music is usually composed in sonata form. This consists of three parts: the exposition, the development, and the recapitulation. The exposition contains the themes that will be used in the piece. The development takes these themes and manipulates them, often using techniques such as inversion, repetition, and transposition. The recapitulation brings back the themes from the exposition, often in a slightly altered form.

The Influence of Jazz on Classical Music

It is widely accepted that jazz has had a profound influence on classical music. While it is true that the two genres emerged from very different traditions and have always been considered different musical styles, there are nevertheless a number of interesting similarities between them.

For one, both jazz and classical music place a strong emphasis on improvisation. In jazz, improvising is often seen as the very essence of the music, with musicians constantly coming up with new ways to interpret the melody and harmony of a piece. In classical music, meanwhile, improvising was once an integral part of the genre but fell out of favor during the Romantic era; nonetheless, many classical composers continued to incorporate elements of improvisation in their work.

Another similarity between jazz and classical music is their shared use of complex harmonic progressions. In jazz, these progressions often take the form of ii-V-I progressions, which are characterized by a quick succession of chords built on the second, fifth, and first scale degrees. Classical composers such as Johann Sebastian Bach and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart also made use of ii-V-I progressions in their work, albeit in a more restrained manner than their jazz counterparts.

Finally, both jazz and classical music tend to be highly technical genres, with performers requiring a high level of skill and training in order to execute pieces correctly. This is particularly true of classical music, where performers are expected to adhere to strict instructions from the composer regarding tempo, dynamics, and other performance aspects. Jazz performers also need to be highly skilled, although they often have more freedom when it comes to interpreting a piece.

The Influence of Classical Music on Jazz

It is widely accepted that jazz Was heavily influenced by classical music. This is evident in the way that many jazz musicians use classical compositional techniques in their work, and also in the way that jazz has been used as a platform for reimagining and reinterpreting classical pieces. Some of the most iconic and influential jazz musicians, such as Duke Ellington and John Coltrane, drew extensively from the classical tradition.

In recent years, there has been a renewed interest in the relationship between jazz and classical music. Many contemporary classical composers have been inspired by jazz, and vice versa. This has led to a greater appreciation of the similarities between these two genres, which are often seen as being on opposite ends of the musical spectrum.

There are many commonalities between jazz and classical music, including their shared history, their use of improvisation, and their focus on melody and harmony. However, there are also some important differences between the two genres. For example, classical music is usually much warmer and more emotive than jazz, which can sometimes be seen as cold or cerebral. Classical music also tends to be more complex harmonically than jazz, which is often simpler in its harmonic language.

Despite their differences, jazz and classical music have a lot to offer each other. By exploring the similarities and differences between these two genres, we can gain a deeper understanding of both genres and how they have evolved over time.


In conclusion, there are many similarities between jazz and classical music. Both genres are based on European musical traditions, and both styles place a strong emphasis on technical proficiency and composition. However, there are also some important differences between the two genres, most notably in their approach to improvisation. Classical music is typically more rigid in its structure, while jazz allows for more freedom and creativity. Ultimately, the choice of which style to listen to is a matter of personal preference.

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