Levels: Description, Proficiency and Exams for Jazz Guitarists

Introduction - What We Provide

Using buttons above, you can navigate to each level description, skills and exit exams. We have defined three levels as our JazzGuitarLessons.net standard classification. We are aware that no two players are alike, however with our proficiency levels described as such, we are able to categorize virtually every player, for the purpose of using materials found on this website.

Level descriptions provide you, in words, with a general idea of your skill level. When you roughly fit into one of the three categories, you should know instinctively while reading. IF you're unsure, go to the proficiency level tab for a clearer picture.

Proficiency levels, each separated in three sub-levels (A, B and C) are meant to help you understand clearly where you stand. Each entry the table is a precise skill that you will be able to execute. This is a very technical way of establishing your current skill level. You may well find that you can perform every exercise in a given column, except maybe 2 or 3: this is expected, and helps you focus on what needs work

Proficiency "Exit Exams" templates: our goal is to have you "pass" the Advanced level exam, and thus guarantee entry in virtually any undergrad college or university worldwide. However, in order to get there, you will most likely need to improve your skills little by little. And that's exactly where the study materials, lessons, exercises and videos on this website come into play!

Best of luck, and enjoy your practice.

 

Beginner / Description

You are a Beginner jazz guitarist if you cannot yet pass the Beginner Exit Exam comfortably, and you are following the Beginner Proficiency Guidelines. Beginners may have some ability on the guitar already or may be completely new to the guitar, but are essentially new to jazz music, vocabulary, and techniques.

In regards to Comping (accompaniment), Beginners are expected to learn simple jazz rhythms, and basic shell chords in order to comp most jazz standards. In regards to Improv (soloing), Beginners are expected to learn to use arpeggios and a few basic scales in order to create simple improvised melodies over the chord changes to jazz standards. In regards to Chord Melody (solo guitar arrangements of songs), Beginners are expected to learn how to play one pre-arranged chord melody, and the melodies to every standard they are learning in multiple positions on the guitar.

Beginners are expected to become proficient in fundamental techniques that will allow them to play all of the above (scales, shell chords, arpeggios, note names on the fretboard, etc.).

Beginner / Proficiency

Comping

Drilling
A
B
C
Shell chords on string groups 643 and 543: dominant 7th chords Shell chords on string groups 643 and 543: m7, 7, maj7, 6 Shell chords on string groups 643 and 543: m7, 7, maj7, 6
Rhythms: Four-on-the-Floor swing Rhythms: Four-on-the-Floor swing Add simple "extensions" to your shells on the 2nd string (9ths, 5ths, and 13ths)
  Rhythms: Charleston Rhythms: Four-on-the-Floor swing
    Rhythms: Charleston
    Rhythms: Basic Latin Rhythms (1-bar long)
    Rhythms: Basic Latin Rhythms (2-bar long)
Performance Practice
Comp through a simple blues form (in two different keys: F and Bb) at 100 bpm using the above techniques and rhythms Comp through Autumn Leaves in Gm at 100 bpm using the above Techniques and rhythms Comp through Autumn Leaves in Gm at 120 bpm using the above Techniques and rhythms
  Comp through a simple blues form (in two different keys: F and Bb) at 120 bpm using the above Techniques and rhythms Comp through a simple blues form (in two different keys: F and Bb) at 140 bpm using the above Techniques and rhythms

Improv/Soloing

Drilling
A
B
C
Three basic chordscales: C major, D Dorian, G Mixolydian - on 4 starting strings: 6th, 5th, 4th, 3rd Three basic chordscales: C major, D Dorian, G Mixolydian - on 4 starting strings: 6th, 5th, 4th, 3rd Three basic chordscales: C major, D Dorian, G Mixolydian - on 4 starting strings: 6th, 5th, 4th, 3rd
Major and Minor Pentatonic scales Major and Minor Pentatonic scales, especially for the blues (Major Pentatonic for the 1st four bars, Minor Pentatonic for the rest) Learn to identify which chordscales match which chord (Cmaj7 = C major; Dm7 = D Dorian; G7 = G Mixolydian)
  Learn to identify which chordscales match which chord (Cmaj7 = C major; Dm7 = D Dorian; G7 = G Mixolydian) Learn basic arpeggio shapes for Cmaj7, Dm7, and G7 chords.
  Learn basic arpeggio shapes for Cmaj7, Dm7, and G7 chords. Major and Minor Pentatonic scales, especially for the blues (Major Pentatonic for the 1st four bars, Minor Pentatonic for the rest)
    On a song, with a metronome: over each chord, play chordscales in 8th notes up to the 7th degree for 1-bar chords; or for 2 bar chords, play up to the 7th degree and back down to the tonic in 8th notes.
    On a song, with a metronome: play arpeggios in quarter notes: root, 3rd, 5th, 7th.
Performance Practice
Improvise simple melodies over any tune using the above techniques Use the Mixolydian chordscale to improvise over a simple blues form (in Bb or F) at 90 bpm Focus on switching between the appropriate chordscales on the fly, while still making your solo musical.
  Use the Major and Minor Pentatonic scales to improvise over the blues (e.g. on Bb blues: Bb major pentatonic for 1st 4 bars, and Bb minor pentatonic for the rest of the form) at 90 bpm Focus on taking long rests between phrases
    Practice improvising making use of the above techniques on swing or Latin tunes up to 112 bpm
    Use the Mixolydian chordscale to improvise over a simple blues form (in Bb or F) at 90 bpm
    Use the Major and Minor Pentatonic scales to improvise over the blues (e.g. on Bb blues: Bb major pentatonic for 1st 4 bars, and Bb minor pentatonic for the rest of the form) at 90 bpm

 

Chord Melody

Drilling
A
B
C
Play the melody to 1 of the following standards in any area of the guitar: Play the melody to 3 of the following standards in any area of the guitar: Play the melody to 3 of the following standards in 2 different areas of the guitar (preferably in differing octaves)
- "Autumn Leaves", Gm, 120 bpm - "Autumn Leaves", Gm, 120 bpm - "Autumn Leaves", Gm, 120 bpm
  - "Summertime", Dm, 100 bpm - "Summertime", Dm, 100 bpm
  - "Misty", Eb, 80 bpm - "Misty", Eb, 80 bpm
  - "Tenor Madness", Bb, 150 bpm - "Tenor Madness", Bb, 150 bpm
  - "All The Things You Are", Ab, 110 bpm - "All The Things You Are", Ab, 110 bpm
  - "All Of Me", C, 120 bpm - "All Of Me", C, 120 bpm
  - "Blue Bossa", Cm, 130 bpm - "Blue Bossa", Cm, 130 bpm
Performance Practice
    Learn one pre-arranged chord melody (Misty from Crash Course, Summertime, etc.)

 

Pure Technique

A
B
C
- as above, Dorian scales. Keys D, G, C. - as above, Dorian scales. Keys D, G, C. - as above, Dorian scales. Keys D, G, C.
- as above, Mixolydian scales, Keys G, C, F. - as above, Mixolydian scales, Keys G, C, F. - as above, Mixolydian scales, Keys G, C, F.
Chords: Cycle of Fourths (12 keys): dominant 7th shell chords only. Quarter-notes, 100 bpm. Chords: Cycle of Fourths (12 keys): dominant 7th shell chords only. Quarter-notes, 100 bpm. Chords: Cycle of Fourths (12 keys): m7, 7, and maj7 shell chords. Quarter-notes, 100 bpm.
  Arpeggios: m7, dom7, and maj7 that match the above one-octave chordscales fingerings (all starting strings). Quarter-notes at 160 bpm Arpeggios: m7, dom7, and maj7 that match the above one-octave chordscales fingerings (all starting strings). Quarter-notes at 160 bpm
    Meditative Rhythms: whole note, half note, quarter notes, 8th notes, 8th note triplets and 16th notes. Tempo between 40 and 60 bpm on the metronome. Using only an open strings. Clear jump in between subdivisions.
    Improvising using major scales on a single string in C major. Students should practice this on one string at a time, but should get experience with all 6 strings of the guitar. Tempo: between 80 bpm and 110 bpm. See "Learn The Fretboard 2.0" for details: https://store.jazzguitarlessons.net/p/learn-the-fretboard-2-0

Beginner / Exit exam

In order to graduate from Beginner level to Intermediate level, you must be able to effectively complete the following:

-1- The Four-Chorus Exercise in Good Time (strict tempo)

  • 1st Chorus: Melody (by itself)
  • 2nd Chorus: Comping
  • 3rd Chorus: Soloing
  • 4th Chorus: Melody (by itself)

Choose ONE of the following songs/tempos to play through the Four-Chorus Exercise above:

  • "Autumn Leaves", Gm, 120 bpm
  • "Summertime", Dm, 100 bpm
  • "Misty", Eb, 80 bpm
  • "Tenor Madness" Bb, 150 bpm

 

More info on the Four-Chorus Exercise here...

 

-2- Play ONE pre-arranged (easy) chord melody on a standard at a minimum tempo of 80 bpm *(must be in time)*

 

-3- Be able to demonstrate the following techniques with no hesititation:

  • Chords: Cycle of Fourths: dominant 7th chords (shells, with natural extensions). Quarter-notes, 1 bar per chord, 100 bpm.
  •  7-note Major scales in 8th-notes, ascending and descending (Barry Harris style), tempo 132 bpm. Keys C, F, Bb. String starts: 6th, 5th, 4th, 3rd

Intermediate / Description

You are an Intermediate jazz guitarist if you have comfortably passed the Beginner Exit Exam, and you are practicing the Intermediate Proficiency Guidelines.

Intermediate jazz guitarists are comfortable performing on several jazz standards. They are able to accompany soloists without losing their place in the form, improvise a solo using chordscale techniques alongside targeting specific chord tones, and have even learned to write their own chord melody arrangement of their favourite standard. Intermediate guitarists know all major chordscales and modes in all keys, in all locations on the fretboard.

Intermediate / Proficiency

 

Comping

Drilling
A
B
C
Altered extensions on 2nd string to previously learned shells (#11/b5, b13, b9, #9) Altered extensions on 2nd string to previously learned shells (#11/b5, b13, b9, #9) Altered extensions on 2nd string to previously learned shells (#11/b5, b13, b9, #9)
Rhythm: Charleston (faster) and Variations (displaced) Altering previous shells for the ii chord in a minor progression: m7(b5) Altering previous shells for the ii chord in a minor progression: m7(b5)
  Altering previous shells for the minor i chord in a minor progression: m(maj7) and m6 Altering previous shells for the minor i chord in a minor progression: m(maj7) and m6
  Rhythm: Charleston (faster) and Variations (displaced) Rhythm: Bossa Nova (from Comping 102)
    Rhythm: Charleston (faster) and two Variations (displaced)
Performance Practice
Comp through a jazz blues form (in two different keys: F and Bb) at 120 bpm using the above Techniques Comp through a jazz blues form (in two different keys: F and Bb) at 150 bpm using the above Techniques Comp through a jazz blues form (in two different keys: F and Bb) at 180 bpm using the above Techniques
Comp through Autumn Leaves in Gm at 140 bpm using the above techniques and rhythms Comp through Autumn Leaves in Gm at 160 bpm using the above techniques and rhythms Comp through Autumn Leaves in Gm at 180 bpm using the above Techniques and rhythms
Comp through Summertime in Gm at 140 bpm using the above techniques and rhythms Comp through Summertime in Gm at 152 bpm using the above techniques and rhythms Comp through Summertime in Gm at 160 bpm using the above techniques and rhythms
  Comp through Blue Bossa in Cm at 100 bpm using the long and short basic latin rhythms from Beginner level Comp through Blue Bossa in Cm at 100 bpm using the long and short basic latin rhythms from Beginner level
    Comp through Girl From Ipanema in F at 120 bpm (BOSSA RHYTHM template)

 

Improv/Soloing

Drilling
A
B
C
Utilize Descending Guide Tone Scale as a framework for ii-V-I lines Utilize Descending Guide Tone Scale as a framework for ii-V-I lines Utilize Descending Guide Tone Scale as a framework for ii-V-I lines
  Utilize Ligon Outlines as a basic framework for soloing Utilize Ligon Outlines as a basic framework for soloing
  Utilize Octave Displacement to alter your improv lines Utilize Octave Displacement to alter your improv lines
    Utilize 3 Minor Pentatonic Scales to play "outside" on a ii-V-I (e.g. A, Bb, B Min. Pent. for Dm7-G7-Cmaj7)
Performance Practice
Specifically practice above techniques on swing/Latin tunes up to 120 bpm Specifically practice above techniques on swing/Latin tunes up to 140 bpm Specifically practice above techniques on swing/Latin tunes up to 160 bpm
  Focus on specific soloing exercises that force you to pause between phrases: Prescribed Rests, Scientific Rests, Dedicated Pauses Focus on specific soloing exercises that force you to pause between phrases: Prescribed Rests, Scientific Rests, Dedicated Pauses
    Practice soloing using varied rhythms on a single note (appropriate to the key)

 

Chord Melody

Drilling
A
B
C
For the 3 melodies you learned in Beginner level, accompany with root notes in the bass (whole notes or half notes where appropriate) Learn the melody to a 4th song, accompanied with root notes in the bass (whole notes or half notes where appropriate) Learn the melody to a 5th song, accompanied with root notes in the bass (whole notes or half notes where appropriate)
  Learn a 2nd pre-arranged chord melody (Misty from Crash Course, Summertime, William Leavitt's All The Things You Are, any from TotMC, Blue Bossa from Beyond Top Notes, etc.) Learn a 3rd pre-arranged chord melody (Misty from Crash Course, Summertime, William Leavitt's All The Things You Are, any from TotMC, Blue Bossa from Beyond Top Notes, etc.)
Performance Practice
    Arrange your own chord melody using the three-step process from Crash Course - no special techniques necessary, just chord shapes you've already learned. Suggested songs: Autumn Leaves, Summertime, Tenor Madness, Out of Nowhere, Blue Bossa, Girl From Ipanema



Pure Technique

A
B
C
Major and Minor Triads (and inversions) on strings 654, 543, 432, 321. Major and Minor Triads (and inversions) on strings 654, 543, 432, 321. Major and Minor Triads (and inversions) on strings 654, 543, 432, 321.
  7 Positions of the major scale (Painless Scale Positions or this https://youtu.be/obEWzeBx6fI ) 7 Positions of the major scale (Painless Scale Positions or this https://youtu.be/obEWzeBx6fI )
  C major scale - diagonal fingering, 2 octaves, 8th notes, 160 bpm C major bebop scale, C bebop melodic minor - diagonal fingering, 2 octaves, 8th notes, 160 bpm
  G major scale - diagonal fingering, 3 octaves, 8th notes, 160 bpm G major bebop scale, G bebop melodic minor - diagonal fingering, 3 octaves, 8th notes, 160 bpm

Intermediate / Exit exam

In order to graduate from Intermediate level to Advanced level, you must be able to effectively complete the following:

The Four-Chorus Exercise with special focus on the following techniques:

  • able to target chord tones rhythmically
  • Chord Melody for melody section

You must be able to complete the above for the following FIVE songs:

ONE from this list:
  • "All The Things You Are", Ab, 150 bpm
  • "Autumn Leaves", Gm, 160 bpm
  • "Out of Nowhere", G, 160 bpm
  • "Summertime", Dm, 150 bpm
 ONE from this list:
  • "Corcovado", C, 140 bpm
  • "Girl From Ipanema", F, 120 bpm
  • "Blue Bossa", Cm, 160 bpm
ONE from this list:
  • "Misty", Eb, 100 bpm
  • "Body and Soul", Db, 90 bpm
  •  "Stella by Starlight", Bb, 120 bpm
ANY Blues in Bb (no chord melody), 170 bpm
ANY Blues in F (no chord melody), 170 bpm

Be able to demonstrate the following techniques with no hestitation:

  • C major bebop scale, C bebop melodic minor - diagonal fingering, 2 octaves, 8th notes, 160 bpm
  • Chords: Cycle of Fourths: Drop 3 (6432) and Inversions; Drop 2 (5432, 4321) and Inversions. 180 bpm, Charleston Rhythm, 1 chord per bar
  • Major and Minor Triads and Inversions on 432, 321 string groups

Advanced / Description

You are an Advanced jazz guitarist if you have comfortably passed the Intermediate Exit Exam, and you are practicing the Advanced Proficiency Guidelines.

Advanced jazz guitarists know a large repertoire of jazz standards (15+) and are comfortable performing them "beyond the page" - they understand the songs well enough to modify their approaches to the melody and harmony in ways that a simple chord symbol doesn't explicitly communicate. Advanced guitarists are proficient in tackling a given chord or progression from anywhere on the fretboard; are comfortable with altering or even substituting a given chord with a different chord; and can solo by deftly targeting any chord tone or non-chord tone using a variety of diatonic and chromatic approaches. They are also comfortable with starting or ending phrases at any moment in the bar. Advanced guitarists are able to play solo chord melodies for the majority of their standards repertoire, with many of them arranged by themselves.

Advanced / Proficiency

Comping

Drilling
A
B
C
Rootless Shells for 9th/13th chords Rootless Shells for 9th/13th chords Rootless Shells for 9th/13th chords
Rootless Shells with altered extensions Rootless Shells with altered extensions Rootless Shells with altered extensions
Rhythm: Dotted Quarters in 3/4 Drop 2 Chords and inversions, String Groups 5432 & 4321 Drop 2 Chords and inversions, String Groups 5432 & 4321
  Drop 3 Chords and inversions, String Groups 6432 Drop 3 Chords and inversions, String Groups 6432
  Quartal Voicings (from Drop 2 Is the New Black) Quartal Voicings (from Drop 2 Is the New Black)
  Know the forms for Tonic Minor and Dorian Minor Blueses, and differences between them Harmonic plumbing techniques
  Rhythm: Dotted Quarters in 3/4 (and displaced variations) Know the forms for Tonic Minor and Dorian Minor Blueses, and differences between them
  Rhythm: Displaced Half-Notes (several variations) Rhythm: Dotted Quarters in 3/4 (and displaced variations)
    Rhythm: Displaced Half-Notes (several variations)
    Rhythm: ALL displaced charlestons in 4/4
    Rhythm: 6/8 Afro-Cuban
Performance Practice
Comp through Stella By Starlight in Bb at 140 bpm using the above techniques and rhythms Comp through Stella By Starlight in Bb at 160 bpm using the above techniques and rhythms Comp through Stella By Starlight in Bb at 180 bpm using the above techniques and rhythms
Comp through a jazz blues form (in two different keys: F and Bb) at 150 bpm using the above techniques Comp through a jazz blues form (in two different keys: F and Bb) at 180 bpm using the above techniques Comp through a jazz blues form (in two different keys: F and Bb) at 210 bpm using the above techniques
Comp through a Rhythm Changes tune in Bb (Anthropology, Oleo, Cottontail, etc.) at 110 bpm using the above techniques Comp through a Rhythm Changes tune in Bb (Anthropology, Oleo, Cottontail, etc.) at 140 bpm using the above techniques Comp through a Rhythm Changes tune in Bb (Anthropology, Oleo, Cottontail, etc.) at 170 bpm using the above techniques
  Comp through Girl From Ipanema in F at 140 bpm using the above techniques (BOSSA RHYTHM template) Comp through Girl From Ipanema in F at 160 bpm using the above Techniques (BOSSA RHYTHM template)
    Comp through Corcovado in C at 150 bpm (BOSSA RHYTHM template)

Improv/Soloing

Drilling
A
B
C
Enclosures, Displaced Enclosures Enclosures, Displaced Enclosures Enclosures, Displaced Enclosures
Use Barry Harris Subtraction Lines to learn to start or end a phrase at any point Use Barry Harris Subtraction Lines to learn to start or end a phrase at any point Use Barry Harris Subtraction Lines to learn to start or end a phrase at any point
  Chromatic Approaches and Forward Motion Approaches Chromatic Approaches (12 Banacos approaches) and Forward Motion Approaches
    Different Chordscales for the V chord: The Altered Scale, Harmonic Minor of Destination, The Octatonic Scale (Diminished)
Performance Practice
Use chromatic approaches to start phrases, end phrases, or even act as guideposts within a phrase Use chromatic approaches to start phrases, end phrases, or even act as guideposts within a phrase Use chromatic approaches to start phrases, end phrases, or even act as guideposts within a phrase
Practice improvising solos using the above techniques on swing/Latin tunes at 160 bpm Use enclosures/displaced enclosures to start phrases, end phrases, or even act as guideposts within a phrase Use enclosures/displaced enclosures to start phrases, end phrases, or even act as guideposts within a phrase
  Practice improvising solos using the above techniques on swing/Latin tunes at 180 bpm Must be able to start/end a phrase at any moment in the bar (8th notes only)
    Practice improvising solos using the above techniques on swing/Latin tunes above 160 bpm



Chord Melody

Drilling
A
B
C
Drop 2 chords for Beyond Top Note, Drop 2 is the New Black Drop 2 chords for Beyond Top Note, Drop 2 is the New Black Drop 2 chords from Beyond Top Note and Drop 2 is the New Black
Texture techniques (thick texture, thin texture) Texture techniques (thick texture, thin texture) Texture techniques (thick texture, thin texture)
  Parallel harmony to melody Parallel harmony to melody
    Rhythmic comping for melody
    Chord Melody lvl 3 techniques (counterpoint, etc.)
Performance Practice
Using the above techniques, practice creating short chord melody passages for melodic fragments for each of the tunes you know Using the above techniques, practice creating chord melody passages for the A or B section of each tune you know. Use the above techniques along with the three-step process in Chord Melody Crash Course in order to create full chord melodies for each of the songs you know



Pure Technique

A
B
C
C major bebop modes, diagonal fingerings, 2 octaves: 8th notes, 180 bpm C major bebop modes, diagonal fingerings, 2 octaves: 8th notes, 180 bpm C major bebop modes, diagonal fingerings, 2 octaves: 8th notes, 180 bpm
C melodic minor bebop modes, diagonal fingerings, 2 octaves: 8th notes, 180 bpm G major bebop modes, diagonal fingerings, 3 octaves: 8th notes, 180 bpm G major bebop modes, diagonal fingerings, 2 octaves: 8th notes, 180 bpm
"Modern" chord voicings and inversions (from Drop 2 is the New Black)   C melodic minor bebop modes, diagonal fingerings, 2 octaves: 8th notes, 180 bpm
  "Modern" chord voicings and inversions (from Drop 2 is the New Black) Advanced arpeggiation techniques from "All The Arpeggios You Are": 8th notes, 160 bpm
    7 Positions for scales linked: https://youtu.be/obEWzeBx6fI
   
Intervals: playing diatonic 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th in "no particular position": https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lf6SzFKRtpI
    "Modern" chord voicings and inversions (from Drop 2 is the New Black)

Advanced / Exit exam

In order to graduate from Advanced level, you must be able to effectively complete the following:

The Four-Chorus Exercise with special focus on the following techniques:


- able to target chord tones with enclosures, purely chromatic approaches, and Forward Motion approaches (in soloing)
- Chord Melody for melody section, using Chord Melody: Beyond Top Note techniques (we're seeking variety)
- Comping with Drop 2 and Drop 3 Chords (including some of their inversions and "spins")

You must be able to complete the above for the following EIGHT (8) songs:

TWO from this list:
  • "All The Things You Are", Ab, 150 bpm
  • "Autumn Leaves", Gm, 180 bpm
  • "Out of Nowhere", G, 160 bpm
  • "Summertime", Dm, 160 bpm
  • "Beautiful Love", Dm, 150 bpm
  • "The Days of Wine and Roses", F, 170 bpm
TWO from this list:
  • "Corcovado", C, 140 bpm
  • "Girl From Ipanema", F, 120 bpm
  • "Blue Bossa", Cm, 160 bpm
  • "How Insensitive", Dm, 150 bpm
  • "Black Orpheus", Am, 130 bpm
TWO from this list:
  • "Misty", Eb, 100 bpm
  • "Body and Soul", Db, 90 bpm
  • "Stella by Starlight", Bb, 120 bpm
  • "Blue in Green", first chord is Gm7, 80 bpm

- ANY Blues in Bb (no chord melody), 210 bpm
- ANY Blues in F (no chord melody), 210 bpm
- ANY Rhythm Changes in Bb (no chord melody), 170 bpm

Be able to demonstrate the following techniques with no hestitation:

  • Advanced arpeggiation techniques from "All The Arpeggios You Are": all 5 chord types at 8th notes, 160 bpm
  • "Modern" chord voicings (from Drop 2 is the New Black) for ii-V-I in any key, all inversions, 180 bpm
  • G bebop melodic minor scale, diagonal 3-octave fingering, 8th notes, 200 bpm