Jazz Guitar: Survival Guide

How to Play Jazz Guitar

Survival Guide for Beginning Jazz Guitarists

How to Play Jazz Guitar: Survival Guide

This website hosts a wealth of information on how to play jazz guitar. Even though every page is meant to be focused and “hands-on”, the amount of stuff can become overwhelming…When confused, a lot of people email me this kind of question:

“You website is nice and full of useful info… but where should I start exactly?!”

My first answer is always (of course): please bookmark this website. Let it become a reference; come back to it often and you’ll discover more and more things you can adapt to your practice. If you really want to learn how to play jazz guitar, you’ll be glad you did.

And I also decided to create these pages: my Survival Guide, which is like a “jazz guitar walkthrough” sorted by levels. That’ll surely clear things up and give you a sense of direction.

I will explain some common steps taken by people who successfully learn how to play jazz guitar. I will also try to point out resources that a relevant to your level. Please keep in mind that they’re merely general guidelines … there’s no right or wrong way to learn music.

The suggested “steps” to learn how to play jazz guitar come from my personal experience : mostly from studying, listening, practicing, learning, teaching, composing, jamming and, of course, playing a lot.

Want to learn how to play jazz guitar? So, are you a …


How to Play Jazz Guitar: Complete Beginners

Is this you? Consider yourself a jazz guitar beginner if you are…

  • Already playing the guitar, but little or no jazz or …
  • Already playing music (jazz or not), but not on the guitar.

In short, beginners just “don’t know where to put their fingers” so to speak. The focus should be on learning the instrument and starting to get familiar with the music. My recommendations for complete jazz guitar beginners:

Relevant pages on JazzGuitarLessons.net

ALL the free jazz guitar video lessons …
Beginning Chord Melody (7-day FREE course)
The Major Scale
Jazz Guitar Practicing
Jazz Guitar Chord Chart: Basics
The No Nonsense Guide To Jazz Harmony
Jazz Guitar Tips
A Modern Method for Guitar (book)
Jazz Guitar Elements (book)


1 – Listen to Good Jazz Daily

You can only learn how to play jazz guitar if you listen to it! That’s probably the most underrated practice Wes Montgomery - Vinyl Recordsuggestion ever. Your ears should be over-saturated with good jazz, always. Don’t forget that live concerts are also highly recommended!

Who to listen to:
Jazz GuitaristsCharlie ChristianDjango ReinhardtWes Montgomery, Kenny Burrell, Jim HallPat Metheny.
Other instruments: Miles Davis, Wayne Shorter, Bill Evans, John Coltrane.

2a – Learn to Touch the Guitar

That may seem vague, but that is really what playing is all about: touching an instrument to produce sound! At first, you may notice how your sound is inconsistent from note to note, string to string or from chord to chord. What you should be aiming for is changing the way you touch the guitar. Focus on clean, “big” notes (and chords) all off the time and speak clearly. 

In brief, whatever you play, play it clearly. 

Start with the major scale, then build yourself through a chord exercise like “The Big 5 Warmup”. Play slow!

2b – Position and Posture

Always play in a comfortable position. Do not “over-tense” any muscle (fingers, hands, arms, shoulders, neck and back) when it is not necessary. Make your playing as natural as possible. How to do that ? Simple: Maintain a relaxed posture and play using the minimal amount of energy. That’s as natural as it gets!

3 – Work With a Method Book

While this step is not necessary, I’ve seen significant faster improvement in students when they used a method (at any age or skill level.) A method will ensure that you learn “the basics” that will become the foundation of your whole playing.

Modern Method for Guitar

I highly recommend A Modern Method for Guitar by William Leavitt. It’s a great book to cover all the bases … including reading standard musical notation.

Jazz Guitar Elements cover.indd

I also highly recommend Jazz Guitar Elements by Michael Berard. It is 100% jazz oriented and it’s not focused on sight-reading music. It’s about chords, voice leading, scales, arpeggios and improvisation.

4 – Learn One Tune Very Well

A common mistake made by beginners is to work only on “technique” at first (scales, chords, arpeggios, …) when trying to learn how to play jazz guitar. “Pure technique” is just no fun, it takes some “music” somewhere!

autumn leaves - chart - thumbnail

Learn how to play jazz guitar tunes right from the start. Keep it simple: learn the melody thoroughly, then the chordsPlay the melody “as is” and then loosely interpret it. Rely on a good jazz recording of the tune. Keep practicing one specific tune for long enough so that you have it memorized for life (in your ears and fingers.) Knowing one tune very well is better than knowing five “approximately”.

5 – Grasp Simple Music Theory

This always seems to be a daunting task, for guitarist especially. Start with what you can. There’s no rush and learning it all wont make you play better immediately. I suggest learning the name of the notes on the whole neck at first. Map out all the “natural notes”: C D E F G A B on one string at a time (as explained in Learn the Fretboard)

The second little “theory step”: learning the basic major scale construction, chords construction and chord progressions found in jazz music. A little knowledge goes a long way if you want to learn how to play jazz guitar. See all the theory pages on JazzGuitarLessons.net 

6 – Play with Others

Whenever you can, play with other jazz musicians. It’s preferable that they are more advanced, but anything will do. The interactions will bring your playing in context; this is the real challenge! Attend jam sessions or organize your own informal rehearsals.

It is highly recommended that you learn some basic chords before playing with other musicians. It will allow to (at least) comp behind other players’ solos. This course is perfect for that:

Jazz Guitar Chords Intro: UdemyNever played jazz guitar? Learn these chords first … This eCourse is designed especially for absolute jazz guitar beginners or experienced guitarists without a jazz background. No theory: just guitar playing! Once you watch and play along the video a few times, you’ll possess a solid jazz guitar chords foundation: you’ll have “what it takes” to play most standard jazz songs! (watch video)

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Get 12 Essential Jazz Guitar Chords to get you started in the jazz guitar world.

Jazz Guitar Chords: Cover

One thought on “How to Play Jazz Guitar

  1. Hear it properly. Jazz has evolved from a fairly simple form to a high art that the greatest musicians have contributed to. It contains much more sophisticated melodies and harmonies than most popular music.  You need to develop you ear so you can hear these harmonies.


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