Playing Jazz Guitar

All accomplished jazz musicians have a thorough knowledge and understanding of chords and scales, and you will need this too if you want to want to progress with this most demanding of musical styles. Most jazz tunes are based around extended chords (sevenths, ninths. 11ths and 13ths) so make sure you know how to play these all over the fingerboard. Jazz composers also like to raise or lower the fifth and ninth intervals in chords to create more colour within a piece, so it is a good idea to leam these chords as well. Another jazz trick is chord substitution, which is often done by taking a chord with a dominant seventh note, and replacing it with another chord with a root note a tritone (a flattened fifth) higher - for example, substituting a D-flat 7 chord for a G minor chord.

|| C | Am | Dm | G ||
can become:
|| Cmaj9 | Am11  | Dm9   | G13     ||
|| Cmaj9 | Am7#5 | Dm7b5 | G 7#5#9 ||
|| Cmaj9 | Eb7   | Ab9   | Db13    ||
Try playing through these examples of jazz chord extensions, substitutions and altered jazz chords.

Jazz Chord Progression

The most common chord progression in jazz is the II-V-I. which uses chords based on the second, fifth and first notes of the major scale respectively. The II chord is a minor 7 chord, while the V is a dominant 7 and the I is a major 7 chord. So in the key of C. the basic II-V-I progression is Dm 7. G 7. CMaj7. You should familiarize yourself with this chord progression in different keys and in different positions on the fingerboard.

Improvisation in Jazz

chromatic playing in jazz

Play through this example of chromatic playing in jazz improvisation, and then see if you can come up with your own.
Jazz soloing involves a fair degree of improvisation, and to do this you will need to know a variety of scales and understand which chords they complement All the major scale modes can be used, but the Dorian. Mixolydian and Ionian modes are of particular importance as they complement the minor 7. dominant 7 and major 7 chords and extensions that are so frequently used in jazz. Most jazz tunes also feature key changes, so the big challenge in jazz improvisation is to play over these changes without interrupting the melodic flow of a solo.

Other scales featured in jazz improvisation include the melodic and harmonic minor scales, the whole tone scale, the diminished scale and the chromatic scale. The latter is often used as it contains notes outside the key scale, which can be used to create extra tension in a melody or solo. Chromatic notes are usually played briefly in phrases that resolve on to key notes, although they can also be sustained to create more tension in the music

Improvisation within a set piece is best approached by starting with the basic melody of a tune and playing around with variations of it. You should also jam regularly with other musicians as this will make you comfortable with playing over different chord progressions. Start with simple progressions that allow you to improvise with one or two scales, and then work at jamming over key changes. If you like a real challenge, you can also try ‘free improvisation' - trying to create music on the spot with other improvisers without any obvious chord progressions or grooves.


Another important jazz-guitar skill you should work on is 'comping' - playing chord progressions as an accompaniment while others improvise. When you're comping, try substituting different chords and using different strum patterns to create more harmonic and rhythmic interest The challenge here is to make the rhythm section sound as cool and varied as possible without losing the underlying groove.