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10 Must Know Beginning Jazz Guitar Standards

A big part of learning how to play jazz guitar is learning how to play standards.

And playing jazz guitar standards means choosing repertoire from and studying the Great American Songbook.

As a jazz guitar teacher, I’m often asked which tunes beginning guitarists should learn when starting their exploration of jazz.

In this article, you’ll learn 10 must-know jazz guitar standards that every beginning guitarist should study.

These jazz standards cover a wide range of chord progressions and prepare you for your first, or next, jam session or gig.

If you aren’t sure how to learn these tunes, check out my “Learn Jazz Standards” lesson for instructions on the best way to learn any jazz tune on guitar.

 

 

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Easy Jazz Standards (Click to Jump Down)

 

  1. Major Blues
  2. Minor Blues
  3. Summertime
  4. Bye Bye Blackbird
  5. Autumn Leaves
  6. Blue Bossa
  7. Take the A Train
  8. Milestones
  9. Tune Up
  10. Blue Seven

 

 

 

Essential Jazz Guitar Standards

 

Each of the jazz guitar standards in this list has a video of a famous recording so that you can hear how these tunes sound before learning them on the fretboard.

There are also a few pointers under each standard on why this tune is important to add to your repertoire list.

These pointers help you study these jazz standards, as you’re able to focus on many of those important elements in your practice routine.

Lastly, there is a chord study for each tune to get these songs under your fingers and onto the fretboard.

There are two main reasons why these jazz standards are on this list:

 

  1. They’re commonly called at jam sessions or gigs.
  2. They offer an important learning tool such as an essential chord progression.

 

There are other tunes that could be on this list, but I wanted to stick to 10 tunes to keep things focused in your studies.

As well, I consider the following standards to be at an intermediate level, which is the ceiling I’ve used from a difficulty standpoint.

 

  • Rhythm Changes
  • Cherokee
  • All the Things You Are
  • Stella by Starlight
  • There is No Greater Love

 

Here are the 10 must-know beginning jazz guitar standards. Have fun learning these important melodies and jazz chord progressions in the woodshed.

 

 

 

 

Major Blues (Keys: F, Bb, C)

 

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  • Form is common to many musical genres
  • Guitarists with rock or blues backgrounds will be familiar with the basic form and chords
  • Usually the most common form called on a jam session or gig
  • Good introduction to the Dominant 7th chord, one of the most commonly used sounds in jazz

 

To help you learn how to play a major jazz blues tune, here’s a chord study that teaches you jazz blues chords on guitar.

Start by learning this chord study as written, then begin to experiment with the rhythms over the backing track.

 

Backing Track easy-major-blues-backing-track

Click to hear jazz-guitar-standards-blues

 

beginning-jazz-standards-blues

 

 

 

 

 

Minor Blues (Keys: Cm, Dm, Am)

 

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  • The progression is common in the blues, rock and soul genres
  • Can use the blues scale to solo over entire tune, a solid intro to jazz soloing
  • Introduces the iim7b5-V7alt or the bVI7-V7alt progression
  • Provides a look into a jazz blues variation beyond the major blues progression

 

In order to introduce your fingers to this tune, here’s a minor blues chord study that you can learn.

Work this study as written, then when you’re ready change the rhythms and begin to personalize these shapes over the backing track.

 

Backing Track easy-minor-blues-backing-track

Click to hear jazz-guitar-standards-minor-blues

 

beginning-jazz-standards-minor-blues

 

 

 

Summertime

 

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  • Memorable melody that many players have heard before beginning to study jazz
  • Introduction to minor key sounds, including the minor ii-V-I
  • Mixes tonic minor and relative major sounds during the second half of the tune
  • Can use the pentatonic scale or blues scale to improvise over entire form

 

Here’s a chord study to get the essential jazz standard under your fingers and onto the guitar. This chord study uses a standard jazz rhythm, playing chords on the & of 1 and 3 in each bar.

Start with this rhythm, then move on to other rhythms as you expand this study in your practice routine.

 

Backing Track easy-summertime-backing-track

Click to Hear jazz-guitar-standards-summertime

 

beginning-jazz-standards-summertime

 

 

 

Bye Bye Blackbird

 

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  • Uses major and minor key progressions
  • Introduces the diminished chord and scale for improvising
  • Has famous chord alterations such as those used by Miles Davis that are an introduction to chord subs
  • Can be played at a wide range of tempos
  • Often called by singers, both male and female, on jazz jams and gigs

 

Here’s a Freddie Green style chord study that you can learn in your jazz guitar studies.

Work the study on your own first, then jam with it over the backing track as you get it up to speed in the woodshed.

 

Backing Track easy-bye-bye-blackbird-backing-track

Click to Hear jazz-guitar-standards-bye-bye-blackbird

 

beginning-jazz-standards-bye-bye-blackbird

 

 

 

 

Autumn Leaves

 

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  • One of the most popular, and a definite must know, jazz standard
  • Often played in two keys, so it’s a good intro to learning standards in multiple keys
  • Features ii-V-I progression in both the tonic minor and relative major keys
  • The melody line has built in space that make it perfect as a first chord melody arrangement

 

Here’s a chord study to help you learn how to comp the chords to Autumn Leaves on guitar.

Notice the repeat sign for the first-eight bars, which is easy to miss on the sheet. Also, work this study with a metronome first, then bring it to the backing track when ready.

 

Backing Track easy-autumn-leaves-backing-track

Click to Hear jazz-guitar-standards-autumn-leaves

 

beginning-jazz-standards-autumn-leaves

 

beginning-jazz-standards-autumn-leaves-2

 

 

 

Blue Bossa

 

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  • Introduces the bossa nova comping rhythm
  • Introduces a tricky key with the ii-V-I in Db major during the second half of the tune
  • Pat Martino recording is a solid source for licks over this tune
  • Uses syncopated rhythms in the melody that are an introduction to Brazilian and jazz melodic rhythms

 

Here’s a Blue Bossa chord study that you can learn to get this song onto the guitar. In this study, you’ll use a standard bossa nova guitar pattern over each chord.

This pattern helps you sound authentic with bossa songs, but it’s tough to get down for beginner jazz guitarists.

Because of this, start by learning the first bar from memory. When you can do that comfortably, play the entire study on your own and with the backing track.

 

Backing Track easy-blue-bossa-backing-track

Click to Hear jazz-guitar-standards-blue-bossa

 

beginning-jazz-standards-blue-bossa-1

 

 

 

 

Take the A Train

 

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  • Introduces the II7 chord, a commonly used chord change in the jazz literature
  • The melody is largely based on chord tone and arpeggio shapes, so you can draw ideas from the melody when soloing
  • Has one of the most famous intros and endings in jazz, great intro to an arrangement than head-blowing-head
  • Played at a wide variety of tempos, and often called by singers on jams and gigs

 

To help you learn this classic jazz standard, here’s a chord study over Take the A Train.

Work these chords with the given rhythm before personalizing these shapes in your studies both on your own and over the backing track.

 

Backing Track easy-a-train-backing-track

Click to Hear jazz-guitar-standards-a-train

 

beginning-jazz-standards-take-the-a-train

 

beginning-jazz-standards-take-the-a-train-2

 

 

 

Milestones

 

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  • Nice intro to a modal jazz tune that mixes the Dorian and Aeolian minor sounds
  • The bridge shifts into a Latin groove, introducing A section swing and B section Latin form commonly used in jazz
  • The horns are harmonized in a way that sits easily on the guitar, creating a ready made chord melody
  • Faster tempo than other tunes, forces you to build up your guitar technique

 

Here’s a Milestones chord study that you can learn and add to your comping vocabulary.

Notice the repeat signs, which make it easier to read but sometimes you miss them and skip a section, be aware of that.

Also, the rhythms in this study mimic the melody to the tune, just different notes, in case you want to practice these chords along with the original recording.

 

Backing Track easy-milestones-backing-track

Click to Hear jazz-guitar-standards-milestones

 

beginning-jazz-standards-milestones

 

beginning-jazz-standards-milestones-2

 

 

 

 

Tune Up

 

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  • Features ii-V-I progressions in three keys, introduces chordal sequences
  • Great tune for building ii-V-I comping and blowing vocabulary
  • The melody sequences down the keys with the progression, introducing melodic transposition and development
  • Wes Montgomery recording is an excellent resource for transcribing ii V I lines

To introduce you to this essential jazz standard, here is a chord study that you can workout in your studies.

Start by learning the chord study as written, with the given rhythm, before changing the rhythms and personalizing the chords in your practice routine.

 

Backing Track easy-tune-up-backing-track

Click to Hear jazz-guitar-standards-tune-up

 

beginning-jazz-standards-tune-up

 

 

 

Blue Seven

 

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  • Uses 7#11 chords, acts as an introduction to the Lydian Dominant sound in jazz
  • Opening two choruses are solo bass lines, which are easy to transcribe and learn on guitar
  • Sonny’s solo is filled with 7#11 licks that jazz guitarists of any level should get under their fingers
  • Introduces jazz blues chord variations beyond the typical major and minor blues forms

 

Now that you know why you should study this song, here’s a Blue Seven chord study that you can work out in your practicing.

Each chord uses a 7#11 sound, reflecting the melody line and the overall sound of the tune.

Since these chords are hard on the ears for beginner jazz guitarists, they’re written with a simple rhythm.

Once you’re used to the 7#11 sound, change the rhythms and personalize this chord study in your playing.

 

Backing Track easy-blue-seven-backing-track

Click to Hear jazz-guitar-standards-blue-seven

 

beginning-jazz-standards-blue-seven

 



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