Using open strings in jazz?

Question by Bill Sargeant
(San Francisco, CA)

Hi Mark,

Is there any convention in jazz guitar to avoid open strings in playing melodies, lines, etc.? Sometimes open strings would allow easier fingerings and if it is fast enough, it’s not really that audibly noticeable, still it seems like it might be “wrong”. What do you advise? Thanks.

Hello Bill,

It’s a good question. In fact, I remember watching a Joe Pass instructional video, a while ago, and he suggested that jazz guitarists avoid open strings at all cost…

I don’t know that there’s such a way to decide and limit your choices regarding playing notes/chords on a instrument like the guitar. So, here’s my very best answer :

I would advise any jazz guitarist, old and young, beginner or professional to learn the instrument the best they can.

Obvious, isn’t ?

After mastering all the possibilities (or at least acknowledging the existence of the majority of notes/chords location on the axe), it becomes easier to make choices.

Let me ask you this:

Would you play open strings simply because it’s the only way you can go about this tune or that chord?

… or is it because you’ve investigated and consciously chose to use an open string in that context?

Probably the latter, right? Then, don’t worry. It’s all good! (-:

I believe that exploring and understanding the guitar is the key to using open strings (or any other technical “concept”) in a meaningful, creative and artistic way. Remember, this is different than, say classical guitar technique. We, jazzmen, try to use the material we study “on the fly”, in improvisation. It means we need a deep understanding of the mechanics of the instrument.

I hope this helps, please leave you comments/impressions or more questions here.

Practice Well,

Marc-Andre Seguin


Old Comments for Using open strings in jazz?

Apr 03, 2011
Thanks, Mark
by: Anonymous

Thanks, Mark your tips are very helpful.

Apr 02, 2011
Constructive Criticism
by: Marc-Andre (Admin)

Hello Bill,

I looked over the fingering chart you sent me; I must say, it’s very legit.

For other visitors here’s the link (sorry, big file!):

Donna Lee Fingering (opens a new window)

I use very similar fingerings when I play Donna Lee (except that I favor index stretches instead of pinky stretches, easier on my hands!)

On the “open string” level, I think you are doing just fine. If it works for you and *sounds good* phrasing wise, it’s all good.

And finally, here’s my main issue with the way you approach fingering a bebop head like this : I tend to prefer (and it may be just me) to keep chromaticism on the same string.

For example:

-Last 2 beats of bar 16: E to Eb
(of course, it’s impossible to keep that on the same string if you are using open strings)

-Bar 7: the notes Bb going to A

-10th bar of B section: D-Db-C

Once again, it’s my preference to do that sort of extra “mechanical” work to keep half-step movements on the same string. I found out it help in the long run, especially for hearing and improvisation.

I hope this helps,


Mar 31, 2011
Fingering Chart
by: Marc-A (Admin)

Thanks for the answer/comment.

Yes! Please send me the fingering chart to my private email.

admin *at*

Mar 30, 2011
Donna Lee with open strings
by: Anonymous

Hi Mark,
Thanks for answering my question previously about open strings in jazz. Here is an example of what I had in mind: on the head to “Donna Lee” there are three places where I find it easiest to use open strings. The first instance is in the fourth bar, last note,”d”. The second is in the fifth bar,”a”. The last is bar 16 on “e natural”. I avoided all the other possible places where open strings could have been used. Of course, Joe Pass could have played this with any fingering he wanted. For me, the tempo is challenging and I just want to be able to play it up to speed without developing bad habits that could get in the way further on. Any thoughts? I would glad to email the chart with all my fingerings marked on it if anyone is interested.

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