Fake It ‘Till You Make It: How to Play Jazz Guitar

February 23, 2017 4 min read

Playing jazz music on a acoustic guitar.

Are you a big fan of jazz guitar? There’s nothing quite like the dewy, resonating sound of jazz guitar being played in a dimly lit jazz club.

If you’re aspiring to be a jazz guitarist, you may be feeling like it’s impossible. However, it’s far from impossible– you just have to fake it until you make it.

To help you out, we put together a simplified guide to learning how to play jazz guitar easily with a bit of practice.

Check out these great tips!

How To Play Jazz Guitar – A Guide

Learning how to play jazz guitar may be easier than you think.

Learn the essential skills

There are three major skills you’ll need to at least grasp if you want to learn how to play jazz guitar:

Walking bass lines

The rhythms used while playing the bass vary widely across genres of music. When it comes to jazz, swing, and jump blues, bass players will play what’s known as a walking bass line.

A walking bass line is a pulse used when playing the bass that forms from playing a sequence of quarter notes in an “upwards” part.

A walking bass line quite literally walking through the scale of each chord with one note per beat at every beat of every measure.

This may seem a bit complicated, but mastering the walking bass line just takes a bit of practice until you get your “a-ha!” moment.

It helps to break walking bass lines down into beat steps:

  • B1 – This beat sets the tone, whether it be major, minor, dominant, or half-diminished. Play the root of the chord for this beat.
  • B2 – For the second beat, play a chord tone of the chord you’ve chosen or any one note on the scale of that chord. You can experiment quite a bit with this.
  • B3 – Do the same thing you did with the second beat, but choose a different note.
  • B4 – Play a ton that leads to the next root. A leading tone bridges the gap from the first chord into the next. A leading tone can be either chromatic, diatonic, or dominant.

As you can see, much of jazz guitar and bass is just improvising on the spot rather than strict adherence to a formula.

The solo

Soloing is a big part of jazz guitar and honestly can be one of the most entertaining parts of learning how to play jazz guitar.

If you’re just starting out, learning the five big essential soloing patterns for jazz guitar is helpful.

The more you practice and get used to soloing, then natural impromptu solos will begin to come out as you get more comfortable with this playing style.


Lastly, we have comping. Comping is one of the more elusive aspects of jazz guitar and even practiced guitarists don’t understand the term.

Comping is an abbreviation of the word “accompanying”. This jazz term is used to describe chords and rhythms that guitar players use to support the band.

Keyboard players and percussionists also comp in jazz bands as well.

Dedicate time to learning the standard songs.

How did you manage to learn how to play the guitar? Through practicing tabs, right?

The best way to learn any style of music is to practice and experiment with songs that exemplify the genre. This is especially true for jazz guitar.

It helps to learn the melody of a jazz song first and then learn the chords.

Mix these songs up when you start getting better at them. After you’ve mastered about ten jazz classics and have a good feel for jazz, give freestyling a shot.

Assess where you’re starting.

Can you already play the guitar pretty well? Do you know any jazz songs at all? Are you good at soloing?

You’ll want to eventually perfect your strengths, but try to focus more on learning the basics of your weaknesses and practice them often.

Remember these useful tips and tricks.

Listen to the greats. Just like you don’t become a great writer without reading a lot of great books, you don’t become a great musician unless you immerse yourself in music. Listen to Wes Montgomery, Joe Pass, Pat Metheny, George Benson, and everyone in between.

Only practice what you actually enjoy. Jazz guitar is very broad and has many subgenres within it, and most of them differ quite a bit. Don’t focus too much on one technique and do your best to attempt the music you actually want to play.

Make sure you’re using the right equipment to play jazz guitar. When you’re starting out, you definitely don’t need to invest hundreds of dollars into jazz-centric equipment before you know that you really want to play this style seriously. But do try to spend some time learning about how to shop for equipment.

Don’t go nuts and take on more challenges than you should. Jazz is both fluid and complex– taking on a ridiculous practice plan is going to burn you out.

Schedule your practice time and choose the right spot to practice. Jazz is a chill, soulful type of music. Your environment should facilitate that, and dedicated practice time will make you more likely to make practicing jazz guitar a habit.

Follow this standard checklist every time you practice:

  1. Memorize melodies in two different positions on your fretboard.
  2. Practice singing the melody from just your memory.
  3. Play the root notes of every chord in time to a backing track, if possible. This is why investing in jazz albums is useful for practicing.
  4. Practice comping.
  5. Play arpeggios for every chord in one octave and two octaves.
  6. Play scales for every chord in one octave and two octaves.
  7. Practice walking bass lines frequently.

Remember that there is no ultimate jazz practice guide because jazz musicians tend to differ quite a bit. Practice the basics for a while and once you get good, start changing up your practice routine.

Learn How To Play Jazz Guitar Today!

Did you find our guide on how to play jazz guitar informative? Tell us what you think, along with your own tips and tricks for learning jazz guitar, below in the comments section.