Are you willing to take a step out of your musical comfort zone to explore styles of music you may not have considered before?
To do so will put you on the path to becoming a great guitar player and musician. Listen to the greats, and you will discover that what you are hearing is the sum of all the influences from varying styles of music they have come across, studied, and learned from, on the way to becoming the musicians they are/were.
You must do the same with your own guitar playing, and look outside of what you know and are familiar with regarding musical style. Yes, you are who you are, and you like what you like, but there is much that other styles of music have to offer your playing, such as jazz.
It doesn't even matter if you like jazz, or know if you like it or not. The point is, jazz has the potential to boost your level of acoustic guitar playing big time, bringing much more depth and sophistication to it.
I’m not saying drop everything and become a jazz musician, but I am saying be open to other genres of music, learn from them, and let them enhance your own guitar playing style.
The alternative is to stick with what you know and are familiar with, and in the process stunt your musical growth and creativity. I’m going to assume this is not what you want, so let me show you 5 areas of your guitar playing that will improve dramatically through the study of jazz. You don’t even need to play jazz to benefit from it.
It Doesn’t Matter If You’re Not A Jazz Guitarist, Or Even Want To Be One
I have studied Jazz at college level and played my fair share of it, however I don’t consider myself to be a jazz guitarist per se. I do however love the style and am forever grateful I discovered it, becoming a much better guitar player through doing so. It was a massive game changer to say the least!
As I said earlier, you don’t need to become a full blown jazz musician, or any other kind of musician for that matter to observe, study, and learn from other styles of music outside your own. There are so many things that will enhance your own playing style, that you really are missing out if you stay within the walls of your own little musical world.
Think of all the music that exists out there like a smorgasbord of food, or a buffet. Yes, you will choose the food you like the most, however it’s nice to add something you haven’t tried before, something a little different to enhance what is already on your plate, so to speak.
The following are 5 areas of jazz that’ll make you a much better, more rounded, acoustic guitar player and musician.
Learning some jazz tunes, often referred to as standards, will increase your chord vocabulary on guitar. This is because jazz music consists of many chords of varying kinds, of which you will need to learn in order to play the style. It’s not like your typical rock song that generally consists of 3 - 5 chords. Jazz tunes have many more chords, including extensions and substitutions.
The great news is these chords transfer well over into other styles of music, so they will be very useful to you outside of jazz too. Check out John Mayor, Pink Floyd, or Tommy Emmanuel for some examples of jazz influenced chords being used in a non jazz context.
Check out these advanced sounding, easy to play jazz chords
Jazz tunes are renowned for frequently changing key centres. As a result, arpeggios are often needed to negotiate these changes. Of course, arpeggios are used in all styles of music, however in jazz you are forced into using them perhaps a little more than any other style of music.
Again, developing your arpeggio playing crosses over into other styles of music beautifully. It doesn’t matter if the music you play is more or less diatonic (ie. stays within the key). There are so many cool things you can do with arpeggios that will bring a whole new level of sophistication and melody to your playing, whether the tune requires you to use arpeggios or not. See further down this article for an example of this.
Improvisation is a massive part of jazz. While it exists in other styles of music, improvisation is at the forefront of jazz. Through studying the jazz style, your skills in this area will increase not just in soloing, but in jamming with other musicians too.
A typical jazz jam will consist of a “real book” consisting of the chord charts to many jazz tunes. These charts are very general, outlining the basic changes to a song. All instrumentalists in the jam will improvise off of these charts. There is so much you can learn in this kind of environment and take into other styles of music with you. It’s also heaps of fun and a very satisfying feeling of accomplishment when you are able to hold your own at a jazz jam.
Within the context of a jazz duo or trio, where there is no bass player, the guitar will often adopt the role of the bass by playing a walking bass line. Taking on the role of another instrument, even if just in part, is a great way to expand your guitar playing and get a different perspective on things than you would normally.
A walking bass line will teach you a lot about the harmony of a chord and targeting various chord tones. A walking bass line is also great to apply to a blues progression to “jazz” it up a little, as well as refining the skill of playing bass parts in your own acoustic instrumental arrangements of songs.
Chord/melody is a big part of jazz guitar playing. This is when you play both the harmony (chords) and melody parts to a tune at the same time, within the one arrangement, on the one guitar.
Listen to players like Martin Taylor, Joe Pass, or Lenny Breau and you will hear amazing chord/melody arrangements of jazz tunes. Go a step further by learning some of these arrangements, and you will gain valuable knowledge and know how of doing this yourself, whether it be in a jazz context, or an acoustic instrumental arrangement of a song in another style.
One very cool way of applying arpeggios to your guitar playing is what’s known as diatonic arpeggio substitution. The rule is that you can substitute one arpeggio for another from the same key.
You will gain access to some really cool, unique and unpredictable sounds when applying this concept to your guitar playing.
Here are the two arpeggio patterns I will be using to demonstrate this concept to you:
For this example I will be substituting a G major arpeggio over an F chord vamp. Both the G and F chords belong to the same key, in this case C major, so we are staying true to our rule of substituting one arpeggio for another of the same key. Before I demonstrate this, have a listen to both G major arpeggios over the F chord to get the sound into your ears a little:
The following is a short etude demonstrating the possibilities of this sound:
The result is a partial lydian sound along with some upper extensions of the F chord to go with it.
The following table outlines what is happening here:
The G and D notes we get as a result of playing the G Major arpeggio over the F are common extensions of this chord, the 9th and 6th/13th respectively. The B note is what give us the lydian sound.
I have created an ebook/audio on this very topic to explain and demonstrate it for you in much more detail. To do so here is beyond the scope of this article.
About the author: Specialising in the acoustic, Simon Candy is a musician and guitar instructor from Melbourne, Australia. With 20 plus years of teaching experience and expertise, Simon trains people to become great guitar players through styles such as rock, blues, jazz, and fingerpicking. Simon both runs his own guitar school and provides online instruction for acoustic guitar