Interested in jazz but not sure where to begin? Jazz has a long history and a wide variety of subgenres — it’s easy to get lost in it all! Here, guitar teacher Dylan P. shows you seven easy jazz guitar songs to get you started…
Jazz music can sound very complicated, to say the least. It involves a combination of skills, including speed, precision, and endurance. There are many great jazz guitarists that can attest to that.
While advanced jazz can take quite a while to work up to, beginner jazz guitar songs aren’t difficult or time-consuming to learn. In this article, I provide videos and tabs for seven jazz songs that any beginner can start learning today. Let’s jump right into the songs!
“Summertime” is a catchy jazz standard composed by George Gershwin. It was originally written for the opera Porgy and Bess. Sublime’s “Summertime” is based on this piece.
This eerie melody will stick in your head all day! Below is a simplified tutorial. I think this person does a good job breaking it down (even better than reading tabs):
Jazz musicians like to embellish simple melodies. Here is a more advanced version of “Summertime”:
“Autumn Leaves” is medium tempo jazz piece by Joseph Kosma. Here is a nice recording by Eric Clapton. Listen to the song, and then learn the chord progression. Be sure to look up any chords you are unfamiliar with. Strum along with the recording and pay attention to the tempo! It’s not very fast.
Let’s look at the video:
Bonus! What is the difference between A7, Am7, and Amaj7? Look up seventh chords, or ask your teacher!
Fly Me To The Moon
“Fly Me To The Moon” is a jazz standard made famous by Frank Sinatra. The steady quarter note pulse is a great way to practice changing 7th chords, a staple of jazz music. Here’s a sassy version by Jason Mraz and the accompanying chords:
“Blue Monk” is a B flat blues piece written by Thelonious Monk. Try learning both parts and playing it with a friend! Look here for the chords and tabs.
Watch this advanced version of the piece:
Now watch this simplified version:
“Blue Bossa” is a bossa-nova piece with an infectious groove. Bossa-nova is Latin influenced jazz.
Here are the chords and tabs. Watch the video below and familiarize yourself with the melody. Notice the choppy way the chords are being played:
“So What” is a famous piece by Miles Davis. “So What” is a piece of modal jazz, which is built on modes rather than major and minor scales. If you’re not sure what a mode is, ask your teacher for a lesson on them!
Check out the tabs for this song. This video is a great example of the main theme on guitar:
I also recommend you watch this video of Miles Davis and John Coltrane ripping the piece apart in 1959:
“Nuages” is a piece of gypsy jazz by Django Reinhardt. Django played at incredible speeds with only two fingers! He lost use of his other two in a fire.
Django’s solos and improvisation move at intimidating speeds, but the main melody of Nuages is easy to understand.
If it’s too difficult to play the chords and melody at the same time, just play the melody — you can do this by only playing the highest note in each chord cluster. “Nuages” is based on a classical piece by the same name, composed by Claude Debussy. Look up that piece and see if you can hear the similarities.
Here is a recording of Django:
Here is a close up version with a simplified melody:
As you begin to learn how to play guitar, don’t worry about the improvisations and embellishments (the fast, fancy stuff). Start by making sure you understand every chord in the song, then move on to the melody.
Try learning one of these songs with a friend so you can both practice trading lead and rhythm.
Want to hear some advanced jazz? Check out this video by Snarky Puppy! There’s a cool guitar riff at about a minute in:
Once you learn some of these beginner jazz guitar songs, you’ll be ready for more advanced playing. Even better, you’ll be better equipped to write your own jazz song! Have fun with your playing and make sure to practice every single day!
Working with a private guitar teacher is a great way to build your jazz guitar skills fast. Find your guitar teacher today!
Photo by Oliver