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Five Things You Can Do To Improve Your Guitar Playing



Working with aspiring professional jazz guitarists day in and day out, guitarist/educator Davy Mooney provides FIVE tips to improve your guitar playing.

Learn Your Scales

Scales aren’t everything, but if you get lost in those far-flung reaches of the neck and aren’t sure whether the consonant, correct notes on the second string up there between the 8th and 13th frets are fingered by 1-2-4, 1-3-4, 1-3, or 2-4—your playing is always going to be hit and miss. I learned the CAGED system, but whatever system you use, you need to do the work and develop fretboard fluency.

Think About Your Sound

I have players at UNT who have such a warm, appealing sound on their instrument that they can almost sell me on their solo even without learning their scales, haha. Keyword: “almost.” But a beautiful tone on your instrument, whether you’re playing jazz, rock, or anything in between, is a must.


You have to know tunes, even in the iReal Pro era. It will make the old folks respect you, and I’m convinced that something is lost in concentration and artistry when you have to divide your attention between reading chord changes and thinking about the form and content of your improvised solo. You need to save your concentration for phrasing, group interaction, technical execution, and—as the cliché goes—telling a story with your solo. Not whether the bridge goes to the IV or the vi.

Think About Technique

This is something the great Kurt Rosenwinkel advised me when I had the privilege of taking a couple of lessons with him at the Thelonious Monk Institute (now the Herbie Hancock Institute). At the time I was trying to play things that required right-hand techniques that I had yet to master, and rather than slow down and figure out how to execute the passages, I would say a little prayer, hope for the best, and inevitably crash and burn on some intervallic string-skipping thing. It’s important to be honest with yourself about the technical execution of your ideas. That’s what good technique means to me: how well do you execute your ideas? Hint: the metronome is your friend, but it won’t be there when you play with other humans.

Have Fun

What do Eddie Van Halen, Wes Montgomery, and Jamie Benn have in common? They all smile when they play. Playing music for a living is a great privilege, even when you’re getting slammed into the boards, so to speak. Find the music that you love, that gives you joy, and pursue that. The beauty of jazz guitar is the breadth of styles that it encompasses, and if you don’t like one person’s playing, that’s ok, but find the style and the players that speak to your soul. That’s the only way to sustain things in the long run. You have to have a love for the music. 

Davy Mooney is Assistant Professor of Jazz Guitar at UNT, and runs the jazz guitar program. 

The University of North Texas is one of the premier jazz studies programs in the world. With our new association, the JGT readers will have access to new original video instruction.   Please subscribe and tell your guitar friends to subscribe, and follow us!

Check out Davy’s new album on Sunnyside, “Davy Mooney and the Hope of Home Band Live at National Sawdust”.

Davy Mooney’s “Into the Labyrinth: An Anatomy of Position Playing for Jazz Guitar”

Davy’s Mel Bay book “Personalizing Jazz Vocabulary

Jazz Studies at UNT:

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