Beginner's Guide: 7 Tips for Learning Jazz Guitar
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 8 min read


  1. Listen to jazz music regularly
  2. Learn jazz chords
  3. Practice jazz scales
  4. Study jazz standards
  5. Learn jazz solos by ear
  6. Practice improvisation
  7. Participate in jazz jams

If you're just dipping your toes into the vibrant world of jazz guitar, you might be asking: "How to play guitar for jazz?" It's a good question, and luckily, we have some great tips to guide you on your journey. This beginner's guide will provide you with seven practical steps to help you navigate the waters of jazz guitar.

Listen to Jazz Music Regularly

Listening to jazz music is like a backstage pass to the world of jazz guitar. It allows you to soak in the sounds, rhythms, and nuances that make jazz unique. But it's not just about having jazz tunes as your background music; it's about actively listening and understanding the music.

When you start to listen to jazz regularly, you'll begin to notice patterns and styles that are unique to the genre. For instance, the smooth transition from one note to another, the quicksilver changes in tempo, or the spontaneous bursts of melody — these are all hallmarks of jazz that you'll start to appreciate.

So, how can you get the most from your listening sessions? Here are a few tips:

  • Choose a variety of artists: Jazz is a broad genre with many sub-genres. Try listening to artists from different eras and styles. You might enjoy the smooth tones of Wes Montgomery, the complex rhythms of Pat Metheny, or the soulful groove of George Benson.
  • Active Listening: Don't just let the music wash over you. Pay attention to the structure of the songs, the chord progressions, and how the guitar solos weave into the music. This will help you understand how jazz guitarists think and play.
  • Regularly Change Your Playlist: Don't get stuck with the same set of tunes. Continuously explore new artists and songs. This will not only keep your listening experience fresh but also expose you to a wide range of jazz guitar techniques.

Remember, listening to jazz is an important step in understanding how to play guitar for jazz. So grab your headphones, hit play, and let the music guide you.

Learn Jazz Chords

Once your ear is tuned into the sounds of jazz, it's time to get your hands on the guitar. And where better to start than with jazz chords? Jazz chords form the backbone of the genre, giving it its distinctive, colorful sound. They might seem a bit tricky at first, but with some practice, you'll soon get the hang of them.

Jazz uses a wide variety of chord types, including major 7ths, minor 7ths, dominant 7ths, and many more. What's more, jazz guitarists often embellish these basic chord types with extra notes, giving them an even richer sound. This might sound like a lot to take in, but don't worry — it's easier than you think.

Here are a few steps to help you get started:

  1. Start with Basic Chord Shapes: Before you dive into complex jazz chords, make sure you're comfortable with basic major and minor chords. These form the foundation for more advanced jazz chords.
  2. Learn the 7th Chords: Once you're comfortable with basic chords, move on to 7th chords. These are a key element of the jazz sound, and you'll find them in almost every jazz tune.
  3. Explore More Advanced Chord Types: After you've mastered 7th chords, you can start exploring more advanced chord types, such as 9ths, 11ths, and 13ths. These chords add extra color and depth to your playing.
  4. Practice Chord Progressions: Finally, practice playing different jazz chord progressions. This will help you understand how chords fit together in a song and develop your sense of rhythm and timing.

Remember, learning jazz chords is not just about memorizing shapes and patterns. It's about understanding how these chords create the unique sound of jazz. So take your time, practice regularly, and enjoy the journey of learning how to play guitar for jazz.

Practice Jazz Scales

After you've got a handle on jazz chords, scales become your next best friends. These are sets of notes that work well together, and they make up the melodies that weave around the chords. If chords are the skeleton of a jazz song, think of scales as the flesh — the bits that give the music its style and personality.

Getting a grip on jazz scales can seem like a tall order, especially if you're new to the world of jazz. But don't fret — it's just a matter of time and practice. And the good news is, you already have a head start if you're familiar with major and minor scales from other styles of music.

Here are some helpful steps to start practicing jazz scales:

  1. Master Major and Minor Scales: These are the building blocks of all music, including jazz. Once you're comfortable with these, you can start exploring more complex scales.
  2. Learn the Blues Scale: The blues scale is a staple in jazz music. It gives that distinctive, soulful sound that is so characteristic of jazz.
  3. Understand Modes: Modes are variations of the major scale that give different flavors to your melodies. Dorian, Mixolydian, and Lydian modes are particularly important in jazz.
  4. Practice Arpeggios: Arpeggios are scales played one note at a time. They're great for understanding how scales and chords are related, and they can add a lot of interest to your solos.

Practicing scales might not sound as exciting as playing your favorite jazz tunes, but it's a crucial part of learning how to play guitar for jazz. So grab your guitar, start practicing, and before you know it, you'll be inventing your own jazzy melodies!

Study Jazz Standards

Now that you have a basic understanding of jazz chords and scales, let's move on to studying jazz standards. What are jazz standards, you ask? In simple terms, they are songs that have become widely recognized and accepted by the larger jazz community. They're the songs everyone knows — the ones you're likely to be asked to play if you sit in on a jazz jam.

Studying jazz standards is like getting a tour through jazz history. Each one offers a snapshot of the different styles and techniques that have shaped jazz over the years. Plus, they're just plain fun to play!

Here's how to approach studying jazz standards:

  1. Start Simple: Begin with easy standards like "Autumn Leaves" or "The Girl from Ipanema". These songs have straightforward chord progressions and melodies, making them perfect for beginners.
  2. Listen and Learn: Listen to different versions of the standard you're learning. Notice how each musician puts their own spin on it. This will help you understand the flexibility and creativity that's at the heart of jazz.
  3. Learn the Melody and Chords: Make sure you're comfortable playing the melody and chords of a standard before you try to improvise over it. This will give you a solid foundation to build on.
  4. Try Transposing: Once you're comfortable with a standard, try playing it in different keys. This is a great exercise for increasing your familiarity with your instrument and improving your flexibility as a musician.

Studying jazz standards is a great way to deepen your understanding of how to play guitar for jazz. Not only will you learn a bunch of great songs, but you'll also gain insight into the structure and style of jazz music. So, ready to dive into the world of jazz standards? Let's hit it!

Learn Jazz Solos By Ear

Let's continue our journey on how to play guitar for jazz. One of the most authentic and rich methods to learn jazz guitar is to pick up solos by ear. Yes, it sounds challenging, but it's definitely worth it. Learning solos by ear helps you understand the language of jazz in a way that no book or video tutorial can replicate. Plus, it trains your ear, which is an invaluable skill for any musician.

Here are some tips on how to effectively learn jazz solos by ear:

  1. Choose the Right Solo: Start with a jazz solo that isn't too complex. Solos by legends like Miles Davis and Chet Baker are often a good place to start. Their solos are melodic, memorable, and not too technically demanding.
  2. Listen Attentively: Listen to the solo over and over again. Try to hear the melody, rhythm, and phrasing in your head. Sounds like a lot of work? It is, but remember, all good things take time.
  3. Slow it Down: Use a tool like a metronome or music slow down app to slow the solo down. This can help you pick out individual notes and phrases more easily.
  4. Play it Back: Once you've got a good handle on the solo, try playing it back on your guitar. It doesn't need to be perfect, just aim for the right notes and rhythm.

Remember, the goal isn't to play the solo note-for-note. The goal is to absorb the style and phrasing of the jazz greats, and to develop your own ability to create music on the fly. So, are you ready to train your ears and add some great solos to your repertoire? Let's do it!

Practice Improvisation

Moving on, let's talk about improvisation. It may seem intimidating, but it's actually one of the most rewarding aspects of learning how to play guitar for jazz. In jazz, improvisation isn't just about playing random notes. It’s about creating melodies on the spot that fit within the song’s harmonic structure. Sounds like a tall order, right? But don't worry, with practice, you'll get there.

Here's how you can start practicing improvisation:

  1. Understand the Song Structure: Before you start improvising, make sure you understand the song's structure and chord progression. This will help guide your improvisation and ensure you're playing notes that complement the song.
  2. Learn and Use Jazz Scales: Jazz scales are a valuable tool for improvisation. They provide a set of notes that sound good over each chord. Start by learning the major and minor pentatonic scales, and then move on to more complex jazz scales.
  3. Start Small: Don't try to improvise a whole song right off the bat. Start by improvising over a single chord or a small section of the song.
  4. Record and Listen to Yourself: Recording yourself while improvising lets you listen back and identify what's working and what needs improvement. This can be a powerful tool for growth.

Improvisation is a journey, not a destination. It's about exploring possibilities, expressing your creativity, and having fun. So, why not pick up your guitar and start improvising today?

Participate in Jazz Jams

Finally, one of the most fun ways to learn how to play guitar for jazz is to participate in jazz jams. Jam sessions are a fantastic way to apply everything you've learned in a real-world setting. You might feel a bit nervous at first, but trust me, the experience is worth it. It’s a chance to play with other musicians, learn from them, and improve your jazz guitar skills.

Here's a step-by-step guide to get you ready for your first jazz jam:

  1. Find a Local Jazz Jam: Look for local jazz jams in your area. These could be at music schools, bars, or community centers. If you can't find any, consider starting your own with friends or fellow musicians.
  2. Prepare a Few Jazz Standards: Make sure you know a few jazz standards before you go. These are the songs that most jazz musicians know and play at jams. Some popular ones include "Autumn Leaves", "All of Me", and "Blue Bossa".
  3. Listen and Learn: When you’re at the jam, take the time to listen to the other musicians. Pay attention to their techniques, how they interact with each other, and how they improvise. You can learn a lot just by listening.
  4. Jump In: When you feel ready, jump in and start playing. Remember, it's not about being perfect. It's about learning and having fun.

Remember, everyone at the jam was once in your shoes. They all understand what it's like to be a beginner. So, don't be too hard on yourself. Just enjoy the experience and the opportunity to play jazz music with others.

If you're just starting your journey into the world of jazz guitar and looking for ways to improve your skills, check out the workshop 'How to Get Better at What You Do - Go from Good to Great!' by Debbie Knox-Hewson. This workshop will provide you with valuable insights and techniques that can help you take your jazz guitar playing from good to great!