Jazz Guitar Tips

Jazz Guitar: Survival Guide

Here’s a quick and practical overview of some of the most important jazz guitar tips for you. Find out about the too often underrated aspects of learning how to play jazz guitar (and developing as a complete jazz musician).

My top-5 tips go something like this: listening, learning tunes (repertoire), working on rhythms, guitar gear / equipment… and diligence!

Share your favorite jazz guitar tips at the bottom of the page, in the comments. The best ones will be added to the top, after the top 5 jazz guitar tips!


1 – Use Your Ears

  • Listening to great jazz recordings daily is crucial;
  • Try to remember melodies by ear;
  • (without opening that fakebook again)
  • Use your ears to tune the guitar;
  • Improvise without the aid of play-a-longs;
  • (create your accompaniment, your rhythmic / time feel and make your improvisation outline the chord changes effectively)
  • etc.

Remember that listening is the key to hearing all of this: Time/rhythms, intonation, chords/progressions , song form, inflections, dynamics, improvisation, comping, phrasing, composition … even hearing yourself comes from listening!

All good music comes from really listening all of the time. See this ear training article here for more ear-related jazz guitar tips.


2 – Learn Tunes Daily

Make repertoire a priority. You can’t play jazz if you don’t know any songs from memory! Make a list of tunes you can play fairly well.

At first, simply try to incorporate tunes into the “routine”. For instance, instead of warming up on scales, arpeggios and chords you already know, spend the first 30-60 minutes of practicing learning a tune. Most private students on JazzGuitarLessons.net (see the coaching page) have a training program that is focused on learning songs first.

It’s often at the beginning of a practice session that your mind is the most alert; take advantage of it!


3 – Jazz is All About Rhythms

  • Learn to use the metronome in practice;
  • Develop your awareness of time;
  • Think of rhythms, most of the time, when blowing/comping;
  • Hang out and play with good drummers. It’s worth it!

See all the video on how to use the metronome as 2&4 of the bar of 4/4 here…


4 – Worrying About Gear

Gear is not the problem, don’t worry too much about it. You don’t need an archtop and a polytone to sound good. (See Bill Frisell, Ed BickertLenny Breau, Mike Stern, Ted Greene, etc.)

Let yourself play on “non conventional rigs” if you feel and sound better doing so. (I have nothing against overdrive and a stratocaster on a jazz cocktail gig; as long as the music sounds good…) See the jazz guitar gear yours truly uses on a daily basis here…


5 – Practice, Practice, Practice

(the master of all jazz guitar tips !)

Take your axe and play; Repeat daily.

Do this a lot. Simple but effective. Your abilities are directly proportional to the amount of time you spend playing. (You may re-read that 100 times.) Stop reading, blogging, talking, (bragging?) or thinking about it and… simply play!

You may or may not organize your practice time. If you’re like me, you’ll end up organizing your stuff anyways… in the end, the time spent matters more than the materials you choose to practice. You may need a private guitar coach to get you up to speed … he’ll help you devise your own practice routine. See an example practice routine in this article …

What’s Your #1 Jazz Guitar Tip?

Please share it with others! Tell us about your practicing, gigging and learning experience on the guitar in the comments below. The best jazz guitar tips from visitors will be added to the top of the page.

4 thoughts on “Jazz Guitar Tips

  1. I’m just learnings Jazz, after many false starts, but I have one tip that helped me a lot, particularly when im feeling frustrated with my progress. In a Guitarist magazine article, Mike Stern said that when he was learning Jazz, that he had to take it slowly. He too had a blues/rock background. Perhaps this isn’t much of a revelation, but taking it slowly has really helped me. I try not to learn how to comp over a new tune in 30 mins flat, but instead to spend a few days on a tune or new riff, to let it really set in.

  2. When listening to jazz recordings, really check out the past (beyond the 1960s). The closer you get to the roots of the source, the more the natural it is to understand.

  3. To be honest, for me, I find it very tough to burn Jazz Charts into memory power, when I play Jazz in the live, got to use the charts and I don’t take my eyes off it, man there are so many passing chords in Jazz! That’s the last thing you want to do is fall out of a song in the live, but again that’s why they call it Jazz, right?
    Regardless I have a lot of fun and challenges performing Jazz, heck I played every other genra in my generation, just fell in love with Latin Jazz, just love those writers and monster players.

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