What to study to learn Jazz guitar

Jazz guitar is quite an awesome, endless, and ever rewarding style of music. It doesn’t matter what your style of preference is, because I think that all guitarists should familiarize themselves with a little Jazz work here and there.

There are two things that I found very rewarding about studying Jazz guitar. The knowledge of chords that comes with learning the genre, and the concepts that revolve around soloing.

I think that the wisdom of the Jazz guitar solo, and the understanding of how to solo in this style of music, is the biggest benefit.

Since Jazz music is just as complex as other styles of music, this article will simply lay out some key things to get started studying. You could think of this as a preparatory article.

1. Chords

A great way to get started in Jazz guitar is to spend some time focusing on chords. In fact, whenever you come across any chord that is common in Jazz music (and there are many), take the time to learn how to play that chord in different areas of the fret board. If you can learn at least two different ways to play any one single chord on the guitar, then you’re really on to something.

There are plenty of fairly simple Jazz songs that are out their that you can get started with now. In fact this is an excellent way to pick up a lot of your Jazz chords. When you come upon any new Jazz song, make sure to pay special attention to the chords. There’s a good chance that you will spot a chord that you already know, but it just might be a variation of that chord. This unlocks a lot of knowledge.

2. Theory

Its hard not to study theory when you are pursuing Jazz music, and studying theory with play Jazz guitar in mind, is quite the undertaking. Still yet, a good place to start would be with the little things like intervals, tonality and modulation. It also really helps to study the makings of a chord in general.

3. Listening

I think the most important thing about studying any style of music is simply to be still and listen, and I know that this is certainly true of Jazz music. You should take the time to familiarize yourself with the previous movements in Jazz. Some of these include Bop, Bebop, Hard Bop, Cool Jazz, Modal Jazz, Swing Jazz, Acid Jazz, and so much more.

After a while, your ears will be able to distinguish and categorize certain key similarities in Jazz music, while at the same time setting aside the differences in the past movements in Jazz music.

4. Notation

If you are serious about this, then it is very important to learn to read music as it was intended to be read. Jazz musicians are very good at reading notation and they can read it fast! It takes time to reach this level of mastery, but its worth it if you want to keep up.

5. Improvising

Jazz is a very improvised style of music, but as I have said before, learning scales and modes does not unlock the door to extraordinary improvisational abilities.

This is also why I have explained to people for years that they need to take the time to just jam to the CDs that are in their library. I believe that there is really no tried and true method to learning how to improvise on the guitar, other than simply training the ear from your own experiences with jamming. The more you do it, the more proficient you will become.

6. Scales and modes

Its really difficult to sit here and tell you to use this mode with this chord structure, because it depends on the situation and the chord changes. However, a great way to get started with your soloing efforts, is to become a master of the major scale.

If you can take it upon yourself to learn the major scale all over the fret board, then you will be ready to go. Even if you don’t know any modes yet, that’s ok! Its important to pay close attention to when a note needs to be flatted and when a note needs to be sharped.

All of the modes are built from the major scale, and many times a Jazz piece will require a musician to play through several modes. These modes are connected by way of simple half steps or whole steps.

In fact, no matter what style you are improvising out of, if you hit a funky note, you are never more than a half step away from the more proper sounding note. That was the best thing that I ever learned from a professor of music.

7. Phrasing

I think of soloing in a Jazz setting as being fair game. Its a very free feeling and there really are no rules, but you can still learn a lot from listening to some of the more famous Jazz guitarists play.

Just like you, they all have their own style and approach to playing guitar. The key difference is that they took the style of music and made it their own. You should do this as well, and harvest your own soloing style, but keep an open mind, because soloing in the Jazz world requires you to not think of things as being set in stone.