Learn Jazz Guitar

Learn Jazz Guitar - Getting Started

If you want to learn jazz guitar, there are a few basic skills that you should master first. It's really important to know how to read music if you don't already. Sure, there are some world-class musicians, including jazz players, who don't know how to read music, but in the jazz world, not reading music is a liability. There are a lot of really useful books to teach you the basics if you don't already. If you've got the time, though, take a couple months of piano lessons. It'll help you with the basics of music vocabulary down the line.

If you're going to start playing jazz, it's also important that you know the notes on the guitar fretboad. Seriously. This is really important, and you won't get far without knowing every note in every position. You should also have a good working vocabulary of chords, including barre chords. Jazz players rarely play barre chords, but they serve as the basis for building more complex voicings. 

Also, if you don't already, you should have a working knowledge of pentatonic scales (major and minor) as well as a few major scale fingerings. I know this sounds like a lot, but jazz is definitely the "deep end" of music, so knowing the basics is very important in establishing a solid foundation for the future.

Jazz Guitar Theory

If you're going to be a jazz guitarist, then you need to be prepared to learn some theory. You need to master a number of scales if you want to play with "the big boys": pentatonic (major and minor), major and modes, harmonic minor and modes, melodic minor and modes, diminished, and whole tone. Sure, it's a lot, but once you have command of these scales and their associated modes, you will start to have complete command of your fretboard.

You also want to have a large vocabulary of common jazz chord voicings - major 7th, dominant 7th, minor 7th, diminished 7th, as well as common extensions (9th, 11th, 13th). Add the assocaited arpeggios, and you're well on way to mastering jazz guitar theory.

Jazz Guitar Repertoire

To state the obvious, if you're going to play jazz, you need to know some tunes. Here are a few recommendations.

  1. Major Blues
  2. Minor Blues
  3. Autumn Leaves
  4. Blue Bossa
  5. Take the A Train
  6. Tune Up
  7. All of Me
  8. Stella by Starlight
  9. All the Things You Are
  10. Rhythm Changes

The last three, especially Rhythm Changes, are more in the intermediate - advanced intermediate level, but if you play them at a slower tempo, you should be able to get a handle on them with dedicated practice.

Jazz Guitar Lessons

Finally, if you want to be a respectable jazz guitarist, you should seriously consider taking lessons, either with a local instructor or online. Sure, we've all seen or heard guitarists who have never taken a single lesson (or at least claim they haven't) and can play at a high level, but they are the exception rather than the rule. There are also an excellent amount of written and video materials available today that can supplement or even take the place of a "real" teacher. 

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