Jazz Styles...



Jazz rhythm guitar often consists of very textural, odd-meter playing that includes generous use of exotic, difficult to fret chords. In 4/4 timing, it is common to play 2.5 beat intervals such as on the 2 and then the half beat or "and" after 4. The chords are typically derived from the 7th tone of its corresponding scale and can consist of ii-V-i progressions or improvisational comping.


Jazz guitarists use their knowledge of harmony and jazz theory to create jazz chord "voicings," which emphasize the 3rd and 7th notes of the chord. Some more sophisticated chord voicings also include the 9th, 11th, and 13th notes of the chord. In some modern jazz styles, dominant 7th chords in a tune may contain altered 9ths (either flattened by a semitone, which is called a "flat 9th", or sharpened by a semitone, which is called a "sharp 9th"); 11ths (sharpened by a semitone, which is called a "sharp 11th"); 13ths (typically flattened by a semitone, which is called a "flat 13th").

Jazz guitarists need to learn about a range of different chords, including major 7th, major 6th, minor 7th, minor/major 7th, dominant 7th, diminished, half-diminished, and augmented chords. As well, they need to learn about chord transformations (e.g., altered chords, such as "alt dominant chords" described above), chord substitutions, and re-harmonization techniques. Some jazz guitarists use their knowledge of jazz scales and chords to provide a walking bass-style accompaniment.

Jazz guitarists learn to perform these chords over the range of different chord progressions used in jazz, such as the II-V-I progression, the jazz-style blues progression, the minor jazz-style blues form, the "rhythm changes" progression, and the variety of chord progressions used in jazz ballads, and jazz standards. Guitarists may also learn to use the chord types, strumming styles, and effects pedals (e.g., chorus effect or fuzzbox) used in 1970s-era jazz-Latin, jazz-funk, and jazz-rock fusion music.


Jazz guitarists integrate the basic building blocks of scales and arpeggio patterns into balanced rhythmic and melodic phrases that make up a cohesive solo. Jazz guitarists often try to imbue their melodic phrasing with the sense of natural breathing and legato phrasing used by horn players such as saxophone players. As well, a jazz guitarists' solo improvisations have to have a rhythmic drive and "timefeel" that creates a sense of "swing" and "groove." The most experienced jazz guitarists learn to play with different "timefeels" such as playing "ahead of the beat" or "behind the beat," to create or release tension.

Another aspect of the jazz guitar style is the use of stylistically appropriate ornaments, such as grace notes, slides, and muted notes. Each sub-genre or era of jazz has different ornaments that are part of the style of that sub-genre or era. Jazz guitarists usually learn the appropriate ornamenting styles by listening to prominent recordings from a given style or jazz era. Some jazz guitarists also borrow ornamentation techniques from other jazz instruments, such as Wes Montgomery's borrowing of playing melodies in parallel octaves, which is a jazz piano technique. Jazz guitarists also have to learn how to add in passing tones, use "guide tones" and chord tones from the chord progression to structure their improvisations.

In the 1970s and 1980s, with jazz-rock fusion guitar playing, jazz guitarists incorporated rock guitar soloing approaches, such as riff-based soloing and usage of pentatonic and blues scale patterns. Some guitarists used Jimi Hendrix-influenced distortion and wah-wah effects to get a sustained, heavy tone, or even used rapid-fire guitar shredding techniques, such as tapping and tremolo bar bending. Guitarist Al Di Meola, who started his career with Return to Forever in 1974, was one of the first guitarists to perform in a "shred" style, a technique later used in rock and heavy metal playing. Di Meola used alternate-picking to perform very rapid sequences of notes in his solos.


When jazz guitar players improvise, they use the scales, modes, and arpeggios associated with the chords in a tune's chord progression. The approach to improvising has changed since the earliest eras of jazz guitar. During the Swing era, many soloists improvised "by ear" by embellishing the melody with ornaments and passing notes. However, during the bebop era, the rapid tempo and complicated chord progressions made it increasingly harder to play "by ear." Along with other improvisers, such as saxes and piano players, bebop-era jazz guitarists began to improvise over the chord changes using scales (whole tone scale, chromatic scale, etc.) and arpeggios.[1] Jazz guitar players tend to improvise around chord/scale relationships, rather than reworking the melody, possibly due to their familiarity with chords resulting from their comping role. A source of melodic ideas for improvisation is transcribing improvised solos from recordings. This provides jazz guitarists with a source of "licks", melodic phrases and ideas they incorporate either intact or in variations, and is an established way of learning from the previous generations of players.

Playing styles

Big band rhythm

In jazz big bands, popular during the 30s and 40s, the guitarist is considered an integral part of the rhythm section (guitar, drums and bass). They usually played a regular four chords to the bar, although an amount of harmonic improvisation is possible. Freddie Green, guitarist in the Count Basie orchestra, was a noted exponent this style. The harmonies are often minimal; for instance, the root note is often omitted on the assumption that it will be supplied by the bassist.

Small group comping

When jazz guitarists play chords underneath a song's melody or another musician's solo improvisations, it is called "comping", short for "accompanying" and for "complementing” Accompanying  in most jazz styles differs from the way chordal instruments accompany in many popular styles of music. In many popular styles of music, such as rock and pop, the rhythm guitarist usually performs the chords in rhythmic fashion which sets out the beat or groove of a tune. In contrast, in many modern jazz styles within smaller, the guitarist plays much more sparsely, intermingling periodic chords and delicate voicings into pauses in the melody or solo, and using periods of silence. Jazz guitarists commonly use a wide variety of inversions when comping, rather than only using standard voicings.

Chord-melody and unaccompanied soloing

In this style, the guitarist aims to render an entire song — harmony, melody and bass — in something like the way a classical guitarist or pianist can. Chord roots play an important role in this style; however, chords themselves can be used sparsely or more densely, depending on both the individual player and his or her arrangement of a particular piece. An added bass line can also be sparse, or used more densely and rhythmically as is found in ragtime guitar as well as more straight-ahead jazz styles. Chord-melody is often played with a plectrum (see Tal Farlow, George Benson and others); however finger style, as practiced by Joe Pass, George van Eps, Martin Taylor, Ted Greene, Lenny Breau or hybrid picking as practiced by Ed Bickert and others allows for a more complex, polyphonic approach to unaccompanied soloing.

"Blowing" or single-note soloing

Charlie Christian and Django Reinhardt are generally held to have initiated the use of the guitar to play melodies and improvisations over other instruments, the former using an early form of amplification, the latter playing forcefully on an acoustic guitar. Over the years, jazz guitarists have been able to solo in standard jazz idioms, such as bebop, cool jazz and so on, while in also absorbing influences from rock guitarists, such as the use of electronic effects.

Chord soloing

Jazz guitar soloists are not limited to playing single notes by their instrument. This allows them to create "chord solos" by adding the song's melody on top of the chord voicings. Wes Montgomery was noted for playing successive choruses in single notes, octaves and finally a chord solo. This technique differs from chord-melody soloing in that it is not intended to be used unaccompanied.