Jazz Guitar Elements Blog

Sight Reading

Sight Reading is probably one of the most important and also most overlooked skills that jazz guitar players need to consider. Think about regular “reading” for a moment and try to imagine the enormous amount of reading we do on a daily basis. We read our emails, Facebook page, Twitter, News Feed and on and on. We read all day!

With all this reading we do on a daily basis, we are taking in vast amounts of information. Reading is like a magic portal to information which stimulates our brains and enhances our lives.

Now try to image if you replaced all of that “regular” reading  with music reading. Imagine instead that you are now reading tunes, solos, licks, chord changes, songs your friends send you, music you need to learn for a gig and even music you are composing and on and on. What might that be like?

Now instead of taking in vast amounts of information on your Facebook friends’ activities or the latest in crazy political happening in the news, you are absorbing music and sounds from a piece of manuscript paper. Just like with text, reading music is like a magic portal into a vast universe of sound and musical adventures.

So what do you do? Just read everything and anything you can get your hands on. Read the Fakebook, read chord changes, solos, exercises, classical music, jazz music, pop music, Big Band music, anything and everything.

Of course there are all sorts of great books which focus on reading. I always liked “Rhythms Complete” by Charles Collins and “Advanced Rhythms” by Joe Allard. These two books are a great place to get a good start on reading jazz. If you search for sight reading books you will find many other great books as well. If you have friends who play music, borrow their books. This is especially a good idea if your friends play violin or flute. Both of those instruments have ranges which extend into the higher registers. Great practice to read all those ledger lines.

As guitar players we need to focus on reading three important types of music. There are three skills or three areas we must look at. The first is just plain old reading of single note music. This would be what a trumpet or sax player reads. (Melodies) The second type of music we need to read is chord changes. We need to be able to read the chord changes in time, know what types of extensions to add and improvise interesting jazz rhythms to these chord changes as well. The third type of reading jazz guitar players need to focus on is reading polyphonic music. (full chords) Think of Joe Pass chord solos, classical guitar music and so on. Piano players learn to read anywhere from two to eight notes at a time using both hands. We need to learn to read more than one note at a time as well.

As I mentioned already, read anything and everything you can get your hands on. Have sheet music around. Place a pile of books on your music stand or on your desk. Make your practice environment a minefield of music books, charts and manuscript paper. Jump in and read, read, read.

What do you think? Share your music reading experiences with us. What are some other great books for learning to sight read?

I am currently working on a Jazz Guitar Sight Reading Book. I’m putting together a collection of around 40 reading exercises. Each piece will focus on a particular reading element. The exercises will progress from easy to more difficult. I feel there are not enough books which reflect some of the more modern sounds in jazz so I’ve made that the focus of my new book. I’m very excited about this new book and hope to have it available soon.

Happy sight reading!

Drop 2 Chords (Stella)

In this lesson we will look at the chords for the first 9 bars of “Stella By Startlight.” We will use Drop 2 chord voicings to create a comping pattern which is melodically and rhythmically interesting.

We will achieve our goal by following these steps.

  • Learn to play the Drop 2 chords we need.

  • Arrange them so they create a melodically interesting melodic line.

  • Add extensions to the chords.

  • Add jazz rhythms

Take a look at the chord voicings below and make sure you can play all of them. Also important to note is that no positions or chord names such as “Cmaj7” are given. You will need to find the roots for each of the chords. Once you know where the root of each chord is, you will then be able to move them around and play them in any key.

Continue reading “Drop 2 Chords (Stella)”

Improv Lesson 3 (Targeting 3rds)

In this lesson, we will look at soloing in a Bebop style using a technique I call “targeting 3rds.” This technique will help make your soloing sound like you are always right on the changes. The most important aspect of soloing on standards and Bebop tunes is to sound like you are playing on the chord changes and not just wandering around the modes. An important characteristic of a great Bebop solo is that you can hear the chord changes in the soloing even when no one is comping.

The way to achieve this is to always make the first note of a new chord change one of the chord tones. Making the 3rd of the chord the first note you play for each new chord is one of the strongest ways to express the sound of the chord.

The first step is to practice playing only the third of each chord for either a standard or Bebop tune. As an example, let’s look at how we can apply this to the standard “Lady Bird.”

Continue reading “Improv Lesson 3 (Targeting 3rds)”

3 Octave Scales

In this lesson, we will combine 3 scale forms to produce fingerings to play scales across 3 octaves. The scale forms are standard fingerings used to play major scales. First we will look at 3 major scale fingerings.

*Note: White notes are the roots of the scale.

Root 3rd fret

Root 10th fret

Root 15th fret

Visualizing all 3 scales at the same time on the fingerboard, we end up with the following.

Continue reading “3 Octave Scales”

Improv Lesson 2 (BeBop)

Green Dolphin Street is one of my favorite types of standards to improvise on. It mixes modal progressions with Bebop. Take a look at the chart below. The “A” sections will be played using a modal technique and “B” and “B1” will be played in a Bebop style.

Let’s start with the “A” sections. For this modal section, we will use a technique called “Common Tone Approach.” This is a great tune to demonstrate this technique because we have a “C” pedal tone through most of the “A” section. As the name suggests, we will use a common tone to help us generate the modes we need to improvise. In other words, all of our modes will use the “C” note as their roots. Let’s begin. Continue reading “Improv Lesson 2 (BeBop)”

Practice Timetable

You’ve probably noticed that learning jazz guitar involves practicing many different things from scales to chords to arpeggios and so much more. You may even start to realize that there is an overwhelming amount of material to practice. Yes, there is a lot to practice but it’s all very doable. Knowing how to effectively organize your practice time is critical to moving forward. So what do we do.

Although you do need to practice everything, you need to practice the areas where you are weak more often and areas where you are strong less often. In other words, work on new techniques and concepts should take up the majority of your practice time while leaving a little time to review techniques and concepts you are more confident with.

A practice timetable is an excellent way to organize your practice time. A timetable allows you to keep track of the things you need to practice, how much time you will spend on each and what you are practicing each day. This way you keep track of the things you practiced yesterday or last week and have a clear record of everything you have done and everything you need to do. It’s so easy to find yourself wrapped up in something new, especially when you are excited about practicing it. This can lead you to neglect areas that may not be one hundred percent and require attention. Continue reading “Practice Timetable”

Chord Substitution

Chord substition is a great way to get some extra millage out of the chords you already know. It’s also a great technique to find new ways to come up with interesting progressions. The basic idea is to use one chord in place of another.

Let’s start with a few simple examples.

 The Basics

C6 = Am7

Cm6 = Am7(b5)

With these two examples, they are the same because they share the exact same notes.

Continue reading “Chord Substitution”

Improv Lesson 1 (Modal Jazz)

Let’s take a look at a simple modal composition. We will concentrate on: finding the scales we need, mapping them out on the fingerboard and working them into a solo.

First, look at the leadsheet below and listen to the recorded example to get a basic feel for the tune.



Continue reading “Improv Lesson 1 (Modal Jazz)”