Jazz Guitar Lesson with Warren Greig: Playing Jazz On The Guitar

One of the biggest challenges for the guitarist who is learning to play jazz is the complexity of the fingerboard. Knowing how to play a variety of scales and arpeggios in all keys is necessary though to play jazz in an authentic manner.

One of the biggest challenges for the guitarist who is learning to play jazz is the complexity of the fingerboard. Knowing how to play a variety of scales and arpeggios in all keys is necessary though to play jazz in an authentic manner.

Saxophone players utilize scales and arpeggios in such a way that there is a great deal of variety in their improvised lines. Finding the notes on the Sax is a lot easier than finding them on the guitar fingerboard but it is easier to transpose ideas into all keys on the guitar once the scales and arpeggios are absorbed.


Firstly the guitarist should know how to play arpeggios in triadic or three note form in the following qualities; augmented, major, minor and diminished. Once this is all accomplished they should be played in as many locations as possible after which the arpeggios can be inverted and played again in all keys.

Arpeggios are difficult to play as they involve string skips and some guitarists avoid them because of this. The validity of incorporating arpeggios in the improvised line can be verified by checking out solos by players such as Charlie Parker and John Coltrane.

The next step would be to play arpeggios of the four note chords in the following qualities; major 7th, m7, m7b5 and diminished. As was the case with the triadic forms these forms should also be played in all inversions in all keys.


Many guitarists learn the major scale and its modes thoroughly but still struggle when playing over some chord progressions. This could be the result of not knowing the following scales; melodic minor, harmonic minor and diminished.

In the case of the major scale I don’t think of the Greek names such as Ionian and Dorian etc as it creates another mental step that in my case interferes with real time playing. Therefore I think of the modes of the major scales as the first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh modes respectively. This is useful in that there is a lot of confusion regarding the proper names for the modes of the melodic and harmonic minor scales.

The major, harmonic and melodic minor scales are seven note scales with seven modes. The diminished scale is an eight note scale with eight modes. In practical terms being able to improvise on a chord is more interesting if you can play off of notes other than the root.

Once scales are leaned many players get frustrated because their lines are too scalar. Playing a variety of the intervals available in each scale is beneficial in that you can break up your lines with larger intervals. One reason wider intervals are avoided by some is that larger intervals require string skips and like arpeggios are more difficult to play than scalar ideas.


The information indicated above is a starting point and does not include ideas such as five note arpeggios and the following scales; augmented, chromatic and the eight note bebop scale. However, playing these things all over the guitar and figuring out a means of fingering these sounds in all combinations is hard work.

Another important aspect of playing jazz on the guitar is articulation. It is easy for a Sax player to combine tongued notes with slurred notes. To simulate slurring on the guitar the player needs to utilize hammer-ons, pull-offs and slides.

When I started playing jazz I wondered why my solos sounded off when I followed a Sax solo. At the time I picked every note, so it was not only what I played but how I played it that detracted from playing good solos.

The advantage to guitar is that it is just as easy to play in one key as it is any other. This is certainly not the case with Saxophone where certain keys require difficult fingerings.

Many guitarists avoid the work involved with learning how to play the arpeggios and scales in all keys and try to skate through changes relying solely on major scale ideas, pentatonic and blues scales. Mixing up the ideas between scalar passages, intervallic ideas and arpeggios breaks up the melodic contour of the line and gives the player more choices when soloing.

Please check out Warren Greig’s website at http://www.warrengreig.com/ to see what else Warren has to offer.

About Lyle Robinson 347 Articles
Lyle Robinson is the owner/creator/publisher and editor of Jazz Guitar Life, an online magazine dedicated to the Jazz Guitar and its community of fine players worldwide.

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