The problem with learning Jazz Guitar is not finding the information, you can find everything explained and almost everything written out on the internet, but where do you start? What is important to learn and what should you practice?
In this video, I will talk about how to keep it practical and what goals to aim for, but also highlight how we now have things available that make it easier, things I didn’t have access to back in 1996 or 7 when I started playing Jazz, and maybe they are not all great..
Let’s see if it really is easier to learn Jazz now than it used to be.
#1 Play Music – The Most Important Goal
Getting started without taking lessons is pretty difficult. When I was first trying to learn a Jazz Standard, then I picked one that I thought sounded cool and tried to solo over it. But at that time, I didn’t have a Jazz teacher, and working it out on my own was a complete disaster.
Even with all the mistakes and skills I didn’t have, I did get one thing right with that. If you want to learn Jazz then you want to learn some music to play, that is the big goal around everything:
playing music, and you want to built the rest in a practical way around that. I’ll get to some basics on how to learn a song in a bit, but first you need to understand why it is important that you focus on learning songs.
Why You Want To Learn Jazz Songs
Anything you practice you want to learn to use when you make music, so you actually need to practice to use it, which is almost always missing in the equation, and that is what the songs are for: They are what you play when you make music.
They become the place where you take everything you work on whether it is a lick, an arpeggio or a chord voicing, and learn how to actually make music with it. Some students think that you just need to practice scales or arpeggios and then they magically become great licks in your solos, and that NEVER ends well…..
How You Learn Songs – It is pretty easy now!
There are a few very useful tools to learn songs that were not around when I learned Jazz. In the long run, you want to focus on learning songs by ear. In the beginning, then the chords are difficult to do by ear, so I would suggest always trying to learn the melody by ear first, and here it is a lot easier that we have things like Spotify, or YouTube and don’t need to buy cds or records of the songs, or even figure out what album a song is on. Everything is pretty easy to find on the internet and you can check out different versions and use those to learn the melody. This is great ear training and will also help you develop important skills that I’ll get to later in the video.
You should have a decent shot at learning the melody, and If you can, then check out the chords as well, but otherwise we have things like iReal, or Google to help with that, and of course the trusted old RealBook, but of course, those have been around for a long time! (as you can tell from the coffee stains and tape holding it together.
The Short list of things to focus on when learning a song for jazz soloing would be to:
Learn the melody
Because it will help you hear the harmony, understanding the form something to tie it all together.
Learn the chords
We mostly improvise over chords and if you know the chords and the arpeggios + the key of the song then you are already pretty far in terms of what you need to solo. Playing the chords in time helps you hear the harmony and the flow of the song, which makes it easier to improvise a solo.
Practice the scales and arpeggios in one (or more) positions so that you can solo over the song without having to skip around the neck at random.
And Don’t try to do the entire neck at once if you are new to it, just keep it simple, that is a super common mistake, and nobody learned anything from only practicing scales, except may to not only practice scales…
#2 Scales and Exercises
With learning songs there are a lot of tools that can help you learn faster, with scales and exercises then that is a bit more down to you to put in the work, and make the right choices
I think it is important to not get lost in working on too many things here, so just start with major scales, maybe don’t do all positions, but instead focus on what you need in the songs you play, and work on some exercises in those scale positions that help you solo better.
So here I am talking about learning basic exercises like diatonic triads and 7th chord arpeggios, triad inversions and add leading notes to arpeggios. The things you need for playing Jazz lines,
remember that there should be a connection of some sort. Then you can add more positions and more scales along the way, but again focus on what you need when you solo and try to practice so you improve that, don’t practice scales that you have never heard being used or that you won’t use for another few years. In fact, this is important for any exercise.
The same goes for chords, be careful with massive systems, inversions and permutations because they will eat up your practice time and instead keep it simple and build a vocabulary of chords that you can actually use when you play. I have other videos that give you a more practical approach for that. Let me know if you want a link.
I think this is mostly about working with a metronome, practicing the exercises and I don’t think there are that many differences between now and when I started out. But one thing is knowing all the technical parts of this, putting it together so that it sounds like a Jazz solo is something else entirely, and again it is a lot easier to come by information than it used to be, maybe even too easy?
#3 Learn The Language
All the scales and arpeggios: someone with a lot of books or practicing with list of scales and chords popping in?
When I started out learning Jazz then I was already listening to a people like Charlie Parker, John Scofield and Pat Martino, but I also tried to find some books in the library that could help me learn, and at the time there was not a lot I could use. The only books I found were on Bebop and the material in there was a lot of boring exercises with lines that did not use songs and did not sound like the stuff I heard when I listened to the music, so I quickly dropped using them, and kept going figuring out bits and pieces by ear, because that was the best I had.
You can know all the scales and arpeggios in the world and still not know how to get anything to sound like a Jazz phrase. Like any style of music, Jazz needs a certain flow and the right notes need to be in the right place. There are a few ways you can study this, and not studying the language and just inventing your own melodies will often mean that you don’t REALLY sound like Jazz when you improvise, at the same time, that is also a question of taste, so feel free to leave angry comments on personal expression and artistic freedom below, maybe Wes is too clinical for you, Metheny is artificial or Joe Pass is boring. It is a sensitive topic.
The David Baker book that I checked out didn’t appeal to me, but in hindsight maybe a big part of why it didn’t do that was that I had to read the music to hear what it sounded like and I didn’t know how to phrase Jazz lines, so the examples were not really Jazz when I played them. So at the time it probably sounded like this,
But now you can find many lessons with both audio and video examples so that you can hear how the vocabulary you are trying to learn actually should sound, both examples from famous solos and stuff that people on the internet come up with. The important thing is to learn to make your own licks using that language and that takes time, but it is essential that you learn to understand how the lines work, that may be one of the most important reasons why Barry Harris and his approach is such an incredible resource, a resource where you no longer need to be in the room with him since his masterclasses are on YouTube and there are channels dedicated to how he teaches.. Another way to learn vocabulary is the next topic which is also one of the best ways to improve almost everything about your playing.
#4 Phrasing and Ear training
This is SO important for learning to actually sound like Jazz and being able to play in style. When it comes to learning Jazz then it is fairly easy to learn the big rough building blocks, so the scales, arpeggios, analyzing chords and playing licks.
But it is much much more difficult to learn all the subtle things in the phrasing like how much distance is there between 8th notes (because that is much more important than you might think). When should you play behind the beat, what notes should have subtle accents, which ones shouldn’t.
And it turns out that for most people those are things that are very difficult to learn by analyzing and explaining them compared to learning solos by ear and getting them into your ear and into your playing without having to analyze it.
Getting started with learning solos by ear can be very difficult, but it is worth the effort, because you will learn A LOT from it. I think this is one thing where it has become so much easier with YouTube, Spotify and having a lot of music available, plus that you can slow down music with the help of programs like Transcribe!
or even work within YouTube using things like the Vidami pedal that really makes it so much easier to check things out by ear.
The only thing missing is some advice on what great beginner solos to check out, and that can really mean the difference between impossible and super easy, barely an inconvienience, which also relates to the next part of learning Jazz.
#5 Learning Path and Information Overload
What should you work on? This is a common issue especially if you are trying to teach yourself jazz guitar using online materials. If you don’t know what is missing in your playing then it is also incredibly difficult to figure out what to work on next and how to learn that. On the internet then there are usually 100 different suggestions, but how do you choose what fits you and helps you the most?
I think the obvious solution here is to find a good teacher who has more experienced ears and a better overview of what you need to learn. I have had a lot of really good teachers, which is probably the easiest way to speed up your learning process. But, of course it is not always possible to find a teacher that fits you or that is available when you are, so if you want my take on getting started learning Jazz in a step-by-step process then check out my Jazz Guitar Roadmap course, where you can also get some feedback on your progress by posting videos in the course community, and that helps catching things that are specific to you and that you maybe can’t hear yourself.
Is it easier to learn Jazz now?
Is it easier to learn Jazz now? I am really curious what you think. I guess that I think it is, but you are faced with a lot of other problems that are often disguised as advantages because we underestimate information overload and how much it takes to choose the right thing to work on. Few things are as useful and efficient as having real lessons. It is hard to beat having a teacher as your main source of information and as your guide in what to practice and what to focus on. But it does have to be a teacher that fits to you and is available. Did it get easier to learn Jazz? Let me know what you think in the comments!
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