I'm electric guitar player with 5+ years of experience.

I can read simple sheet music and often I learn music through tablatures, not from the sheets, I'm playing songs in the styles like rock and alternative (pop-rock bands, nothing complicated like Van Halen's 'Eruption').

Recently I started to listen to bands and players like Victor Wooten, Stanley Clark, Bela Fleck, Chick Korea, Marcus Miller, and one day I want to play like them (I understand that I hardly ever reach their level, but at least I want to get closer to set ideal).

The problem is, I have no idea how to play this kind of music, my ear is not that good to transcribe it by ear, I can't read that complex sheet music (if it was transcribed by some good dude), and I don't know of any institution in my area that can guide me to desired point of success, and, of course, I can't take personal lessons from Bela Fleck (because of distant living location).

So, what can I do to achieve my goal?

  • Chords 101 at Berklee Online, then Scales 101... is how I did it. I am not a Jazz player, but I know all the chords and scales. Studying Jazz improv these days myself.
    – blusician
    Oct 16, 2016 at 22:03
  • Note: Victor Wooten, Stanley Clark, Bela Fleck, Chick Korea, Marcus Miller.. - that's fusion jazz, late on the scene and an overtly hybrid form. Jazz has a deep roots and a fairly clear line of evolution. Go back to Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, the Bebop era, cool jazz, hard bop... learn the real sound of jazz. Fusion jazz isn't at all representative: Louis Armstrong sings and plays "Mack the Knife"
    – Vector
    Feb 4, 2018 at 1:07

5 Answers 5


Start at the beginning. How did you learn guitar in the first place? Probably learned some theory, learned some songs, and trained your ear. You can do the same for jazz. Theory should come first, because as you've mentioned, your ear isn't really able to analyze the more complex sounds (yet). So grab a jazz theory book, and get started (I like the Berklee books). Start learning about more complex chords, like 7ths, and new shapes/inversions. Make sure you know all the basic modes, and start to learn the expanded ones as well (melodic minor, diminished, whole-tone, etc.). This will all help get your ear accustomed more to the new ideas that jazz will present.

Then once you are strong enough in the theory, just keep doing what you have always done and play along with your favorite songs. Learn them inside and out, how they are structured, the changes, harmony, melody, etc. Learn how to improvize over them, and following the changes. Then you can start to try to understand how those guys played what they did. You're going to have to up your chops a bit because most of those artists you mentioned are challenging to imitate to say the least. Each of them are near the top of their respective genres/instruments. So as a guitarist you won't be able to exactly emulate the bass mastery of someone like Victor Wooten, but you can certainly learn about the theory behind his music. Actually, most of those guys are bassists.. it might not hurt to pick up a bass if you are really attracted to their sound. Plus a good bassist can always find work :)

  • this, you start from music theory and then go into Jazz music theory
    – Lenny
    Oct 16, 2016 at 17:39

Jazz is about learning standards/songs(like most music), learning theory, and learning to improvise.

Learn songs. If you learn a bunch of jazz standards then you can go play with other jazz'ers. Because you know the songs you don't immediately have to know any theory or know how to improvise. Depending on the people this could be enough. Why?

Because jazz is about taking a set of changes(lead sheet) and melody and then doing something interesting with it. So if you know the melody and just play it, that is interesting enough, because it if wasn't, the song wouldn't be a standard/popular. Of course, some snotty jazz'ers(which most average jazz players are) will look down at you because you are not doing anything interesting, but who cares about them? You are there to learn and you have to start somewhere. If you find some nice people to play with, they won't mind, they know where you are coming from because they went through the same stuff. In fact, those types of people will be better because they will actually understand what they are doing and usually won't mind helping you understand too.

So, basically all the theory and improv will come naturally AFTER you learn songs on your own. You will probably have to learn theory so you can communicate but you'll pick up a lot with on the job training. But the job requires "5 years experience"(that is, knowing a bunch of standards). Luckily, with jazz songs, it is not obscene to bring charts/lead sheets... so, you just have to get proficient at reading them.

At first, you should just listen a lot. Learn the vibe that is going on so you can fit in with it when you are ready. The music is easy... the human aspect is what you have to get down. If you have experience playing in a rock band, then don't use that! You are not playing rock but jazz.. A different vibe because it is different type of people(people who are more in to technical and intellectual aspects of music rather than sex drugs and rock and roll(although the first 2 still apply more or less)).


  1. Start working on standards. Start learning how to read lead sheets. There is plenty of info on the net about this.

    Note that you will be required to know a bunch more than basic music. Again, all the theory is on the net. Learn your guide tones because they let you play simple and stay out of the way. A big part of playing with other people is learning how to fit in... usually it involves less than more.

    Learn to play all the extended chords(altered chords that don't show up in most other styles of music).

    Learn the melodies(memorize them by playing them over and over, or at least get them under your fingers. If you play "wrong notes", it's jazz! you can get away with it. Just nod your head and smile! No one will know if you did it on purpose or not). The melodies are the basis of the tune, while you could play something completely different, chances are you'll suck at making up stuff because you can't improvise yet, also people are expecting to hear the melody as that is what makes the song... so not only do you have to play something that sounds good, it better sound better than the original melody... which again, chances are you can't do.

  2. Start learning theory. E.g., what are substitutions and where can they be used? The ii-V-I(simple and almost all jazz progressions are based on this progression in some form or another. At least 90% of any succession of chords in jazz will be part of some ii-V-I even if it doesn't look like it).

    By making the ii-V-I instinctive(through repetition = learning songs and playing around with them), the music will make more sense. Remember, you are trying to learn a language. Theory is the grammar. It helps make sense when your instincts fail you.

    Start using your ear and connect it with the theory. This helps you start learning to think on a higher level. You stop thinking in terms of abstract sounds and more in terms of symbols and formulas... these are much more concrete than just hearing something and not knowing what the heck it was(when it was just a A7b9b13 chord).

  3. Start learning to improvise. This is the easiest of all! Just start making up shit. Doesn't matter. Who cares! It's jazz! If anyone is condescending to you, smack them in the face and tell them to shut up and go listen to Bob Seger or the Ramones.

    Really, the improv will come naturally because of the way things work. Don't sweat it. Most of the time people that can't improv is simply because they haven't done the previous steps well. To be able to improv you have to know how music works and you learn that by learning music. The theory helps you learn music faster than you could without it. (People that never learned theory but are masters could still benefit from knowing theory. It's just icing on the cake and never takes away unless you let it.)

    So, start with step one. Give it some time. Learn at least 20 standards inside and out on your own. By that time you can start to learn theory by looking on the net(tons of info). Just start reading... never stop. Then start improvising a little(get some backing tracks to play over or play over the tunes and just make up stuff along with the soloist... maybe try and make interesting phrases along side his)... Give that a few months. By that time you should be in good shape to play with others. Say, give yourself 6months-1year to accomplish this stuff(you have to work on it every day). By then, you shouldn't have any issues. Just go find some people to play with(ads, community college, etc) and let them know you are new. Then just sit back. Your practicing will take over and you'll start to have fun! Might take another year to get where you want to be right now but it will come with patience and practice.

Ultimately the journey starts with the first step. When you take that step, and decide you are going to go to your destination and nothing will stop you, you will get there. But every step is the first step because you have always been on your journey. Master the first step and you will be at your destination! (remember, step one is learning standards!)


"my ear is not that good to transcribe it by ear"

This is the place to start. You need an ear that good, and it's a learnable skill.

You can look for books or apps (I like "functional ear trainer"), but best would probably be a class. Any music department will teach ear training, either in dedicated courses or maybe as part of introductory music theory classes.

The basic procedure is: choose a melody that you want to learn. Start with something simple. Listen to it a lot. And then--this is the important part--learn to sing it. You don't have to be a good singer, you just have to have the music burned deep enough into your brain that you can hit the right notes. At that point, you can start breaking it down into small bits (just 3 or 4 notes at a time) and figuring them out on your instrument.

You can do this with solos, but another good way to start would be just learning the tunes to some jazz standards. Sure, you can just get the sheet music, but it's good practice and it helps getting to know those important songs really well.

(Disclaimer: struggling beginner myself, just reporting what others have told me and what has gotten me at least part of the way there.)


The first place to start learning jazz is to listen to jazz music.

Surround your ears with it day and night.

From a practical guitar standpoint, I HIGHLY recommend all Pat Martino's books.

In addition to getting this, why not take top-notch instruction from a great jazz teacher in your local area?

The truth is that one lesson with a master can help you achieve greatness.

That's what I discovered in a single lesson with Johnny Fourie.

After this, it will be up to you to put in the time and effort required.

In terms of how long it will take - give it a good 3-5 years and then you should be able to really play Jazz!

  • The first place to start learning jazz is to listen to jazz music...Surround your ears with it day and night | +100 : It's all about getting the sound of jazz into your ears. I'd just add that it's important to start with the early masters - go back to Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, the Bebop era, cool jazz, hard bop... Victor Wooten, Stanley Clark, Bela Fleck, Chick Korea, Marcus Miller.. - that's fusion jazz, late on the scene and an overtly hybrid form.
    – Vector
    Feb 4, 2018 at 0:59

There are a lot of online study aids, like YouTube, that can help a lot! Try finding someone who will play with you too. Play along with recordings. I think there is a website that can slow down music so you can hear it better. Some say slowing down is cheating, but I think if it helps then you can build on that.

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