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Jazz Music – Tips for Starters

Part I: The Introduction

There are some good tips for guitar players who want to start playing jazz or any other jazz related music (fusion, cool jazz, be-bop, nu-jazz etc.).

The first part contains some basic tips that covers most of the things that you need for a start. In the second part are some cool licks that are generaly used in jazz music, you can use them in your lead playing or modify them by your own needs.

All the soundfiles are MIDI in mp3 format.


The usual jazz lead tone is very smooth, clear and thick. The key do archive this is using the right amount of midrange, use it wisely, don’t turn the mids down because good jazz tone has strong mids. Moderate amount of bass and treble should work (it depends on the amp), good jazz tone isn’t trebly. And do not use a lot of gain. Humbuckers sound always better for jazz, because they have fatter tone than single coils. Perfer low-output pickups because they sound warmer. If you play very fast lead lines, then sometimes it is good do use neck pickup and turning the tone knob down a little bit, because it gives you a extra smoothness.

The usual jazz clean tone is crystal clear. Use the neck pickup and moderate amount of delay or amp’s spring reverb to archive this. Sometimes a little bit of chorus gives you an extra spice.

*Some great fusion players with a great tone: Allan Holdsworth, Frank Gambale, Eric Johnson, Shawn Lane.


Jazz and all jazz subgeners (fusion, be-bop etc.) are extremely technical music. You have to play everything very cleanly, and to do that you have to master a lot of different techniques like alternate picking, economy picking, sweep picking, legato etc. There are a lot of good lessons about these techniques on the IG website and all over the internet.

A lot of jazz players play very smoothly. To do that you have to pick the notes gently. Sometimes it is good to use only the tip of the pick(plectrum).

The smoothest way do play fast lead lines, is using the legato technique. If you want to pick very smoothly, then use economy picking instead of alternate picking or combain picking with hammer-ons and pull-offs.

*Listen to Allan Holdsworth for legato and Frank Gambale for economy picking.

If you want more attack and staccato sound, then use the alternate picking like Steve Morse does, he even plays arpeggios using alternate picking.


Most of the jazz music is improvised, not composed. Great way to improvise, is to jam with the band. In jazz music are used a lot of difficult rhythms and odd-time signatures. You have do feel the groove do play.

Remember that you can use possibly every note and technique when you improvise jazz, just figure out what sounds the best for you.

Chords and Chord progressions.

There is no rule what chords or what chord progression you have to use. To make your music more interesting, don’t use only major and minor chords, use 7, m7, 6, sus2, sus4, 11 etc.

Experiment with different chords, make some interesting progressions instead of using the good ol’ I-IV-V chord progression.

Some Examples of jazz chord progressions.

Example 1.

Dmaj9 Bm7 Em9 A7sus4

Example 2.

A7 D#7/5- F#m7 B6

Example 3.

Listen to the soundfile

Example 4.

Listen to the soundfile



You can use possibly every scale when playing jazz, the modes (Ionian (Major), Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Aeolian (Minor), Locrian), pentatonic and blues scales, exotic scales (Hungarian, Egypt, Gypsy etc.) or whatever. A lot of players use Lydian or Mixolydain instead of the major scale when playing over major chords. Chromatic scale is used a lot in jazz. Some players like Lydian Dominant (Lydain 7-th flattened), Be-Bop scale (sharp 6-th added to Major scale) or any other not so commonly used scale.

It doesn’t matter what scales do you use, it is how do you use them. The key is to improvise, and do it a lot. Find out what sounds the best for you. Make some cool sequences and phrasing patterns. You can make some cool scales by using your ear, you don’t have to think that you have to use some specific scale on some specific time. Experiment. Break out of the cliches.

Part II: The Licks

Some examples how sliding gives a good feel to soloing.

Lick 1.

Listen to the soundfile

Listen to the soundfile

Example how to add some chromatic runs to licks

Lick 3.

Listen to the soundfile

Combaining arpeggios with chromatic runs gives you an extra spice

Lick 4.

Listen to the soundfile

Example of using arpeggios in licks

Lick 5.

Listen to the soundfile

Example of wide arpeggios.

*Eric Johnson is known for using wide arpeggios

Lick 6.

Listen to the soundfile

Licks for advanced players

Some fusion players like to sweep pick fastly arpeggios, then stop on one note for a moment and then play decending legato run.

* You can hear similar licks in Frank Gambale’s playing a lot

Lick 7.

* T – left hand tap (hammer-on)

This is a cool legato sequence in A major

Lick 8.


This is example of how do use picking combained with hammer-ons and pull-offs. This lick is a pattern of fourths in A major. In the first and the second fourth, the first two notes are picked and in third fourth the first note is picked etc. (there are 15 fourths (fourth contains 4 notes) in this lick, 4th, 5th, 7th, 8th, 10th, 11th, 13th, 14th fourths are played like the first and the second fourth, ther rest of fourths are played like the third fourth).

*Shwan Lane used this method a lot.

Lick 9.



It doesn’t really matter what kind of jazz music you are playing, you can use all those tips and licks in every style.

Jazz is all about experimenting, breaking the music rules, making something totally different etc. To do that you have to impovise a lot.

Knowing music theory is good, but don’t use it at as a road map. Discover your music.

Experiment with different styles, a lot of jazz players use funk, blues, rock etc. elements in their music.

Novadays it is popular to use electronic, pop and rap/hip-hop music combained with jazz. Jazz musicians do that because they want to make something fresh. Even jazz legends like John Scofield does it a lot. You can hear a lot of jungle-beat, drum’n’bass, new age and hip-hop elements on his latest albums.

*Some players do listen – Django Reinhardt, George Benson, Wes Montgomery, Pat Metheny, John Scofield, Frank Gambale, Charlie Christian, Joe Pass, Larry Carlton, John McLaughlin, Lee Ritenour, Pat Martino, Al DiMeola, Allan Holdsworth, Shawn Lane, Eric Johnson, Jim Hall, Kenny Burrell, Scott Henderson.

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