Jazz Guitar Lesson Topics

Jazz guitar is one of the most challenging guitar styles, but if you explore it, you'll be able to tackle all kinds of things with greater ease. This is because jazz is mostly improvised, and improvisation takes a mastery of not only the instrument, but of the elements of music, including melody, harmony, and rhythm. A good jazz guitarist is not only a great soloist, but also a great accompanist for other instrumentalists and singers. You'll find that the skills you pick up from learning jazz guitar transfer to all the other styles of music.

One thing to keep in mind is patience. Learning to improvise in this style of music is a lifelong study. In fact it may sometimes seem that the more you learn, the more there is to know! The trick is to relax and just enjoy the process. It can be hard work, but in the end you'll see that jazz is like a huge universe full of endless possibilities, waiting to be discovered by the right player.

Here is a summary of the topics you're likely to learn about - in truth each of these is a study in and of itself, but just remember to take it a piece at a time. You'll find that each topic improves all the other areas of your playing as you slowly master them.

Beginner

  • 2-note comping voicings (3rds and 7ths)
  • 3-note comping voicings (root, 3rd, 7th)
  • Learning/memorizing of jazz tunes and jazz standards
    • Analysis of melodies in relation to bass
    • Numerical analysis of chord movement
  • Practice of ii-V-Is
    • Linear melodic ideas for ii-V-Is
    • Voice leading ideas for ii-V-Is
    • Chord voicings for ii-V-Is
  • Development of strong rhythm and development of internal time clock
    • Freddie Green (4 beat) style comping/swing feel
    • Listening to bassists and drummers
    • Playing/singing strong basslines
  • Maintaining sense of form while improvising

Intermediate

  • Study/memorization of all intervals
    • Focus on ability to sing all intervals (unison thru Octave, ascending and descending)
    • Practice of singing all triads in all inversions, open and closed voicings
  • Study of 7th chords (Maj7, min7, dim7, Maj7+5, dom7, minMaj7, min7b5)
    • Singing all 7th chords
    • Logically finding fingerings for 7th chord arpeggios all over fretboard
    • Study of possible 7th chord voicings on the guitar (drop 2, drop 3, drop 2 and 4, open, closed
  • Major, Melodic Minor, Harmonic Minor, Harmonic Major scales
    • Tertian harmony (triads and 7th chords)
    • Quartal harmony
    • Important modes from each scale and their uses in jazz improvisation
    • Exploration of mode/chord scale relationships
    • Practice of singing scales/modes
  • Study of the lineage/development of the language of jazz improvisation through the solos and compositions of great jazz musicians:
    • Louis Armstrong, Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, Django Reinhardt, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell, Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Keith Jarrett, etc.
    • Transcription/memorization of solos and important phrases
    • Study of common chord progressions used for improvisation
    • In-depth study of the mechanics of the language of Bud Powell, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie
    • Learning of bebop heads

Advanced

  • Study of quartal chords (3-note, 4 note, 5 note, 6 note)
    • Study of inversions of quartal chords
    • Uses of quartal voicings
  • Analysis of all triads, 7th chords, and quartal chords over 12 roots
    • Diminished scale and related harmony
    • Diminished patterns for improvisation
    • Chords found within the 8-note diminished scale
    • Repetition of diminished voicings/melodic ideas at m3 intervals
    • Uses of 4 major triads found within the diminished scale
    • Connection/interchangeability between dim7th chords and dom7b9 chords
    • Common functions of diminished chords in jazz tunes/standards
  • Whole-tone scale and related harmony
  • Study/practice of non-functional harmony
  • Compositions/solos of Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Joe Henderson
  • Introduction of "modal" playing in the late 50s by Miles Davis
  • Study of John Coltrane's hamonic developments
    • Three-tonic systems (Giant Steps, Coutndown, etc.)
    • Superimposition of chords

Jazz Guitar Masters to Check-out and More

More than anything, jazz is about listening. Make sure to do that a lot, because jazz guitar is a language, and you learn to "speak" by checking out the masters. A good place to start would be the following heavy cats:

  • Django Reinhardt
  • Wes Montgomery
  • Paco de Lucia
  • Kenny Burrell
  • Charlie Christian
  • Grant Green
  • Al Dimeola
  • Joe Pass
  • Pat Methany
  • George Benson
  • Pat Martino
  • Jim Hall

To explore more on your own, you can check out these online resources, but remember that reading is only a part of the process. Get a great teacher, and make sure to listen, listen, listen!

  • www.classicjazzguitar.com - Here you will find MP3 samples of all the greatest jazz guitarists who ever lived, as well as extensive biographies and discographies for each one!
  • en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jazz_guitar - This Wiki article gives an extensive overview of the jazz guitar style, inlcuding the types of guitars used, and the styles and techniques of jazz guitarists both past and present.
  • www.jazzguitarlife.com - A free online resource that includes gig reviews, gear reviews, practice tips, and interviews with some of the most interesting players currently out there.