Jazz Guitar

Tony playing archtop guitar at Rocks

I'm using "jazz" as an umbrella term for improvised music here. While improvisation as an art form is most highly developed in the jazz genre it is also an essential element of almost every other contemporary form, most obviously blues, rock and flamenco. Some jazz knowledge is also a fantastic resource for songwriters and arrangers.

Jazz improvisation theory assumes some familiarity with "diatonic harmony". Which is to say the system of chords and scales that have been the meat and potatoes of Western music for the past 300 years. That's why I introduce students to the relevant harmonic ideas even when they are studying the simplest of classical pieces. So that they have examples under their fingers of the various theoretical concepts. If you are thinking about studying jazz guitar with me please note my firm belief that you should have a Grade 4 or 5 level of skill, or equivalent, before even attempting to play jazz.

The level of harmonic knowledge that I assume for a jazz guitar beginner is:

Harmonisation of the major scale in triads (3 note chords) is -

I Maj, II Min, III Min, IV Maj, V Maj, VI Min, VII Dim

And the extension of that to 7th chords (4 notes) is -

I Maj7, II Min7, III Min7, IV Maj7, V Dom7, VI Min7, VII Min7b5

From there my jazz syllabus covers the following topics:

  • Scales & Modes
  • Common progressions - ii V7 I and vi ii V7 I
  • Blues, blues scale and progressions
  • Dom7 chords with scale tone roots
  • Gypsy and Hindu Dom7 scales
  • Dom7 chords with non-scale tone roots
  • Lydian Dominant scale
  • Altered Dominant chords and Altered scale
  • Tritone substitution
  • Diminished Blues scale
  • Diminished and Whole Tone scales

Which looks rather too dry - but of course all these concepts are taught in the context of jazz standards. Here's a list of the sort of material I use:

  • Summertime (Gershwin)
  • Scrapple from the Apple (Parker)
  • Four/How High the Moon (Miles Davis)
  • Autumn Leaves (Joseph Kosma)
  • Blue Monk (Monk)
  • Take the A Train (Ellington)
  • Nuages (Reinhardt)
  • One Note Samba (Jobim)
  • Black Magic Woman (Peter Green)
  • All Blues (Miles Davis)
  • Perdido (Juan Tizol)
  • Stella By Starlight (Victor Young)

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