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Make Sure You Learn These 3 Things First – Jazz Guitar

Learning Jazz guitar is overwhelming and chaotic when you are starting out. There are 1000s of things to learn, and the most difficult part is not practicing and playing, it is figuring out what to work.

I have taught Jazz for almost 20 years, and there are 3 basic things you need to focus on in the beginning to ensure you stay motivated and don’t overcomplicate Jazz.

I’ll begin with some soloing stuff, then some chords, and finally the third skill that most students and teachers should pay more attention to because it is both important and practical, plus you hear it in almost any Jazz solo.

#1 Avoid The Scale Madness

Jazz has the reputation of being a style of music that requires 100s of scales. That is not true, and teachers who make you start there are not helping you learn to play. You want to keep it simple and work towards connecting to the music, not just scale practice, and this is something that you have a method for.

I am pretty sure you know which scale to start with, but It may still disappoint some that the pentatonic scale isn’t enough. The sound that you think of when you think of a Jazz lick is not what you get from the pentatonic scale. That sounds like this:

Compared to a Bebop-inspired line, there are just some things that are not there in the pentatonic scale:

So, how do you start working towards that sound?

You want to start with the Major Scale. In the end, you can play most Jazz music using just 3 scales, but the Major scale is the most important one. There are many songs that you can work on just by knowing that, but you need to make sure to learn the right exercises connected to the major scale.

Since I mentioned that you only need 3 scales, Let me explain that: I am talking about Major, Harmonic, and Melodic minor. I have another video about that,

but if you are not yet playing jazz songs, then that is not what you should focus on. It’s a lot of theory. This video will be much more practical and useful right now.

Major Scale

Harmonic Minor

Melodic Minor

Learn The Right Things The Fast Way

Now you are probably wondering how to practice the major scale. I’ll show you quickly how to build this up but you will need to do the work yourself, to get it into your fingers and into you ears.

The basic chord type in Jazz is a 7th chord, and you want to connect the major scale to the 7th chord,

and you do that by learning the 7th chord arpeggios in the scale, which is also called the diatonic 7th chords.


This is also why I often refer to that exercise as the most important scale exercise in Jazz. The main reason for not playing arpeggios as separate positions is that you don’t need that when you are soloing.

Most Jazz licks only use 1-octave arpeggios, and you don’t play the arpeggio by itself. It is usually placed in line with other notes from the scale, so you might as well practice it like that.

Luckily, you can ease into it with a step-wise set of exercises. The first step is easy:

#1 Play the scale:

Instead of going directly to the 7th chord arpeggios then you can start with the interval that the arpeggios are constructed from:

#2 The Diatonic 3rds

Like the next exercise, these are useful for you to become more flexible with the scale, and you need these intervals in your solos anyway. If you stack two diatonic 3rd intervals, you get a triad, another structure you want in your ears and fingers since it is incredibly useful for soloing. Now, it also makes sense to name the triads in the exercise, which I did, as you can see in this example:

#3 Diatonic Triads

Like this, you are gradually building your technique and getting this into your ears to make it easy to play the next exercise,

which you get when you add another 3rd interval to the triads: The Diatonic 7th chord arpeggios.

#4 Diatonic 7th Chords

This exercise helps you with several important things:

You have arpeggios for all the chords in the song so that you can play solos that really nail the changes, but what is just as powerful is that you can also learn to use several different arpeggios over a chord and, in that way, have many options for great lines over every chord, check out how much you can do with that in this short example:

Once you can play the diatonic arpeggios as an exercise, go through a song and play the arpeggio of each chord.

You also want to develop vocabulary by making licks with arpeggios and, of course, checking out how other people are using these arpeggios, something I’ll return to later.

But of course, it is not all soloing. If you want to solo over chords, you also need to be able to play the chords so that you know how they sound!

#2 The Jazz Harmony Foundation

Jazz beginners waste a lot of time learning different voicings and lots of inversions without being able to play songs or do anything with all that material. Sadly, this is a very common problem. You should start with jazz chords, which is similar to how you start with scales and arpeggios. The songs you play are in a key, and most of the chords in the song are just the diatonic chords of the scale. That is where you want to begin.

Instead of starting with complicated chords with lots of extensions then, it is 1000x better to start with a foundation that you can later add more color to and focus on chords you can easily use to play songs and hear the harmony.

The chords you want to start with are the Shell-voicings. Easy, Complete, and flexible 3-note voicings for 7th chords. Usually, a 7th 4 has four notes, but in this case, the shell voicings leave out the 5th of the chord.

Shell-voicings have two variations.

One with the root on the 6th string, then 7th and 3rd, and one with the root on the 5th string, where you have 3rd and then 7th. The chord tones are on the middle string set, and the roots are on the lower string set, which is very useful, as you will see in a few seconds.

With the shell-voicings you also want to learn these in the scale. That way, you learn a group of chords that also work together in songs, which helps you play music. For C major, you have these diatonic chords:

And you want to check these out with the root on the 6th string as well, here I start on the 4th note of the scale, so with an Fmaj7, but I am still playing the diatonic chords of C major:

With these two sets of chords then, things get easier to play because they fit together so a II V I in C major could be played as:

and also like this:

And you, of course, also want to use these to play through chord progressions to get the song’s sound into your ears. To give you an idea about how to do that, here’s a bit of the Ellington/Strayhorn classic Satin Doll:

I have another video that goes over that process, which you can check out:

Later you can start to expand on the chords by adding notes, melody and turning them into rootless voicings. I have another video that goes over that process, which you can check out, I’ll link to it in the description. But first, I think, you want to check out this skill which is often left out but is essential to develop, because it is at the very core of the Jazz sound.

#3 The Jazz Flow

If you start learning Jazz, you will quickly hear someone tell you that Bach sounds like Bebop, and there is a reason.

When you listen to a Jazz solo like the Charlie Parker solo I showed earlier, you can see how the lines move towards strong chord tones on the downbeat,

giving the solo direction and a lot of forward-moving energy because the melody is always pushing ahead. This is probably one of the things you like about Jazz if you think about it.

This type of flow is also found in Bach’s fairly dense melodies, which is why those two are connected so often.

But if you are starting out and learning how to play the right notes over each chord, then you are probably not thinking about how the solo flows and are more focused on finding and playing the right notes on each chord. That means that a solo on a Blues In F sounds something like this:

I am making it worse than it actually is, but I am sure you get the idea. What is missing is that you start using the notes of the chord you are on to get to the next chord, similar to what Charlie Parker (or anybody else you check out) does. I’ll give you a great resource for this in a bit. It should sound more like this:

I will show you a simple method to incorporate this into your solos, but you should also listen to a lot of solos and maybe consider playing some good Jazz etudes like the exercises in the Joe Pass Guitar Style book. That is a great way to hear this in action. The description includes a link to the book and the video I made about it.

Let’s check out how to practice towards a real Jazz flow!

Fixing Your Jazz Blues Flow

This is not magic, and it is very much something you can learn. You need to take the notes on one chord and make a melody with them that points to a note in the next chord,

often referred to as the target note.

This makes your solo sound great because it has a natural flow where the melodies lock in with the chords. It make sense, it is not random notes over chords, because they are going somewhere. Your solo also puts the chord tones on the strong beats in the rhythm so that the harmony is very clear, and you can hear chords change and what chords are in there even without any backing.

  1. Natural Flow
  2. Logical Melodies
  3. Clear Harmony

A simple example to get started would be something like this: If you are practicing to improvise over the F blues, then a basic version of this is to take the arpeggios of F7 and Bb7:

The easiest note to make the chord sound clear is the 3rd, so you want to start by using the 3rd of Bb7, D, as a target note.

Now try to make a melody with the F7 arpeggio that ends on the D, like this:


When you play like this, there is a connection between the two chords. It doesn’t sound like different notes on different chords; it sounds like a melody, and you can clearly hear the chord change.

Of course, you want to explore different ways to play lines like this, even with a simple set of notes like the 4 chord tones of each chord:

But of course, it is difficult to make interesting solos if you are limited to only using 1-octave arpeggios. For this to work, you must add other things to make your solo sound more interesting. You can work on using the same building blocks and melodic techniques that Charlie Parker or Joe Pass use in their playing. Jazz is a rich language and you can get very creative with the melodies in your solos, that is a next logical step after starting to work on these 3 skills, and I talk about that in this video which will give you a great foundation for developing your lines and make your solos sound like Jazz! Check it out!

Learn Jazz Make Music!

Your First 5 Jazz Licks (Beginner’s Guide To Arpeggios)

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3 Important Skills You Need To Work On Every Day

It is complicated to figure out what to practice, there are so many options and you have to watch out that you don’t just waste your time by moving from topic to topic without getting anywhere. But if you split your practice into these 3 essential skills, it is easier to get the balance right and make sure that you are getting something out of your practice.

This is especially important if you are teaching yourself and trying to find the right material online, because going down the wrong path and spending years on scales or chord inversions without putting them to use is a death sentence to your progress.

#1 Technique

With all 3 core skills, I’ll show you different ways to practice and develop them. This is important because you want to make your practice something you enjoy, if it is fun it helps you stay motivated. It is as important to keep going as it is to work on the right things. The 1st rule is that you need to develop and maintain your technique.

The Classic Practice Session

This one you know: Practice scales and exercises, of course, you do this with a metronome. This is not the only thing you want to practice, but it is a valid and efficient way to work on technique. For me, it is always important to make sure you keep this open-ended in some way. What I mean with that is that you want to change things up so that you keep playing new things not just stuff that you can play without thinking about it, and make sure that you don’t play exercises that you can’t turn into music.

Working like this, it is easy to focus on specific things you want to improve in your playing. It is also easy to measure progress with speed and accuracy, and you can design your own exercises, but it can get boring and you can “just run” the exercise in an unfocused brainless way. Another thing that can be a challenge is to get lost in permutations and being unable to insert what you are practicing into music.

This might seem like I am telling you that you should not practice like this, and I am not saying that at all. I practice exercises and it works very well for a lot of people, but you do need to evaluate if it is working for you, and it can be a good idea to change things up with one of the other approaches in this video, like this next one.

The Classical Practice Session

If you learn to play an instrument following the classical tradition you will often be exposed to a vast repertoire of music written to help you develop technical skills. I am talking about Etudes, when I had classical guitar lessons back in the 14th century, then I played lots of Carcassi, Vila Lobos, and Tarrega etudes.

In Jazz, there is almost a tradition for doing the same kind of thing in two ways. You have Bach and Kreutzer etudes, which can be a lot of fun. Of course, you can also treat a Bebop theme like Donna Lee as an Etude or write your own.

And the most common one is learning solos by ear and playing them along with the recording, something I enjoy doing quite a lot. This is probably the strongest etude tradition in Jazz, and learning solos you are also working on ear-training, another core skill that will come up again.

One thing that makes etudes great is that it is music, at least if it is good enough, and you are combining a lot of different things when learning it, so it is not focused on a single thing. Of course, that can also be a problem because it becomes harder to isolate something and get it into your own solos. On the other hand, if you make it a habit to make your own etudes then you are working on writing music and developing other skills. It is also a great opportunity to borrow from other styles and get inspired, like Bach, Kreutzer or I’ve talked about Steve Morse and John Petrucci exercises. Etudes only have a few examples, so as opposed to drowning in scale exercises you can end up with not getting enough, or the right, variations out of an etude.

But there is another strategy as well that involves vocabulary and repertoire. Let’s look at that.

Vocabulary On A Song

A different approach is to take the exercises or the topic that you want to work on and then apply it to a song. There are several ways to do this. If you are familiar with Barry Harris then you have probably seen how he practices scales around a song and also turns other things into exercises on top of songs, eventually turning it into an etude.

This can be a very useful way to develop your technique while also linking it to music, but probably works the best if you are also practicing scales and arpeggios at the same time.

My friend Pritesh Walia also works with vocabulary on songs as his main approach to practicing. What he does is to take a line and then explore how he can first move it through the progression to make it fit the song, and then gradually transition into soloing using that vocabulary through the song.

What is great about working like this is that you are really connecting your practice to the songs you want to play, but it can be difficult do this without also practicing exercises, and you also do need some theory and analysis skills to work through both Pritesh and Barry’s strategies.

#2 Ear-Training

The 2nd rule for your practice routine is that you always want to develop your ears. We need to constantly improve the connection between what we hear inside with what comes out on the instrument. That is one of the main parts of improvising solos.

I have other videos where I talk about some of the illusions that this leads to with people hoping to ignore learning songs, technique and a lot of other things because they believe that they hear melodies inside that are as brilliant as Charlie Parker. That is not how it works, it is all connected and you need to develop your ears alongside your other skills, and those skills will help you develop your ears and develop what you hear. People with perfect pitch can’t magically play amazing solos or perform music without being able to play the instrument or know the style.

There’s an APP now!

For me, sight singing was probably the strongest way to help me develop my ears in the beginning since it is a good way to hear something internally and then turn that into sound.


That is still useful to work on and you can rely on your sense of tonality to help you train it. The other way I’d suggest working on ear training would be apps that train your ability to hear notes and chords in a tonal context, because most Jazz music is tonal. Functional ear-trainer is a great free app to work with.

But I would not only work on ear-training like this, and the next bit might contain a few hot takes.

Not just exercises

Ear-training should not be like theory, it should be connected to the music you want to play. Just like it can be a problem to connect technical exercises to your actual playing then the ear-training should also connect to how you play.

There are 3 ways you should be using your ears when you practice:

  1. Repertoire, Learning Songs by ear. We need to get used to how chords and melody is actually being played in Jazz, and those habits are a huge part of the ear-training and something no app will teach you.
  2. Solos, learning solos by ear: because that is how you will learn to hear melodies and lines but also how you will learn to hear how they are phrased and how they sit in the groove, again something that isn’t in any apps.
  3. Hearing the harmony and the groove inside with no reference. Practicing with a metronome and no reference teaches you to hear the harmony inside, it teaches you to feel the form, and much more deeply connect with the music compared to putting on iReal and leaning on that.

Let me know what you think and how you practice!

Evaluate Your Practice

There is a massive mistake that most of us are making with practice, and it is fairly easy to fix, but I am also curious if you are planning to change something in your practice because of this video, so leave a comment on that! And of course, also if you think I missed something in this video!

It is important that you evaluate your progress and your playing, and one thing you absolutely have to do for that is to record yourself playing. You can’t tell how it sounds while you are playing, you need to only be listening. I use my phone for this and just make a video because that is super easy., it takes a bit of getting used to but it will boost your progress to get into that habit! That is also what I encourage students to do in my course “The Jazz Guitar Roadmap”,

and if they post videos in the community they also get the benefit of getting feedback from me. My ears are more experienced and I can help them figure out what to improve and I notice things they don’t.

If you want to learn how to play Jazz there is one thing that should be at the center of your practice, and it is shocking how often it isn’t

#3 Making Music

Would you expect to become good at tennis if you are only doing warm-ups, or become an amazing chef by only reading cookbooks. I don’t think you would.

That is why you should NEVER have a practice routine that is only exercises and theoretical activities. If you want to play Jazz then you should practice playing Jazz. I remember hearing a Scofield interview where he talked about how he practices and his wife would remark that he wasn’t really practicing he was just sitting there playing songs with a metronome.

But obviously, that is what works.

Why is this so important? The two other core skills are isolated, they are focused on specific parts of your playing but not about your playing as a whole. Being able to play Jazz means that you have to get all the skills to work together, your timing, technique, phrasing, creativity, and ears should all work together when you solo, but the only way to learn to do that is to play songs, play real music and put them to use. The looping II V I’s or single chords don’t teach you to tell a story in a solo or deal with a form. That is why you need real songs!

But what should you practice? A lot of this is just about playing the song, so put on a metronome, play the melody, and start soloing. And don’ forget, the same is true for comping so you also want to work on playing through songs comping and spending time practicing comping. As Peter Bernstein says:

That is how you develop some real strategies and get to the next level with what you can do with chords.

The Strategy

When you are learning songs then start with the melody, then learn the chords and when you  have that down then start soloing. That way you are building a foundation to lean on when you start improvising. If you have never gone through a song before and really learned it then the Roadmap is my take on how to help you through that process while teaching you how to make lines that really sound like Jazz. I have worked with more than 4000 students by now and it is a lot of fun to see people grow as they move through it.

But, of course, you also want to develop your comping and learn how to take the chord symbols and turn them into music that is where it gets really fun and starts to open up so that you are creating music not just trying to keep up with a list of chords. I talk about how to level up your skills with chords and comping in this video. It covers 3 exercises that you want to explore and that can develop your skills both with rhythm and chords! Check it out!

Learn Jazz Make Music

3 Basic Jazz Chord Exercises That Will Change Your Playing in 2024


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12 Things NOT to Do When Starting Jazz Guitar (By a Jazz Guitarist)

As a Jazz guitarist and teacher then let me help you avoid a few things that a LOT of Jazz beginners get wrong and waste a lot of time on! You might be making one of them right now, and there are certainly a few mistakes I have made myself as well, but I’ll tell you about it along the way.

#1 Music Theory Is Not Music

I know that Jazz is complicated, and it can be fun to learn music theory and read about all the different options and things to study that you have available in books or online lessons, but that is a very superficial way to learn things. With theory, you should aim to learn the other way around.

What does that mean? That means you are better off learning songs and solos and then using those to recognize theory in the music you already know.

That is 100x stronger and a lot more efficient, if you have a song with a Lydian dominant or a IVm chord then you immediately know what that sounds like,

but if you just read about it then it is just some abstract concept.

Another problem similar to this that I ran into was that I had lessons in theory which covered way too much without any real connection with music, and when it was connected to music I was told that everyone in Jazz played rhythm changes wrong.

Just start with the music and then learn theory later…

#2 Don’t Start By Buying A New Guitar

Here’s an easy one, which I luckily don’t see that often, but if you think you might want to play Jazz and then don’t start with getting a “jazz guitar” Most of the time people can’t tell which type of guitar it is and you can easily start with another type of guitar.  I did the first 4 years of playing Jazz and getting into the conservatory on my SRV strat, even if I did put flat-wound 13s on it 😁

And I didn’t get my first “real” Jazz guitar until I was 1 year into the education.

#3 Don’t Pretend You Like Jazz

Don’t pretend to like Jazz just because you think it makes you look sophisticated and high-level. There is probably a good and a bad way to go about this. if you play another genre and you want to explore Jazz to get some new influences that is of course fine, but watch out that you don’t sign up for checking out a year of jazz classes with music that you can’t stand listening to ”

and if you don’t like Jazz, there are many other genres you can listen to and get inspired by. In general, you will get more inspired by stuff that you like.

Next one is way to common…

#4 Not Straight To iReal (please….)

This is what not to do: Decide to learn a song, but you don’t learn the melody or learn to play the chords. Instead, you go straight to iReal and try to solo over the chord changes.

This is a very typical beginner mistake, and it is the best way to not learn songs and get very frustrated by your own mistakes and lose the form all the time because you don’t hear the melody in the back of your mind.

And I am certainly speaking from experience here. The first Jazz Standard I tried to learn was Green Dolphin Street, and for a few weeks, I was getting nowhere, using an Aebersold backing track. In hindsight, it is obvious that since I never listened to a recording of it, didn’t know the melody or understood the chords then that was bound to fail, which I also did gloriously!

I have a video where I tell that story that I’ll link to in the description.

#5 Don’t Start With Chord Melody

You probably don’t want to start with chord melody, in fact, maybe you don’t want to start with chords at all, because if you zoom out a bit then melody is more important than harmony. But in any case, it is probably not useful to start with Jazz trying to play an arrangement of a song that is way too complicated for you to hear, understand, or play. Especially if you can’t make your way through a medium-swing Blues in Bb. Playing a solo chord melody requires you to use the skills with feel and timing that you get from playing that Bb Blues and technically chord melody arrangements are often very difficult, and you don’t improve your phrasing and feel by trying to remember chords and straining your fingers.

You learn that somewhere else, and rhythm and feel are important things in Jazz. Joe Pass didn’t start by learning something as difficult as one of his own chord melody versions off virtuoso.

#6 Don’t Forget The Blues

Since I mentioned Blues, Don’t forget about the Blues, Jazz can become too academic and technical, it is not all about scales and extensions and there are things that sound amazing and don’t fit a 100% in the boxes and categories that we think of as Harmony and Music theory. Blues is probably the most important of those. You can play Blues with conviction on pretty much anything and because it is Blues then it sounds fine even though it clashes with all the chords. Using Blues and checking out Blues will help you have more sounds in your playing so that you are not always sounding like a machine interpreting the harmony,

so it will help you have more variation in your playing.

I have certainly had periods of only focusing on spelling out the harmony, and usually checking out solos and listening to great jazz artists is what has pulled me out of that. They always have that connection in there, that should tell you something.

#7 Books With Chords

Another mistake that especially beginners make is with chord books. I get that it is fun to play chords, but you can’t really do anything with them if you are just looking at a book with some diagrams without also trying to put them to use in songs. Learning empty information without also learning how to put it to use in music is very inefficient, and this may be a hot take, but I have to admit that I think that even some of the Ted Greene books fall into this category,

so if you want to study that then make sure to also know some standards by heart so that you can put it to use.

#8 Spectator Learning?

I was hinting at this in the beginning, learning Jazz but only spending time looking at YouTube videos and online lessons, without putting it to use. This is not going to get you anywhere, not even if they are my videos,

You will need to also sit down and practice some music. If you want some help with that and a longer learning path, then enroll in my course and join the community to get some feedback and the chance to learn together with others.

You can request an invitation here: http://bit.ly/JazzGtRm

#9 Not Having A Metronome?

When I was just getting started playing Jazz then I was playing something in a lesson, I don’t remember what it was, it was probably playing a song with my teacher. He stopped me and asked me if I owned a metronome, and if I did, then why I didn’t use it.

You also don’t have perfect time, so use a Metronome, and don’t use backing tracks all the time. Make sure that YOU feel the time, that YOU can groove, and that YOU can hear the harmony, don’t lean on a recording or an app too much. That is why everyone is ALWAYS telling you to use a metronome!

Some of the grooviest people I know, like Charlie Hunter,

are always practicing with a metronome! That really should tell you something.

#10 Start With Simple Chords

Many of us get interested in Jazz because we come across beautiful chords with lots of extensions and colors, but don’t only focus on learning difficult chords with lots of extensions. They are much more difficult to use, I guess that is also why Barry Harris is often talking about not liking big chords. Instead, focus on simple chords that you can play songs and turn into music. We’re talking Shell-voicings, Drop2, Drop3. Don’t think so much about Allan Holdsworth, and more Freddie Green.

There’s nothing wrong with Holdsworth, he is a favorite of mine but not the place you start if you want to have voicings for “All of Me” for your new Jazz combo.

#11 First Scales & Arpeggios

Maybe this is the equivalent of the chord books? At least it is very similar: First insisting on learning scales, arpeggios and other technical things before you learn any music is not going to be useful. You also want to get started with the music, and you don’t need to know everything in all positions and all keys before you start learning songs. Probably nobody did!

#12 Jazz Is A Language

Don’t Forget That Jazz is a Language and you need to learn to speak it so play with the right type of vocabulary and the right phrasing. One of the easiest ways to learn that is to learn solos by ear and play along with them to get that into your system. But i can be difficult to learn solos by ear, and you want to take something that is not too difficult so that you don’t give up in the middle and just get frustrated. If you want some suggestions for very easy solos but also great solos to start with, then check out this video, where I go over some easy solos by Amazing Jazz guitarists, probably stuff you anyway want to learn! Check it out!

5 Easy Solos to Learn By Ear and Boost Your Jazz Guitar Skills

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