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How to Play Jazz Guitar

Updated on September 5, 2016

If so, you probably want to get right to it, and I don’t blame you. Learning how to play jazz guitar is challenging, but you can conquer your fears and start to play like a true professional with a few basic tips to get you started.

As a professional jazz guitar player and teacher, I’ve found a few common threads that are critical for beginner guitar players. Let’s take a look at how you can get started playing this fun and unique instrument.

How to Play Jazz Guitar

There are several ways to begin your journey. One of the most common problems I find with new students is that they are used to playing specific chords and in a specific way. They are set in a habit of playing acoustic or electric without changing their strategy. So, the first step is to familiarize yourself with jazz chords and fingerings…

Explore Chords and Fingerings

Unlike other guitar play, you won’t use many open strings on a jazz guitar. Start with your first seven chords and then work your way to the augmented and diminished chords. After you’ve gotten those down, you can start to add extensions.

Learn How to Read Music

Another thing I highly recommend is learning how to read music. Yes, I know it might sound like too much of an undertaking, but if you’re seriously committed to becoming a master player, you can’t skip this step. Start by reading chord changes but also don’t shy away from melodies, as those are important to learn as well.

Play Standards

Next, you’ll want to increase the list of standards you can play. Resolve to spend some time each day learning new standards. Learn the melody then work up to the chords. Once you have a list of at least 10 standards in your back pocket, you’ll be on your way to becoming a pro.

Go-to Jam Sessions

As you formalize yourself with the chords and standards required in jazz guitar, you can take your skills to the next level by playing in jam sessions. Go out in public and play with other professionals. As you begin to do this you’ll learn from people with more experience. Plus, you’ll get experience by playing in front of others. Choose one or two choruses from a jazz ballad for your first time up in front of everyone.


Jazz chord progression is also incredibly important. There are so many twists and turns to modern electric guitar that you can’t count on your previous instrumental experience to pull you through. The most common chord progression used in jazz is the II-V-I progression. This makes it rather challenging to switch genres between pop and rock to jazz. With a bit of practice, however, you’ll get the hang of it.


Learning how to play jazz guitar isn’t easy, but with dedication on your part and the help of an experienced teacher, you can pick it up in no time.


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