Connect with us

Jazz Advice

What Should I Be Working On?



Jazz guitarist and Kennesaw State University professor Trey Wright provides a guide for Beginning, Intermediate, and Advanced guitar students.

As a performer and educator, I often get asked “What should I be working on?” by aspiring jazz guitarists in the music community.  Although it is tempting to simply reply “Listen, learn tunes, and transcribe solos”, it can be useful to dig deeper and organize appropriate jazz concepts for beginning, intermediate, and advanced experience levels.  I firmly believe that there is no substitute for an effective teacher and mentor (I have been blessed with many – all of whom have made a significant difference in my playing and career!), but hopefully, the following list of activities can be useful and will put you on the path to success in your musical journey.  For simplicity, I have organized the skills into three categories:  chord studies; scale, arpeggio, and improvisation studies; and repertoire.  These are essential skills for any aspiring jazz guitarist, and they are the main areas of focus for my students at Kennesaw State University.

Every student’s path is different; the list below is not meant to be definitive but is instead a rough guide to learning to play jazz.    Also, even though they are not on the list below, I would encourage all students to work on technique, reading, chord melodies, transcription, etc.   For scale studies, I would encourage students to learn all scales, arpeggios, and lines in five positions and to practice them in all keys.  

I have covered many of these topics in previous video lessons for Jazz Guitar Today – check out my JGT page to find my lessons on chord studies and improvisation.

Beginning Jazz Guitar Students:

  • Chord Studies:  basic shell chords, 9th and 13th chords, Major and minor ii V7 comping, triad inversions
  • Scale and Arpeggio Studies/Improvisation:  Major, Dorian, and Mixolydian scales and vocabulary. 1 octave arpeggios (Maj7, m7, 7, m7b5, dim 7)
  • Suggested Repertoire and Song Forms:  I IV V Blues, minor blues, “So What”, “Equinox”, “Summertime”, “Impressions”, “Freddie Freeloader”, “Autumn Leaves”, etc.

Intermediate Jazz Guitar Students:

  • Chord Studies:  Drop 2 and Drop 3 inversions (Maj7, 7, m7, m7b5, dim7), comping etudes (Guitar Comping by Barry Galbraith is a great resource!)
  • Scale and Arpeggio Studies/Improvisation:  Major and Minor ii V7 patterns, altered dominant scales, 2 octave arpeggios (Maj 7, 7, m7, m7b5, dim7)
  • Suggested Repertoire and Song Forms:  Jazz Blues, songs with ii V7 cadences, Rhythm Changes, “Tune Up”, “Four”, “All the Things You Are”, “On Green Dolphin Street”, “Stella by Starlight”, etc.

Advanced Jazz Guitar Students:

  • Chord Studies:  Chord solos (Joe Pass Chord Solos is a great resource!)
  • Scale and Arpeggio Studies/Improvisation:  Melodic Minor, Lydian Dominant, Locrian #2, Diminished Scales, triad pairs, minor pentatonic superimposition
  • Suggested Repertoire and Song Forms:  Wayne Shorter compositions, “Giant Steps”, “Moment’s Notice”, “Stablemates”, etc.

The above list is an intentional simplification to help get you started and track your progress.  As I mentioned above, nothing can substitute for the guidance of a great teacher! Best of luck on your journey!  Reach out to me with any questions or comments.  You can find my contact info HERE.

Subscribe to Jazz Guitar Today – it’s FREE!

Continue Reading

Join the JGT Newsletter

Featured Luthiers