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10 Essential Tunes Every Jazz Guitar Player Should Know

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JGT contributor Ted Ludwig provides 10 tunes that are essential for jazz guitarists when entering the world of ‘sitting in’.

Jazz Blues – (Billies Bounce, Straight No Chaser, Sonnymoon for Two, etc….) A Jazz Blues is called on most Jam sessions. It’s just essential for every Jazz Guitarist’s repertoire. 

Rhythm Changes – (Oleo, Anthropology, Rhythm-A-Ning, etc….) This, along with Jazz Blues will get called on most jam sessions. These are the changes to Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm” It’s often called at a fast tempo to test the player’s technical ability. So, get your tempos up!

Autumn Leaves – Learn this in all keys! It will get called in different keys on various jam sessions. It’s a classic tune that everyone knows. Definitely one that gets called when playing with another guitar player.


All The Things You Are – One of the most important tunes of all time!!! Barre none! This tune will test your ability to play changes and know your fingerboard. It can be a difficult tune at first but know this one WELL!! If you can’t play over this tune, you definitely won’t make a good impression.


Stella by Starlight – This can also be a difficult tune to learn at first. It has a lot of great changes that move through different keys. There are also multiple chord substitutions that get used on gigs. Learn this one well. If you can play Stella and ATUR, you can play most standards. 

Wave – Our First Jobim tune. You might think that “Girl from Ipanema” would be first, but Wave definitely gets called more on Jam sessions. Learn many Jobim tunes. They have great changes and are melodic, and you’ll find that most audiences love them.


Softly as a Morning Sunrise – This tune should be higher on the list. It’s been called on me at  jam sessions so so so many times. It’s pretty easy to play on, so get your tempos up!!!

Recorda-me – This Joe Henderson classic is a favorite among many modern jazz musicians. Check out the intro! Many player’s do it and you don’t want to be the cat that screws it up on the gig. This tune tests your ability to play through a cycle of ii V I changes.


Body and Soul – When someone asks for a ballad, this one gets called more than any other tune on the Bandstand. Also, know the Monk tune “Round Midnight “. You should be able to play both of these solos and know some great intros and endings.

Giant Steps – This Coltrane hit is one of the most classic but most challenging tunes to learn. It really tests your ability to play difficult changes at a fast tempo. Don’t kid yourself, it gets called all of the time on jam sessions. Musicians want to see if you can really play, so they call Giant Steps and they call it fast. Don’t fall flat on your face at jam sessions. Learn this tune!!!


Have some essential tunes of your own? Join the conversation on Facebook.


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