As Brenden likes to say, there are a lot of similarities between golf and jazz improv. 

In fact, golf was Bill Evans’ favorite pastime.  Just like jazz, there are no shortcuts to success in golf. 

The way to get better is to play as much as possible.  However, there are specific exercises that, along with playing consistently, will improve your abilities.

Here are several lessons we can learn from golf along with jazz piano practice exercises I’ve created that have been derived from these lessons.

Lesson #1: Playing from uncomfortable positions

When legendary golfer Tom Watson played with a group, he often would drop his ball next to the worst shot of the group.  This forced him to learn how to play from uncomfortable positions that he might end up in someday in a real tournament.   

Jazz Piano Exercise:

  • Pick any chord and a corresponding scale
  • Select a note that isn’t in the scale
  • Learn how to make the non-scalar note fit into melodic lines in a meaningful way

Lesson #2: Change the target

Every day, the pin location for each hole on a golf course changes.  This is so golfers must learn to approach the hole from every angle/slope possible.  While golfers can play the same course four days in a row, every day they will be shooting for a new target.

Jazz Piano Exercise:

  • Pick a tune
  • Select several specific target points within the tune
  • End your phrases at the target points
  • Set new target points each day you practice the tune

Additional Option:

  • Select specific target notes to land on
  • Change these target notes each day you practice the tune

Lesson #3: Go through it, not at it

One of the first things you are taught when learning the golf swing is to swing through the ball, not at the ball.  Swinging through it creates smoothness and fluidity, while swinging at the ball results in choppiness.

Jazz Piano Exercise:

  • Pick a lick you are working on
  • Practice playing through the lick, improvising a few notes at the end of each rep

Since music is a reflection of life, it stands to reason that musical ideas can be derived from pretty much everything.  This post focuses on golf, but I challenge you to derive musical ideas and exercises from non-musical experiences.  At the very least, it will get you thinking…

Have fun and be creative!

Picture of Trent Briden

Trent Briden

11 Responses

    1. ha! Let’s trade JD, you teach me how to golf and I’ll keep putting out jazz piano education for you. I love golf though but can’t break 80.Thanks for the comment!

  1. Love the emotional roller coaster ride of both.
    That one good effortless swing keeps you coming back for more.

  2. Thanks for the great enology! I
    I find technical Control in both activities, in a relaxed effortless flow, helps to execute your tdeas and achieve your objectives—-Jazz and golf: “no winners or losers just players.”

    1. Either one works, but just make sure you pick one and go with it. You could also pick both a starting and ending note.

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