What’s the Difference Between Pop, Jazz And Classical Piano?

When you think about piano, a lot of different images come to mind. Here we oversimplify to show you the three main styles of piano. Each of them could be further divided, the world has many different types of music. But it’s very helpful to keep a top level view, so you don’t get too lost in detail.

The main three styles of piano that we are going to talk about are pop, jazz & classical.


When we talk about pop piano, we are including other genres such as rock, dance, hip-hop, reggae, and many others. The most important feature of pop music is sound.  The sound that the instrument produces takes precedence over other technical details. That’s why you hear so many strange synthesizer sounds in pop. That’s not to say technique is not important, it is, but in pop music you are creating an atmosphere. You are accompanying the melody, and sound pays a major role.

The things you have to master as a pop pianist are chords and groove. Basic chords will be enough at the beginning. If you like more sophisticated music, you will need to study harmony. Groove is what keeps the song moving and the people dancing. Study rhythm to develop a sense for it.

Pop piano playing also involves play by ear.

Play by ear refers to a musician able to play or reproduce a piece of music by listening, without looking at music sheet.

You’ll need to have a good listening ear, able to recognise notes and chords and playing it out on the piano. With this skill, you can also play tunes in your own style, and shifting around different keys.

This is also the skill required for you to play in a pop band, or serve in your church worship band.


Jazz piano is another big category. It includes blues, and some world music genres which are more complex than pop.  Jazz is known for its complexity, but it can be built up from a very basic blues. The two biggest things to master in jazz are improvisation and swing. 

    Improvisation encompasses a lot. The first thing is memory. You need to learn a lot of song melodies by heart, and use them as a jumping point for your playing. Technique is also very important because some of these songs can get pretty fast, and you don’t want to struggle. Without a solid base you will be left behind. You will learn more complex harmony, bigger chords and scales. Swing is the groove of jazz, and you need to work on it if you don’t want to sound “stiff” and unauthentic.

    As you can see, pop and jazz playing is quite similar, where the pianist can be flexible to his own style, playing of chords, and mostly playing by ear.

    However, classical piano playing is very different.


    Classical piano encompasses a huge collection of music, from Medieval European times to the modern pieces of today. This style needs more attention to technique than the others. There are some advanced pieces that require high level of technical skills for you to play it. That doesn’t mean that classical music is always hard or complex, far from it! But a solid technical base must be in place.

    Apart from technique, another important aspect for classical piano is sight-reading. Some pieces are long, and they don’t lead to simplification or improvisation as in the other styles. They have to be played properly, and exactly as written. It’s mandatory that you can read music and play it at the same time. Eventually, you will memorize many pieces, but you will still need to sight read to keep advancing.

    Both technique and sight-reading, form the most important aspect of classical piano: interpretation. You need to practice them so they can become second nature, and you can concentrate on the piece of music. If you want to perform solo piano, this is what will make you stand out. Interpretation is that extra thing,  that human touch above technical capability.

    It’s All About The Music

    This is what every style has in common. You need basic technique, harmony knowledge, rhythm training, and to know the style. But then you have to let it go, and lose yourself in the music. First you learn piano, then you forget about it and play. It’s all about the music, it always has been.

    There is no “best” style, there’s only what you like. It’s all music and it shares similar principles and some variations in their approaches. At the Happy Pianist we have teachers that can help you with any of these styles. Send in your request for the type of piano style you like to learn, and start learning today!


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