Jazz Guitar Corner: 10 Steps to Learning Jazz Guitar Standards

by Matt Warnock
Posted Jun 23, 2014 at 4:08pm

One of the biggest problems I encounter with jazz guitar students is that they have learned a ton of chords, scales and arpeggios, but they can’t play a tune or jam on a standard with other musicians.

When learning how to play jazz guitar, it’s vital to keep a focus on learning tunes, as well as developing technique, in order to avoid an awkward situation when someone invites you to jam and you don’t know any tunes.

Most players, if not all, pick up the guitar to play songs and jam with other people, so having a strategy in the practice room for learning standards will be beneficial to help you achieve this goal.

In this lesson, I’ve listed my 10-step checklist that I run in the woodshed when I learn a new jazz standard so that you can have a group of exercises that will build your chord, scale and arpeggio vocabulary while allowing you to increase your repertoire at the same time.

Check out these 10 exercises, and if you have an essential item you'd add to this list, share it in the comments section below.

Learning Jazz Standards Checklist

Here is the list of 10 exercises to help you learn any jazz standard on guitar. Depending on where your strengths and weaknesses lie, you might want to focus more time on the melody, chord, scale or arpeggios sections.

01. Memorize the melody in two positions on the fretboard.
02. Sing the melody from memory.
03. Play the root note of each chord in time to a backing track.
04. Comp Drop 3 chords from the sixth and fifth-string root notes.
05. Comp Drop 2 chords from the fifth and fourth-string root notes.
06. Play one-octave arpeggios for each chord.
07. Play two-octave arpeggios for each chord.
08. Play one-octave scales for each chord.
09. Play two-octave scales for each chord.
10. Work on a half time and/or walking bass line for the chord changes.

Try working out these 10 items the next time you learn a jazz standard on guitar and see how they can help you solidify a tune into your memory and under your fingers from a melody, comping and soloing situation.

Do you have an essential learning tool that you would add to this list? Share your thoughts in the COMMENTS section below.

Matt Warnock is the owner of mattwarnockguitar.com, a free website that provides hundreds of lessons and resources designed to help guitarists of all experience levels meet their practice and performance goals. Matt lives in the UK, where he is a lecturer in Popular Music Performance at the University of Chester and an examiner for the London College of Music (Registry of Guitar Tutors).