How to teach Jazz Guitar


The best jazz guitar chords to learn

Like it or not Jazz Guitar is a "minority taste?"


The vast majority of guitar teachers function perfectly well "without having to resort to jazz" (as a guitar teaching friend of mine so charmingly put it) It is perfectly possible to teach guitar to a professional level and never really have to engage much with the genre and with the majority of our customers being beginner or intermediate level players leaning towards Rock, Blues, Metal, Country and Funk"

As guitar teachers I hope we're beyond the stage where we compare genres in order to determine which one is "better" than the others but one thing is clear........

If you understand the harmonic (chordal) and melodic (scalar) functions of Jazz they you can understand the harmonic content of all of the other styles

For that reason alone if you are a guitar teacher a knowledge of the chordal functions and devices associated with Jazz harmony can do you (and your business!) nothing but good

The best way to start a study of Jazz Guitar


The best jazz guitar chords to learn

How do you teach someone to play Jazz guitar from a standing start?

Above you can see five of the fifteen handouts (each "important chord" is presented in three positions) that you can use to start your students in the "right" way

If you know the old Dire Straits song "Sultans Of Swing" (written about Mark Knopfler's experience of attending a poorly attended Jazz night in a London pub) you might remember the lyric...

"Check out Guitar George
He knows all the chords
Mind he's strictly rhythm
He doesn't want to make it cry or sing"

That lyric neatly sums up half of Jazz guitar playing. Upon hearing the term "Jazz Guitar" you (and to be honest I) probably immediately think of soloists like Joe Pass, Wes Montgomery, Charlie Christian and Martin Taylor or fusion players musicians like John McLaughlin, Pat Metheney or Emily Remler but the reality is that these folks are (or were) wonderful soloists because first they understand how the chords work

It's all about the five basic chords

There are just five basic Jazz guitar chords (Maj7, m7, Dominant7, m7b5 and diminished7) Other chords found in Jazz tend to be extensions to, or alterations of the basic five chords and when someone can move between them in time to music then they are functioning Jazz guitar players and are ready to move on and follow their own interests within what is one of the most diverse genres in existence

The best jazz guitar standards to learn

When a guitar player can move between the five important chords then they are ready to develop as "real" Jazz guitarists do by learning a bunch of "Jazz Standards" that just about all Jazz musicians know and use in order to play and with one other without the need for rehearsals. Think of them as a bunch of Jazz "Johnny B Goods" or "Smoke On The Water" type tunes that everyone who operates in the genre is presumed to know

Jazz guitar harmony is based on five chords and extensions and alterations to those chords. When a player is able to understand and work out answers to the questions "extended from what?" and "altered from what?" then they have developed a high level of functioning harmonic knowledge that will feed into every other style that they operate in.

You dont have to be a Jazz Guitar player (that comes from playing and practicing Jazz) to benefit from understanding what is commonly referred to as "Jazz" harmony. Its not really "Jazz Harmony" its just advanced harmony and there are "funny" chords (derived from or heavily featured in the genre) in all kinds of music and understanding them (rather than just looking up where to put your fingers?) can do your musicianship (and that of your students) nothing but good

Learn Five Chord Shapes and "Autumn Leaves"

"Learn five chord shapes and Autumn Leaves"......When a student asks me "How do I learn to play Jazz Guitar?" thats what I reply. Its a very easy short and concise way of "decluttering" the whole subject. What I don't tell them (right away) is that they will be learning each of the five chord shapes in three places on the neck (with root notes based on the E,A and D strings) and that in the process they will develop an advanced level understanding of how guitars work

Helping our students to understand how Jazz chords work

The illustration below shows on of the worksheets that asks a student to fill in the notes of a specified Major Scale. They are then asked to build a triad on each note of the scale before being required to add a fourth note from the scale to produce the relevant 7th chord. Developing an understanding of this process is absolutely crucial to understanding how Jazz works as opposed to thinking (as many seem to) that its "just a bunch of random complicated chords"

How to understand jazz guitar chords

Our "Gateway To Jazz Guitar" Handouts and Worksheets

I need to stress right from the off that this site is not setting out to be anything like a comprehensive guide to Jazz Guitar. There already are some wonderful (and some not so great to be honest) websites up there put together by real experts who have dedicated huge amounts of time, effort and expertise into what is an incredibly diverse subject.

If you want to go deeper into the subject of jazz guitar you could do worse than check out a site that I have often used to enhance and increase my own knowledge and capability. jazzguitar.be has been a great help to me and has a very clear and no nonsense approach to the subject. I should stress that I have no connection with the site, I just like what they do and it works for me

When it comes to Jazz Guitar all I bring to the table is a way in which guitar teachers can give their students clear guidance on how to make an effective entry into the genre. I am not a great Jazz guitarist. I can get around the guitar in a Jazz style and can easily convince the average audience that I am a competent Jazz player but the truth is if you stuck me in front of a discerning and knowledgable Jazz audience for a recital you would find the bar next door to the venue filling up with grumpy beard strokers in record time.

I have though (and am very proud of it) introduced the basics of Jazz to folks who went on to be very good (much, much better than me) Jazz musicians and as a teacher I take great pride in that. We should give up as teachers if none of our students ever get to better than us. Learning to be a "bad" jazz guitarist was one of the best things that ever happened to my guitar playing (and teaching!) and learning a new Jazz Standard to add to my repertoire is one of my favourite things to do on a guitar

how to teach jazz guitar

When are students "ready" to study Jazz Guitar?

The basics of Jazz harmony involve four note chords. The four note chords are based on existing three note chords (triads). When a guitar player understands how Major, minor and diminished chords are constructed and combined into keys then they have a theoretical understanding that can be further developed to include Jazz harmony.

Alongside this theoretical knowledge they should be technically capable of playing Major and minor bar chords comfortably and in time around the neck of the instrument. If they are not there yet then it is best to pay attention to these areas before venturing into Jazz Guitar

Follow the link below to go to our page dealing with basic guitar music theory and the resources required to teach it effectively


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