Jazz Phrasing for Guitar

Question by Joe

Hi, really getting a lot from your website, your a good teacher 🙂 One thing that i’m struggling to find on the net is lessons on jazz phrasing.

Say I’ve learned the scales and understand the theory of reflecting the chord or scale of the moment in a tune. I have developed my own style that am quite happy with, as it’s my own unique sound, but I’d quite like to learn some more be-bop phrasing.

I love to listen to sax players, I love the phrasing they use on notes, (those lil’ ornamental runs, where the notes sound like they’re folding in on each other)- so I guess I’d like to learn some common be-bop phrasing for the guitar.

Any help would be much appreciated, cheers.


M-A’s Answer:

Hello Joe,

Phrasing and articulation could be the topic of an entire book (or website, who knows?!)… but there’s certainly a reason why we don’t find any.

What do you think?

To me, explaining the concept of “jazz phrasing” would be the same as trying to describe the difference between an American accent, a British accent and an Australian one … to someone that speaks only Polish!

I believe that jazz phrasing is like that.

You have to “speak jazz” in order to cope the saxophone-ish accent that you like to hear. And the best part is, every player has a different “accent” in phrasing and articulation (depending on instrument, aesthetic choices and historical era).

…that being said…

I believe that their are ways to work on your own jazz phrasing . But I, of course, can only give you a direction, not the whole path.

First of all, I like the image you used about “notes folding on each other”. If you like that sound, identify where you heard it (what album, what player, what solo, etc.) and learn it. As simple as that. You can learn jazz phrasing by imitating the great jazz players that you love listening to. See this transcription article .

Secondly , you will surely notice that great jazz players seldom use “plain old” scales. There’s much more chromaticism going on in their playing (especially sax and trumpet). Many techniques can be used to achieve a greater degree of chromaticism in your playing. The first one I always suggest is using bebop scales . It’s a rhythmical approach to scales and jazz lines.

Finally , it’s clear that both approaches (imitating jazz recordings and using bebop scales) and inevitably connected to rhythms. The more you work on rhythms, accentuation of certain beats, anticipations, swing, triplets, hemiolas, odd time signatures (etc.) the better your personal jazz phrasing will be.

I hope it helps your phrasing. Good luck and practice well.

Marc-Andre Seguin


oh! And I almost forgot to mention:

To me, jazz phrasing on the guitar is greatly enhanced by the use of a diagonal style/technique of playing lines.

Here’s an article on diagonal playing.

Here’s a video on diagonal playing.


Comments for Jazz Phrasing for Guitar

Mar 01, 2012
Jazz phrasing resources
by: Mark

Hey there,
Just wanted to comment that Dale Bruning is writing a series of books on jazz phrasing for guitar as there appears to be a void of instructional material. I also know that there was an old book by Jimmy Giuffre on phrasing.


Aug 11, 2011
I disagree
by: Fred Krubel

I completely disagree and offer that you CAN write out bebop articulations for guitar. It takes a ear to listen, transcribe the articulations off the Bird records, use slurring on lighter action with 10’s on a strat, a clean tube channel, maybe some reverb, an TS9 or TS808 for just a little overdrive to give some gain and sustain. Even Allan Holdsworth needs gain to play with legato. You basically need to use unguitaristic methods (hammers with the left hand, hand position shifts,highly coordinated finger crosses that mix dynamically perfect picking mixed with legato) regardless of how you are told to STAY PUT in that nice logical position. Well do your ears give a damn about positions? Screw the jazz police!

I’m sorry but I googled guitar bebop articulations and it was a video of Jimmy Raney. Brilliant player, but that’s jazz guitar. ZZzzzzzzz.

Just sayin’ I studied this stuff and that’s my opinion and I’m entitled to it. I love bebop. Giggity.

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