Jazz is an amazing fusion of multiple genres, developed in New Orleans through African-American communities in the late 19th century. Although initially controversial, jazz found its place within popular culture and the scene is still thriving today – its relevance is seen in movies, games and continues to influence pop music immeasurably. Blending blues, ragtime, classical and other popular genres of the era, jazz drew on these influences and broke the rules of them all to create a highly distinct sound. As a beginner, learning jazz guitar can initially seem daunting. This tutorial will require some basic knowledge of chords, scales and harmony, but is beginner-friendly enough to give you a great introduction to playing jazz on your guitar. If you want to learn how to master jazz on guitar, practicing the following regularly will help you reach your goals faster as you begin to connect the dots.
Practice Your Scales
Although it may seem pretty mundane – the strongest foundation you can create for mastering jazz guitar is practicing your scales. Yep. That means all of them. It’s important to be committed to a regular practice schedule daily. And remember, it’s going to be a lot more beneficial for you to have frequent, short bursts of practice sessions compared to one long, drawn out practice session once a week. Practicing your scales is a little like going for a workout at the gym. It takes some motivation and discipline to integrate it as a habit in your life, but once you do, you will start noticing the benefits rippling into all aspects of your playing. This means not just your basic major and minor scales, but your modes too. Cycling through each Major and Minor scale mode, as well as pentatonic scales, bebop and blues scales; these will be your keys to leveling up and progressing. The most important thing to focus on, at least initially; is accuracy. There’s no point trying to rush through the scale if you’re fumbling through it and making errors every step of the way. Once you can play through the scales at a given speed with total accuracy, increase the tempo. Continue repeating this process until you’re powering through those scales!
The Main Jazz Chords
Practicing your chords regularly will solidify and consolidate your jazz knowledge. The 7th chord is going to be your best friend in nurturing this skill! The sound is full, and rich when compared to the basic triad and is used everywhere in popular jazz compositions.
The most fundamental 7th chords include:
● Major 7th
● Minor 7th
● Dominant 7th
● Minor 7b5
● Diminished 7th
Practicing your chords in the context of an actual progression will be a great way to see the function of the chords in action.
There are some common chord progressions within jazz that you can get started practicing on straight away!
2 – 5 – 1
ii – V – I
This is the most commonly used jazz chord progression – this one is nearly in every jazz standard! Popular tunes utilizing this progression include ‘Autumn Leaves’, ‘Summertime’ and ‘Satin Doll’.
1 – 6 – 2 – 5
I – VI – II – V
Another popular progression, known as the ‘Turnaround’ as it creates a natural, cyclic sounding harmony. Many songs simply cycle around this progression throughout. Tunes featuring this chord progression include ‘Take the A Train’ and ‘My Romance’.
Practice these chord progressions in all 12 keys and you will be well on your way to knowing them inside out. Also, try playing these chords as arpeggios. This will not only be fantastic in training your ears to hear the individual notes comprising the chord, but also increasing your dexterity at the same time! Once you begin to get confident playing through these progressions, that’s when the real fun begins! You can start embellishing them, and experiment with changing the voicing. Which leads to the next fundamental practice.
Jazz was born out of improvisation and is inherently a beautiful balance of controlled spontaneity. Upgrading your skills in improvisation will be one of the most fruitful practices to mastering jazz guitar. Pick a key, a mode or a scale and challenge yourself to improvise along to it. Try it for 10 minutes of your routine practice and you’ll find how quickly you will settle right in! Don’t be discouraged if you’re not shredding like Montgomery the first time around. It’s normal to feel a blockage. You may feel like you don’t have any ideas. All of this is to be expected – you’re training a creative muscle that hasn’t been flexed much before. Allow yourself the space to relax and don’t be hard on yourself – you’ll find your creativity will begin to flourish once you just let go!
Learn From The Greats
Find your favorite jazz songs and learn to play them. But even more importantly; study them. Pick them apart. What kind of movement is happening in the song? What chordal choices did they make in the piece? How did they pivot from one key to another seamlessly? What are some shared attributes of your favorite jazz tunes?
A great way to consolidate your knowledge is to use all your senses. Critically listen. When you’re learning a new piece, try to hear the scale or mode of the piece. Then, feel it out. Try to improvise new chords alongside the melody or even try soloing over progressions of a jazz standard. Studying these elements from the perspective of composition will give you a deeper understanding of what’s going on. Jazz is one the most complex and interesting genres of music and there’s a lot to discover! This will also give you the opportunity to expand your repertoire. Learning to play as many jazz standards as possible is how nearly every great jazz guitarist became great.
Jazz is fundamentally an improvisational style of music, there’s a lot of freedom within the genre; it’s rich with diverse elements and history. Jazz form is essentially exploratory and this inherent freedom is interestingly what has created some of the most talented instrumentalists and composers throughout history. Connecting with your instrument and committing yourself to a routine practice that incorporates the guidelines mentioned above is what will really push you forward to mastering jazz guitar.
Start practicing today, because it really is this simple!