How To Play Smooth Jazz Guitar

For guitarists, learning how to play smooth jazz guitar is a great addition to their repertoire, whether they are jazz fans or not. There's something cool about the sound of jazz music. Whether you are a fan of old school jazz like the Nat King Cole Trio or more contemporary artists like George Benson, the same sophisticated vibe runs through their music. The warm tone of jazz guitar can add a new depth to a song and give it a different feel, even changing a song from a steady rock piece to something more soulful.

To learn how to play smooth jazz guitar you will need:

  • An electric guitar
  • An amplifier
  • CD player
  • Jazz CDs
  • Book of jazz chords & scales
  • A guitar pick
  • An instrument cable
  1. Plug  the electric guitar into the amplifier and adjust the tone controls accordingly. A suitable jazz tone is warm and bright but without the sharp attack associated with rock and blues. Adjust the treble tone control and the bass at halfway on the amplifier controls. If there is a middle tone control, set this to less than halfway. On the guitar if there is a pick up selector set it to the neck pick up for that warm bluesy tone. If you have a 5 way selector similar to a Fender Stratocaster you can set the pick up selector to position "2" or "4" for an out of phase sound. To achieve this on any other model, roll the guitar tonal controls to 3/4 from maximum.
  2. Open the jazz chord and scales instruction book. If you are beginner this is a good opportunity to get familiar with the voicing of certain chord shapes and scale positions. Warm up by fingering chord positions and practice changing from chord to chord. This applies to both beginner and skilled players as it is good practice to warm up the hands before playing. Finish the warm up by performing some simple scale runs.
  3. Play along to a CD. Select a song where you know the fundamentals such as the chord changes and the key of the piece. Play along to the piece, listening to any inflections the guitar adds to the music. This is where you begin to develop your own style and way of doing things, so try to add something new to the piece. If there is an instrumental break, try to play along but do not worry if you are not accurate note for note. You can add your own notes and embellishments as you begin to develop your own voice.
  4. Listen carefully to the player's tone and pace. An important part of jazz guitar is the smooth tone that is associated with it. In jazz guitar there is very little in the way of effects and most guitarists keep it to clean simple sound. Depending on your ability,listen to a player that you can learn from. If lightening fast runs are not your style, listen to how other players phrase their notes and whether a simple 3 note solo is more effective than an 8 bar instrumental.
  5. Play along to a variety of songs at different skill levels. Whether you are playing along to a CD of jazz songs from an album or to a specially designed backing track CD that is focussed on practice, try to play along to numerous styles. Choose some songs that you are already familiar with and then try to play along with some slightly more difficult ones so that you can develop and improve your playing.
  6. Learn to improvise.  Improvisation is a major part of a lot of jazz songs and players like Django Reinhardt and John Schofield are known for their great improvisational compositions. Improvising means playing freely without planning out the piece. It is a good way to speed up the development of your ability and a great way to discover new techniques. Try to improvise on a daily basis for a set period of time.


Manhattan School of Music

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