WELCOME to Dharmajazz.

My name is Steve Snelling. I’m a life long musician and the creator of Dharmajazz, a collection of tools dedicated to helping you grow as an artist.

The main focus here is jazz piano and improvisation, but you will find that many of these topics carry over into other instruments and to other creative disciplines.

Chances are, you are here because you want to improve as a musician. Dharmajazz is here to help you do just that by answering your questions, from fundamentals like, “What is a time signature?” or “Why is it called middle C?” to more advanced topics like, “What is the different between the major and minor blues scale?” and “How do you spell C7 (#9, b13)?” and “What is the altered dominant scale?”

We will cover music theory and lots more, but the one question that I get asked more than any other, the most important question, the main question most other websites and resources on jazz fail to answer is this:

“How do I practice so that I make steady progress?”

That’s really the crux of the biscuit, isn’t it? How do you take all of this great information you’ve learned in lessons and classes and from the web, and put it to use so you feel you are actually getting somewhere?

This is what I really want to show you: not just what, but how to practice to make steady progress, how to play with more confidence, how to become a better, more creative player, and how to have more fun doing it.

Come on in and explore our content, ask a question, and please sign up to receive regular FREE lesson ideas for practice and performance. I’m uploading new content regularly, and your input matters. I’m looking forward to hearing from you.


Steve S.

The Challenge

There is no shortage of jazz instruction – from YouTube videos on jazz, to jazz piano books, paid subscriptions, and private jazz piano lessons. THE CHALLENGE is how to apply all this information in a way that helps us absorb it, utilize it, and become more expressive, confident, and competent musicians.

From a lifetime of study and practice, I have developed a strategy for doing exactly that. I’ve assembled many of these ideas into a jazz piano method book called The Road to Aqaba – Practice Strategies for the Jazz Pianist, which has been my main teaching text for the last ten years.

This is really where the “rubber meets the road” as the saying goes. Or maybe, where the snow shovel meets the road. Let me give you some backstory…


Inspiration comes to us from many sources. One powerful source for me was the film “Lawrence of Arabia,” the 1962 desert epic starring Peter O’Toole. In my favorite scene, Lawrence is trying to convince Prince Ali (played by Omar Sharif) to perform a much needed miracle by capturing the Gulf city of Aqaba. The miraculous part would be that Ali and his troops would have to cross the great Nefud Desert and arrive in Aqaba still strong enough to fight the Turks, who were garrisoned there and armed with modern weapons.

The Nefud, Ali protests, was a merciless wasteland without water or shade, relentlessly hostile to man and beast, and that to try to cross it would bring ruin and death to them all. Lawrence grabs Ali by the sleeve and drags him out of the tent into the open desert. Pointing at the horizon across the sand, he fixes Ali with a fierce glare and says, “Aqaba is over there. It’s only a matter of going.”

It was the winter of 1994, and I was living in a log cabin in the mountains, about a mile off the main road that winds through the Rockies of southwest Colorado. It had snowed most of the previous day and, looking out the window, I saw my old Subaru wagon, a vaguely car-shaped bump in the winter landscape.

“Rats!” I thought, “I’ve got a gig this week.”

It was Sunday, and on Wednesday afternoon I was the solo pianist at The Peaks, a swanky resort hotel sixty miles and several icy mountain passes from my cabin. With my car bumper deep in snow, I thought of packing a bag, wading through the drifts to the main road and hitchhiking into town. Then I remembered Lawrence.

Twenty minutes later, bundled up in winter gear, my trusty grain shovel in hand, I started clearing a swath wide enough for the wagon. I knew I would have to be methodical, taking care not to hurt myself, but, with three days and plenty of food and spring water, if I kept focused I could shovel my way out before another storm stranded me for the winter. And with any luck, my neighbor a quarter mile up the road might use his tractor to plow from his cabin to the highway. Then, I’d have only five hundred yards of actual shoveling between me and freedom.

I found a smooth technique: scoop, rock back, fling over the shoulder, step… scoop, rock, fling, step… scoop, rock, fling, step… and kept at it. By the end of the first day I’d cleared only enough snow to turn the car around and make it out to the gate thirty yards away. Drained and doubting my chances, I called it a day, eager for some dinner and a good night’s sleep.

The next morning was cold, clear, and glaringly bright, the sun reflecting off the snow covered hillside—overhead, a dazzling, electric, Colorado-blue sky. I launched again into my Lawrencean (or so I fantasized) task with high spirits. I kept at it all day Monday—scoop, rock, fling, step—and on Tuesday afternoon I busted through the six-foot-high plow wall at the back of my neighbor’s property. Victory! High from endorphins and a sense of accomplishment, my upper body pumped like never before, I felt like a cartoon super-hero. With the shovel slung over my shoulder, I sauntered back up the road to the cabin.

“Aqaba is over there,” I reminded myself. “It’s only a matter of going.”

So What?

So what does this have to do with practicing piano? For me, everything.

Simply working the levers of the piano is one thing, but playing the instrument to move people on a profound, poetic, and emotional level… THAT’S going to take some work. It is do-able if you have the desire, and commit to making it happen.

That experience is but one of many that suggest a different perspective about much of what we often dread as work. Answering a few simple questions is often all that’s needed to quell our anxieties and steel ourselves for so many seemingly daunting tasks:

“Is it something we actually want to do?”

“Do we have the time and resources to do it?”

When it comes down to it, the first question is really the only important one.

My book does not boast to be a complete treatise on the subjects of jazz, theory, the piano, or practice. Those subjects are so broad, that no single publication can honestly boast of being the “complete” anything in those areas. Nor does it claim to offer instant success, as in, “Learn to Play Like a Pro in Just [insert unrealistic number here] Days!” It just doesn’t work that way. If it did, there would be about a thousand new shredding beboppers every month. You cannot learn to play music simply by reading a book. You cannot learn to do any art just from a book. Art requires exposing yourself to multiple sources, lots of thinking, study, and solitude, and acquiring life experience. And lots of practice.

The Promise

AQABA IS, AT HEART, AN APPROACH FOR DEVELOPING A RELIABLE AND INTUITIVE RELATIONSHIP WITH THE PIANO. You will develop an intuition about soloing and playing with others that you may have only dreamed about, and you will open doors to your playing you didn’t even know were there. I’ve taught others how to do it, and if you travel this road with me, you will do it too.

Follow the suggestions in my book and your playing will improve. It’s as simple as that.

The Road to Aqaba…

Schedule a first lesson and receive a FREE copy of The Road to Aqaba… to help you move in the right direction! Contact me here for details.

The Road to Aqaba—Practice Strategies for the Jazz Pianist

Road to Aqaba

Inspired by sources ranging from Lawrence of Arabia to Bill Evans, The Road to Aqaba – Practice Strategies for the Jazz Pianist leads you step-by-step to combine the fundamentals of jazz harmony and improvisation with powerful practice techniques. This dynamic approach is guaranteed to guide both students and professionals to greater levels of musicianship, creativity, and confidence.


It’s only a matter of going.


  • clear, step-by-step instructions (make consistent, steady progress)
  • numerous challenging exercises (build technique and confidence)
  • essential notation drills (gain a solid foundation of basic theory)
  • 14 original compositions (apply the concepts to fun tunes!)

224 pages
8.5” x 11” easy-to-read format
Spiral bound – lays flat on your music stand or desk!
Printed on sturdy 60# paper
$27 USD (plus CA tax)


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