If you’ve started to learn jazz guitar, then you’ll agree that it can seem like an overwhelming task.
But it doesn’t have to feel that way. Sure, you need to learn technique, concepts, tunes, and transcriptions, but you don’t have to overwhelm yourself in the process.
Learning jazz guitar can be a fun and exciting, albeit challenging, experience for any player.
This article guides you through the proper steps to start your jazz guitar journey.
By following these steps, you build a solid foundation, as well as enjoy yourself in the practice room.
The material in this article organizes your thoughts before taking your first steps to learn jazz guitar.
It also answers any questions you have after starting your jazz guitar journey.
Learn Jazz Guitar Contents
- Work With a Teacher
- Listening Is Just as Important as Practicing
- Practice Slow. Really Slow. No, REALLY slow
- Use the Pentatonic Scale in Jazz. Seriously.
- Plan Your Practice Around Tunes
- Technique is a Means, Not an End
- Learn to Speak the Jazz Language
- Learn the Fretboard Inside Out
- Transcribe Even If You Don’t Feel Ready
- Never Turn Down a Jam
If you’re wondering where to begin when studying jazz guitar, this article is for you.
If you study online or on your own, this article helps you teach yourself jazz guitar fundamentals.
If you study with a teacher, in person or online, this article helps in a slightly different way.
This information organizes your approach to studying between lessons. It also provides questions that you can take to your teacher to maximize time in your lessons.
Either way, if you want to improve your jazz guitar playing, there’s something to be gained from this article.
To help organize this lengthy article, I’ve broken it down to 10 tips.
You can skip around, or read the list in order, either way is fine.
But, the most important takeaway from this article is that with time, practice, and a bit of gumption, you can learn jazz guitar.
So go for it!
Where to Go Next?
If you’re ready to jump in and start playing, here are 3 quick start guides that help you play jazz guitar today.
If you get stuck this material, come back here and read about how to avoid problems when beginning to learn jazz guitar.
- Beginner’s Guide to Jazz Guitar
- How to Play Jazz Guitar – A Practice Guide
- 30 Days to Better Jazz Guitar
Lastly, if you’re worried that you can’t play jazz guitar because you don’t have an archtop, don’t worry.
You can play jazz on any style, make, or model of guitar.
To learn more about jazz guitars, read my article “How to Find the Best Jazz Guitar For You.”
Tip 1 – Work With a Teacher
Studying with an experienced jazz guitar teacher is the quickest, easiest, and most efficient way to learn jazz guitar.
Sitting in a room, or on Skype, with a teacher is the best way for an experienced player to hear you play and address your strengths and weaknesses.
From there, they provide targeted exercises and guidance on the best path to take in your studies.
Having said that, it’s also be the least practical option for many players reading this article.
What If Private Lessons Aren’t an Option?
There are many reasons why private lessons are out of reach at this point in your development.
Private lessons take commitment, cost money, and there may not be a teacher close enough to study with, though this is getting easier with Skype lessons.
Any of these reasons can put a big roadblock between you and being able to study with a jazz guitar teacher.
This doesn’t mean you can’t learn how to play, or that you can’t find ways to study with a private teacher.
If you don’t have access to a teacher, or can’t afford regular jazz guitar lessons, try these options.
They won’t replace one-on-one lessons, but they provide a lot of the same benefits without a regular commitment or hefty price tag.
- Attend a jazz camp for a weekend or week.
- Sign up for a free online jazz guitar eCourse.
- Purchase a jazz guitar eBook or eCourse.
- Save up and take a one-off in person or Skype lesson with a teacher.
- Post a video of your playing in a jazz guitar facebook group to get feedback.
These are just some ideas, besides private lessons, to help you become a better jazz guitarist.
Take Lessons at Your Own Pace
If you decide to take lessons with a teacher, know that you don’t have to commit to a once a week schedule.
Most of my Skype jazz guitar students come once every two to three weeks for their lessons.
Many have families, jobs, and other commitments that make coming each week unproductive.
It takes time to properly digest the material between lessons.
Go at your own pace and talk to your teacher about finding the best lesson schedule for you.
You want to come regularly enough that it motivates you to practice, but not too often that you don’t have time to learn the material.
Finding that balance is the difference between a successful and unsuccessful jazz guitar study experience.
Picking the Right Jazz Guitar Teacher for You
Finding the right teacher for your style of playing and learning is key to achieving your goals on the instrument.
You want to do research before you try out a lesson to see if that particular teacher is the best choice for you.
One of the best ways to do this is, is to ask other students about their experience with that teacher.
As well, don’t be afraid to take one lesson with a few teachers to find the right fit.
From there you can commit to a longer block of lessons.
There’s nothing more frustrating than buying a chunk of lessons and realizing that you don’t click with that teacher.
Don’t get stuck in that situation.
Try a lesson out.
If it works then go forward.
If not move on.
With research and trial and error you’ll find the right fit.
Importance of a Mentor
Learning how to play jazz guitar can seem like an overwhelming prospect for any player, but it doesn’t have to be.
With an experienced teacher, you wade through the plethora of material, develop an efficient practice plan, and avoid wasted time in the practice room.
Making the cost of a private lesson seem small in comparison to the benefits.
I know that I wouldn’t have got to where I am today without the help of private teachers.
It’s because of their help that you’re reading this article today.
Tip 2 – Essential Listening
One of the first roadblocks I encounter with jazz guitar students is that they’re gung-ho to learn, but don’t listen to jazz.
You can see how this is a problem.
Even if you learned all the vocabulary in the world, turning it into authentic-sounding jazz is almost impossible without knowing what jazz sounds like.
Now, there are some people who study jazz because it helps them learn their fretboard.
And if that’s you, you might think:
“If I can play jazz, I can play anything.”
Which is a comment I hear from guitarists inquiring about lessons.
While there is truth to this, there’s a difference between learning jazz techniques and learning how to play like a jazz musician.
To do the latter, you need a strong understanding of what jazz sounds like.
And that understanding is built through listening.
Listening to Develop Essential Skills
For those that want to play authentic-sounding jazz, going beyond learning jazz concepts, you need to master specific skills.
These essential skills can’t be learned with time on the instrument alone.
This skill set is built by listening to jazz records, and later from jamming with other musicians and learning in real time.
Here are examples of how listening to jazz benefits your playing.
- Develop Time Feel
- Better Musical Phrasing
- Learn Solo Construction and Contour
- Understand Musical Interaction
- Hear Common Vocabulary
- And much more
Some understanding of these items can be attained away from records, but to dig deep, you need to listen.
So, the next question is:
“What should you listen to?”
Spending Time With the Classics
Just like in literature, film, and art, there are certain albums that every jazz guitarist must listen to.
These records contain some of the best playing, writing, and interaction in the genre.
Being familiar with these records, even if you aren’t a total fan of every player, develops an understanding of what elements make up a classic jazz record.
Here are 5 albums that I recommend every beginning jazz guitarist spend time with in the listening room.
- Kind of Blue – Miles Davis
- Everybody Digs Bill Evans – Bill Evans
- Smokin’ at the Half Note – Wes Montgomery
- Bright Size Life – Pat Metheny
- Blue Train – John Coltrane
Now, there are countless albums that are worth spending time with, from both an education and enjoyment perspective.
These 5 albums provides an overview of how the greatest players approach writing jazz tunes, arranging, and improvisation.
If you haven’t heard these albums yet, stop reading and go listen.
You can always come back to this article and read further.
But, listening to any of these records just might change your life.
Listening to these records surely changed mine.
How to Listen to Jazz
Now that you know the “why” and “what” when listening to jazz albums, you can learn how to listen to jazz.
Listening to jazz as a student is different from listening for enjoyment.
This isn’t to say that educational listening isn’t enjoyable, it’s just different.
When listening to jazz records, listen for the nuances that make any track worth spending time with.
These items include:
- How is the tune arranged?
- What is the structure of the form?
- Does everyone solo? If not, who sits out?
- Is the playing chilled out or is there a lot of tension?
- How would you describe each solo in 3 words or less?
- Do the players interact in the solos, and if so how?
- What is the “best part” of any solo to your ears?
By learning how to listen with an ear for these items, you train your ears get to the heart of any jazz tune you hear.
This improves your ability to hear the elements that make a jazz tune great, and prepares your ears for transcribing when you add that to your practice routine.
Lastly, knowing how to listen for these elements allows you to add them into your playing.
If you know how Coltrane organized his solos, how Miles phrases were unique, or how Wes reached such intensity, you can bring those elements into your own playing.
Tip 3 – Practice Slow. Really, REALLY Slow
With the advent of online jazz guitar websites, on top of books and DVDs, it seems like you need many lifetimes to learn how to play jazz.
Yes, there’s a wealth of information out there, and it can be overwhelming.
But you don’t have to learn everything, especially all at once.
One of the most important lessons to learn is:
“There’s no rush to learn jazz guitar.”
Once you’ve learned this important lesson, time in the practice room becomes much more effective and efficient.
Learning Jazz Guitar One Bite at a Time
The first step to slowing down is to pick a few elements, or just one, and work it until it’s fully comfortable.
This can mean digging into just one key of a major scale until you can play it from memory and solo with that scale.
If it takes one day, one week, a month, or longer, that’s fine.
Work on this one item, or at most a few, until you can nail it.
Then move on.
When you look at the mountain of information out there about jazz guitar, it can cause you to half-ass a lot of concepts in the woodshed.
Overloading your practice routine, then jumping to new concepts before you’ve learned old ones, causes major problems in your playing.
Slowing down, focusing on a few items, and working them until they’re solid avoids problems in your playing.
If you think you won’t progress fast enough to achieve your goals, think about it this way.
If you learn one new item each month, after a year you have 12 new concepts under you belt.
And not just skimming the surface with these concepts, you fully learned them.
That is huge growth in one year. If you continue that slow but steady growth, you can reach your long-term playing goals before you know it.
Slowing Down the Tempo
The other way to slow things down is a bit more literal.
When working on any technique, tune, vocabulary, or anything in the woodshed, go as slow as possible.
This can mean working scales at 10 bpm.
Or it can mean jamming over a jazz blues progression at 30 bpm.
Whatever is slow for you, should be where you spend your time practicing.
By slowing the tempo down, you notice all your bad habits, fix them, and prevent new ones from grabbing hold in your playing.
Developing Concentration With Slow Practice
Slow tempos are much tougher for keeping the form on a tune, or keeping track of the notes in any technical exercise.
This means that you have to maintain concentration for the entire exercise.
Concentrating and maintaining focus like this greatly increases your ability to jam jazz tunes with other people.
It’s easy to be distracted, even for a second, in a jam session, and before you know it you’ve missed a cue, or worse, lost the form.
By working slowly in the woodshed, you increase your ability to maintain focus for entire tunes, making it easier to never lose your place when jamming.
Lastly, practicing slowly allows your ears to properly digest any concept you’re working out in the practice room.
When you rush through an exercise, besides making the same old mistakes, you go to fast for your ears to grab that new information.
Working slowly brings your ears into the game, which is an added benefit to any exercise in your studies.
Tip 4 – Use Pentatonic Scales in Jazz. Seriously
When working with new students, I’ve found a common misunderstanding that many players have about learning jazz.
This misconception is that you have to forget everything you’ve ever learned on guitar and start from scratch when learning jazz.
This couldn’t be further from the truth.
There are many items from rock, blues, and other genres that transition to jazz, and make your life easier when dipping your toes into the genre.
One of the main “bridge” concepts, and one that everyone forgets about, is the minor pentatonic scale.
Jazzy Pentatonic Scales
If you’re looking at day 1 of your jazz guitar studies, look no further.
This exercise allows you to take minor pentatonic scales and apply them right away to a jazz situation.
Before you dive in, here’s a backing track to use with this exercise.
Here are the steps to follow to bring the minor pentatonic scale to your jazz studies.
- Review the Dm pentatonic scale position 1.
- Solo over the track with that scale.
- Review the Em pentatonic scale position 1.
- Solo with that scale over the track.
- Review the Am pentatonic scale position 1.
- Solo with that scale over the backing.
There you have it; you just completed your first series of jazz guitar solos.
Wasn’t so bad, was it?
That’s because you took learned material, minor pentatonic, and applied it in a jazzy way over those chords.
Now go back and repeat with the same blues scales, Dm-Em-Am, over the same track.
Congrats, you’ve graduated onto day 2 of your jazz guitar studies!
Bebop Pentatonic Scales
While all the notes just played fit over those chords, they probably don’t sound like Kenny Burrell just yet.
So, let’s look at one concept you can use to spice up your minor pentatonic scales when transferring them to a jazz situation.
This concept is one of the most important to learn and study in jazz; it’s called an enclosure.
Here’s how you begin applying this concept to your pentatonic scale solos.
- Play one fret above the root note of the scale.
- Play one fret below the root note of the scale.
- Play the root note of the scale – that’s an enclosed root note.
- Repeat on each note of the minor pentatonic scale.
- Put on the backing track and add enclosures to your lines.
There you have it, day 2 completed, and you’re starting to sound like bebop. Good work!
Jazz is Easier Than it Looks…Kinda
As you can see from these two exercises, starting with jazz guitar isn’t impossible.
In fact, it’s easier than it looks to learn this fun and engaging musical style.
You just have to start.
And minor pentatonic scales are a great place to begin your jazz guitar journey.
Now, it gets harder from here on out. Also, you may struggle to make these scales and enclosures sound like your favorite player right away.
You can start today.
Then build up from there, one brick at a time.
Before you know it, you have a strong foundation of jazz fundamentals under your fingers and in your ears.
And it all began with the humble minor pentatonic scale.
Tip 5 – Practice Tunes
Before reading ahead, ask yourself: “Why do you want to learn to jazz guitar?”
Is it to learn scales, arpeggios, and chords?
Is it to build your chops?
Is it to improve your ear training?
Might be the case.
These are all good reasons to study jazz, but in my experience, the vast majority of players learn jazz guitar to play music.
And playing jazz means playing tunes.
Tunes are the vehicles that jazz musicians use to communicate with each other.
They’re also the organizational tools that bind all the improvisation you do together.
Working your practice routine around tunes accomplishes two very important goals.
- Focusses your attention on concepts needed to play just the tune that’s in front of you.
- Tunes are a common language that you can speak with other musicians.
Using Tunes to Provide Practice Room Focus
With so many concepts and techniques to study, it’s hard to narrow down these items into what’s important right now.
Tunes provide this focus. Instead of feeling like you need to learn every chord, scale, and arpeggio, you learn the chords, scales, and arpeggios that allow you to play the tune you’re studying.
That narrows things down quite a bit.
While you won’t cover everything in one tune, you work on a number of essential concepts over just one standard.
Then, when you move on to the next tune, you learn a few more essential concepts.
By the time you’ve learned 10 tunes, you’ve learned a number of the foundational concepts needed to move on to the intermediate level of jazz study.
And the most important part. You’ve got 10 tunes that you can now play with other musicians.
Pretty damn cool if you ask me.
Tunes as Communication Devices
The best part of being a jazz musician is going to a foreign country, not speaking the language, and within 1 minute be jamming with musicians I’ve just met.
Because I know a number of jazz tunes, I can jam with any other musician who knows those same tunes.
This is one of the beautiful things about jazz, the ability to converse with musicians all over the world using a shared vocabulary of standard tunes.
By focusing on tunes in your studies, you build your repertoire list, which allows you to jam with people when the opportunity arises.
If your goal for learning jazz was to play music, then this is the opportunity you need to achieve that goal.
And it all begins with studying tunes in the woodshed.
If you’re unsure about which tunes to learn, here are the 5 jazz tunes, or common forms, that I’ve seen people play around the globe in my travels.
- Jazz Blues Tunes
- Blue Bossa
- Autumn Leaves
- Take the A Train
If you learn these five tunes, not today but over time, you provide yourself the best start possible for jamming with other musicians.
Then when you’re ready, take them to a jazz jam session to see how you do when playing these tunes in a live situation.
It’ll be scary, but as my friend Jack Grassel says:
“Jamming is the most fun you can have with your clothes on.”
Tip 6 – Technique is a Means, Not an End
Guitarists love technique.
We really do.
We can spend hours running scales, arpeggios, and chord shapes around the fretboard.
Bringing our facility and knowledge of technical concepts to dizzying heights.
But there’s a stark reality that many jazz guitarists have a tough time facing.
“Learning chords, scales, and arpeggios, isn’t the end of your fretboard study, it’s the beginning.”
This can be a tough pill to swallow for many of us that have dedicated time to mastering these items, thinking that was the end of the road.
But it’s just the beginning of the journey.
Before you read on, know one thing.
Having a strong foundation with these techniques is essential.
If you’re in the small percentage of players who can pick up a guitar, and with no knowledge rip a solo that sounds like Jim Hall meets Mike Stern, then skip to the next section.
If you’re not one of those players, read on.
Building Your Jazz Foundation
To progress as a jazz guitarist, you need to think of chords, arpeggios, and scales as the foundation of your jazz house.
That foundation needs to be strong, supportive, and well constructed.
Then you still need to build your house on top of that foundation.
This means learning tunes, developing vocabulary and strong time feel, expanding your rhythmic knowledge, etc.
Concepts that get you playing jazz with confidence and are built on strong fundamentals, such as scales and arpeggios.
Now, this doesn’t mean that you wait until you know every chord, scale and arpeggio to make music.
It means that as you work on technical items, you also work on turning those techniques into music.
Here’s an exercise to understand how this process works.
- Learn one shape for a 6th-string root Maj7 arpeggio.
- Run that shape in all keys.
- Add an enclosure to the root.
- The enclosure is fret above-fret below-root note.
- Put on a backing track and solo with the arpeggio and enclosure.
You can see how this type of study is beneficial.
As you learn a new technical item, you learn how the jazz language and develop improvisational skills.
Combined, these three elements secure your foundation, and build your jazz house on that foundation, from day 1.
Improvisation As a Learned Skill
Learning how to improvise is a skill that’s not any different from learning how to play scales.
You just have to do it.
With practice it gets easier, and you become more confident as a soloist.
If you wait to move on from foundational techniques, you never build the ability to improvise.
Tip 7 – Speak the Jazz Language
When I started to learn jazz guitar, I got a lot of advice that went like this:
“Learn all possible scales, chords, and arpeggios. That’s the way to play jazz guitar.”
Wow, that’s not bad. If I just put the time in to learn these items I’ll sound like Joe Pass.
Turns out that wasn’t quite right.
I learned all the scales, arpeggios, and chords I could.
Then, when it came time to go jam, my lines sounded like I was running scales and arpeggios up and down the fretboard.
The notes were “correct,” but they didn’t sound like jazz.
I was doing everything right in the practice room, but I couldn’t get the jazz sound in my playing.
What was I doing wrong?
Moving Beyond Technique
As you just read, learning technical items is important.
You have to take it a step further to sound like a jazz guitarist.
This means learning the jazz language.
This was the lesson learned that had the biggest impact on my playing.
Taking the time to learn the jazz language rather than only technique.
At this point you’re asking yourself:
“What’s the jazz language?”
What Is Jazz Vocabulary
The language of jazz is the phrases and bite-size melodies that jazz musicians on all instruments use when they improvise.
These items include:
- Passing Tones
- Lower and Upper Neighbor Notes
- The Honeysuckle Rose Riff
- 1235 Outlines
- And many more
These are the musical concepts that, when combined with scales and arpeggios, allows you to sound “jazzy” in your solos.
Start with one and build from there.
Before you know it, your lines sound less like scales and arpeggios and more like what you hear on your favorite jazz records.
Finding Your Own Voice
It’s not easy, but with time, effort, and a focus on language, you can get there.
Now, you might be worried that if you study the language that you’ll never develop your own voice.
That’s a valid concern for any jazz guitarist.
But, if you do one thing, then you needn’t worry about becoming a “line” player.
Learn all the language you can early on.
Study lines, phrases, micro-phrases, solos, anything you can get your hands on.
Memorize as many patterns you can and work your butt off to get them into your solos.
Then move on.
If you learn the language and integrate it into your playing, you start to sound like your favorite players.
Which is a good thing early in your studies. But, at some point you need to find your own voice.
The best way to do this, is move on from studying the language and dig into your own musical ideas.
Having a strong understanding of vocabulary establishes a foundation to build upon.
Where the problem lies, is that you either learn the language and never discover your voice, or you only practice being original with no jazz foundation.
Either way causes problems in your playing. As you begin your jazz guitar journey, absorb as much jazz vocabulary as you can.
Then when ready, figure out what you want to add to the language in your playing.
Tip 8 – Learn the Fretboard
From any angle, the guitar is a shape-based instrument.
Chord grids, scale boxes, arpeggios fingerings, almost anything can be memorized as a shape on the fretboard.
This gives you a distinct advantage over instruments that learn note names to play these same concepts.
Or does it?
While shapes make learning musical devices quicker than other instruments, they leave holes in your knowledge of the fretboard.
This leads to serious problems down the road.
To avoid these holes, learn the notes on the fretboard.
Filling in the Fretboard Blanks
What does that mean exactly?
It means that you can play any note on the guitar and name it immediately.
That you can play any chord, scale, or arpeggio, and name all the notes in those devices.
That you can quickly play every F, Gb, B, Db, etc. on all 6 strings from memory, without counting up from the open strings.
OK, that sounds like a tough task, I know.
It can be done.
You just have to start.
Here’s an exercise for learning notes on guitar.
Start here, it makes this process much less painless.
- Begin with the C major scale (C D E F G A B).
- Play those notes on the 6th string from the lowest note possible (open E).
- Name the notes as you play them and use a reference chart if needed.
- Play them backwards down the same string.
- Repeat on each string.
- Put on a backing track and solo one string at a time over that chord.
- Repeat these exercises with every key, one at a time.
As you can see, you learn the notes on the fretboard and improve your soloing at the same time.
Doesn’t sound so bad, does it?
Reading Music – Don’t Run Away!
Now, we need to talk about Kryptonite for guitarists – reading music.
Learning how to read music, notes not tab, greatly improves your knowledge of the fretboard.
You probably already know or suspect this.
But the vast majority of guitarists won’t learn to read.
It seems too hard. Well, it’s difficult to learn how to read music.
If you learn how to read, the benefits are enormous.
As well, you have access to a ton more learning materials that are written in notation.
And, best of all, you can quickly learn any tune you want from a fake book.
This opens up new possibilities for learning and performing as a jazz guitarist.
Possibilities that are locked behind a closed door if you don’t read music.
So, make some time in your routine, even 5 minutes, to work on reading music.
You don’t have to be able to sight-read the Omni Book or read Coltrane solos.
Aim to pick your way through a melody from the real book.
Start there, and see where it takes you.
Just learning the notes on the staff, how rhythms work in notation, and how to translate that onto the fretboard transforms your playing.
Tip 9 – Transcribe, Even If You Don’t Feel Ready
I can tell you right off the bat that transcribing lines, chord changes, and melodies is one of the hardest things you ever do as a player.
So start now.
Even if you don’t think you could hear one note correctly – try.
Put on a solo you want to learn and give it your best shot.
Listen to the first phrase over and over until you can sing it in your sleep.
Then spend as much time as you need to find that first note on the guitar.
Once you have that first note learned, even if it takes hours, move on to the second note.
“The journey to a fully transcribed solo begins with a single note.”
All Technique and No Ears
Over the years, I’ve met too many guitarists who have incredible technical facility, but they can’t pick out a single line by ear.
They’ve spent hours improving their chops, but forgot one of the most important things about jazz guitar; it’s an aural art form.
All the chops in the world won’t help you achieve your goals if you don’t have the ears to back up that technique.
I know, you don’t feel ready to learn a line from your favorite jazz solo.
This is the main reason you should begin transcribing.
It never gets easier if you don’t start. So start today.
Which Jazz Guitar Solo to Transcribe First
If you’re looking for a solo to begin with, here’s what I suggest.
Start with “Movin’ Along” by Wes Montgomery.
Yep, that Wes Montgomery, the one with all the chops.
While Wes had amazing chops, this solo starts out very chill. It’s a beautiful solo, clearly played, and highly melodic.
All elements that get the lines into your inner ear, and you take them to the guitar from there.
Begin with the first note.
Then get the second note.
Don’t give up.
Take as long as you need to hear those notes and find them on the guitar.
Keep going until you’ve got the first line.
Then move on to the next line.
Before you know it, you have the first chorus down.
Wasn’t that bad was it?
Making the Impossible Possible
If you find transcription to be difficult or impossible, practice it every day.
It’ll frustrate you to no end at first, but it gets easier.
And when it does, your playing improves in ways you never expected.
Being able to hear music and immediately play it is a very cool skill to have.
Tip 10 – Never Turn Down a Jam
One of the most important lessons to learn, is that there are experiences you can’t find in a practice room.
While studying at home is important, you need to play with other people to really grow as a jazz guitarist.
There’s a famous saying by Sonny Rollins that sums this tip up perfectly.
“An hour on the bandstand is worth a month in the practice room.”
That doesn’t mean you have to go and hit up a jam session, or book a gig, especially in the early days of learning jazz guitar.
If you get asked to jam, take it.
Jam Tracks Are Cool, But…
There’ a big difference between jamming with backing tracks and playing with human beings.
And this difference very quickly shows you your strengths and weaknesses as a jazz guitarist.
You can then emphasize the strengths and target the weaknesses to quickly progress as a player. I
f you jam with backing tracks, they become predictable.
But human musicians aren’t predictable.
Being in charge of tempo, groove, chord changes, and melody line, teaches you more in one jam than in months of study at home.
Go Make Mistakes
If you get the chance to jam with another person take it.
It probably won’t go well at first, but that’s kind of the point. Go make mistakes.
Then learn from those mistakes.
Allow those mistakes to help you improve as a jazz guitarist.
You Will Never Feel Ready
Now, I know what you’re thinking.
“But I just started studying jazz, I don’t feel ready to jam with people.”
This is a valid thought, but I can tell you one thing: You’ll never feel ready.
None of us is a perfect player, and never will be.
So waiting until you feel ready, until your playing feels “perfect” to jam with other people, is a waste of time.
You’ll never be perfect, so don’t bother worrying about it.
If you get the chance to jam, go have fun.
Take the opportunity and don’t put pressure on yourself, it’s not worth the stress.
Do your best; make mental notes on what went well and what didn’t.
Then, after the jam go home and practice those items you felt need work.
If you do this, the next time you jam those items will be improved, so you can work on new items.
Each time you jam you see your improvement from the last time, and find new material to focus on in your studies.
This leads to improved growth as a player compared to only jamming at home.
Take a chance.
Play a tune you know, or don’t, and have fun.
You’ll be nervous beforehand, but you won’t regret it afterwards.