I am fairly new to guitar, wouldnt say I have much knowledge that helps too much but I really like the sound of jazz and think thats where I want to go. I have looked online for beginners guides to jazz etc but a lot of them are for people who already know how to play the guitar, any advice?

  • This doesn't deserve its own answer, especially since someone mentions it below, but Jamey Aebersold's How to Play Jazz and Improvise, along with the rest of the books in the series, do a real good job of introducing someone to playing jazz.
    – John Doe
    Commented Jul 27, 2018 at 16:45

6 Answers 6


Start simple - learn the basic chords, you will find yourself using them a lot, and then adding variants to them to play jazz. Can you find a local teacher to work with to ensure you are using proper guitar playing technique as well? Then you will not have re-learn the correct way to play later on when you want to advance more.

  • Thanks for the quick reply. When you say the basic chords do you just mean in general or specifically for jazz? Commented Jul 25, 2018 at 14:12
  • I Googled Jazz Guitar Chords and lot of hits showing guitar chords - they look like regular chords to me, played at different fret positions, with a note changed here and there, to make the chord variants that make music sound different. artistworks.com/blog/essential-jazz-guitar-chords
    – CrossRoads
    Commented Jul 25, 2018 at 14:18

When learning to play an instrument, there are two distinct factors involved. Finding your way round the instrument, and finding out about music.

In your predicament, the second takes on an extra mantle, finding out about jazz.

Jazz has its foundations firmly in standard music practices so get to know your way round the guitar first, with basic musical knowledge - scales, chords, rhythms, etc. Once this is under your belt, it's not so much learning a whole new way to play, and way more theory, but adapting both.

Just because a jazz song has a Cm7b5 or F#13#9 doesn't mean there won't be humble E, Ab or C#m chords in there as well. We can't run well until we can walk properly!


The basics of playing the guitar are similar in most styles (mod the diff between learning electric versus classical). So learn "the guitar". That being said there is no reason why Jazz can't be your first style of music learnt. Though I agree with your assessment, today Jazz is not a mainstream style and many guitarists discover it after years of playing Rock, Blues, or other forms of music. You will see a lot of Jazz books and tapes that seem to require knowledge of the guitar.

A classic graded guitar series is the Mel Bay series Grades 1 - 9. Most of the pieces are classical guitar pieces arranges for the electric guitar but the basic skills are presented very nicely. Beyond about grade 4 there are not as many new techniques as there are more difficult performance pieces.

When I was a kid my first guitar instructor would split the lesson in two parts, sight reading studies from Mel Bay and transcribing music from an LP (yes vinyl 33rpm). He would figure out tunes and as I progressed he would get me to transcribe, teaching me tricks along the way. My bands of choice were Zeppelin, Rush, Yes, and the like. My point in going in this direction is that learning to play Tom Sawyer, Roundabout, or Since I've Been Loving You is what kept me "obsessed" with the instrument and helped me see the value in the "traditional" approach to learning. This is a common theme in all instrument instruction: Learn to navigate the instrument while having a song to work on.

There is no reason that Jazz can't be your go to inspiration for performance pieces and you do NOT need to go through years of music theory to learn a Jazz tune (you may not appreciate all the subtle points in the tune but you can have fun playing it). I've never seen a "beginner style jazz guitar" book but here are a few suggestions.

  1. Mel Bay's Complete Jazz Guitar Method by Mike Christiansen: This is a large book that can keep you busy for years. I would recommend it because it starts with the basics and provides short, clear simple exercises. It is not traditional, there is tab, chord diagrams, and standard music notation but doesn't really teach SMN.

  2. The Joe Pass Guitar Method by Joe Pass: This is a very small, dense, book. It is complete but does not go into details and does not teach sight reading.

  3. All Blues For Jazz Guitar by Jim Ferguson: This is more specialized as it focuses on 12 bar blues and all variations encountered in Jazz. Similar to the first book it starts with basics and has tab for the non reader.

There are dozens of others out there. I would recommend a basic sight reading book like Mel Bay Grade 1 and one of the above as a supplement. I'd also recommend finding an instructor and taking lessons (even Skype).

One of the most important aspects to music is listening. If you want to learn Jazz listen to a lot of jazz. If you don't you'll never have a feel for it. If you learned just one simple tune and played with the recorded version you'd learn more about jazz as an art form than you would in a 1000 lessons using a book. Along those lines it may be wise to find any on line resource for learning All Blues, Freddie the Freeloader, or So What (Miles Davis), A Night in Tunisia (Dizzy Gillespi), 4 on 6 (We Montgomery). Something with a simple melody and chords. Drill it until you get sick of it. As for other tools, there is the Jamey Aebersold collection of play along instructional CDs and Band in a Box has a complete transcription of the Real Book out there somewhere.


I would learn everyday open string chords first. https://www.cyberfret.com/guitar-chords/7-basic-guitar-chords-for-beginners/'

Once you get these down, then go for the barre chords required for jazz. You have to learn simple stuff before you go to the harder material.

Learn 12 bar blues before you get caught up in the jazz forms.

Jazz can be difficult so learn basics first.

  • 2
    Barre chords for jazz? Hmmm.
    – user39614
    Commented Jul 26, 2018 at 5:55
  • @DavidBowling and your question is what exactly? Barre chords yes, you can alter major/minor to 7ths and beyond.
    – r lo
    Commented Jul 26, 2018 at 13:56
  • @rlo -- the question was rhetorical. You wrote, "the barre chords required for jazz, " but barre chords are almost never played by jazz guitarists.
    – user39614
    Commented Jul 27, 2018 at 0:19
  • @DavidBowling There are barre chords that are used in jazz. Depends on what you are playing. For a beginner, learn barre chords first.
    – r lo
    Commented Jul 27, 2018 at 0:40
  • 1
    @rlo -- I don't disagree that a beginner should learn barre chords, or that you can play barre chords in jazz, but it almost never happens in practice, largely because jazz players don't bash out chords, but comp instead, trying to leave space for other players to fill. Barre chords are certainly not required for jazz; they aren't even required for learning more advanced chord ideas.
    – user39614
    Commented Jul 27, 2018 at 0:44

Go to the basics!

Guitar is a wonderful instrument. It's very easy to start, but very difficult to master.


Practice every day! Even 15 minutes! Even 10 minutes! Even just to pick up your guitar. Persistence is the key to all!


Most important thing EVER on the guitar: know your notes on the fretboard!!! When you begin you should spend at least 5 minutes every day to locate every note on the fretboard, methodically.

For example:
On sunday, spend 5 minutes to find every C on your fretboard.
On Tuesday,spend 5 minutes to find every D on your fretboard.
On Wednesday, spend 5 minutes to find every E on your fretboard.

And so on. Next week, add F# to the mix, and the next week add Bb. Which leads me to...


Have a minimal music theory to start with. You should at least know the cycles of Fifths and understand how scales relate to their key signature.

For example:
No key signature is C major
F# is the key signature to G major
F# C# is the key signature to D major
Bb is the key signature to F major
Bb Eb is the key signature to Bb major

This knowledge will help you structure your training.


Learn the harmonization of the major scale!

You just cannot play any chord on any scale. The harmonization of a scale, means basically how to build chords on a certain scale.


For example:

The harmonization of the C major scale

Cmaj7  Dmin7  Emin7  Fmaj7  G7  Amin7  B half dim 7
C      D      E      F      G   A      B
E      F      G      A      B   C      D
G      A      B      C      D   E      F
B      C      D      E      F   G      A


On the guitar, your fretboard can be your worst enemy, but it can also be your best friend. The guitar is a complex instrument, because the notes are organized in a very particular way.

The knowledge of the fretboard will bring you the freedom to play and improvise, pic up new tunes quickly, arrange them the way you want...

This is true for any kind of music, but especially for Jazz oriented music.

  1. Keep looking for on-line courses. As you will grow on the instrument, these courses will start getting clearer.

  2. Don't try to grasp everything in a course. If you pic up 1 idea that you can apply to your daily practice, you're awesome!

  3. Go for starters courses: locating the notes on the fretboard, basic scales, basic arpegios. Jazz is an advenced music technically. Any Jazz course will necessarilly be advanced. Start with the basics.

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