by Bruce Arnold

Learning how to play jazz guitar is no cakewalk but then again that is what attracts most of us to the style to begin with. Jazz guitar is indeed challenging, however, it is also extremely rewarding because the form allows you the ultimate freedom of expression as a musician. But before you can exercise that freedom, you have to put your time in listening to jazz and learning the requisite theory, chords, rhythms and vocabulary.

Most beginner students realize that jazz is a complicated musical style and that they will need to develop a lot of tools to play it well. A famous jazz musician once said, “jazz can be taught in just three lessons; 1st lesson: practice for 10 years; 2nd lesson: practice and perform for 10 years; 3rd lesson: practice, perform and develop your art for 10 years.” Hopefully we can drastically shorten that 30-year cycle by leveraging some of the educational tools we have available to us today such as interactive video and online learning assets from TrueFire. 🙂

The first thing we are going to talk about in this series of video guitar lesson blog posts is scales. There are really 22 different scales to learn to improvise over jazz. These are:

Modes of Major
Ionian (Major)
Melodic Minor Ascending Modes
Melodic Minor Ascending also called Jazz Minor
Dorian b2
Lydian #5
Lydian b7
Mixolydian b6
Locrian Natural 2

3 Symmetrical Modes
Symmetrical Diminished
Whole Tone

Two Modes of Harmonic Minor
Harmonic Minor
Mixolydian b2b6

We are going to focus on 5 scales. They are from the Major scale modes: Major, Dorian, Mixolydian, Aeolian and two commonly used pentatonic scales commonly referred to as Major and Minor pentatonic. These scales are the most used scales for beginning jazz guitarists and will help you get started soloing on typical jazz chord changes. To develop into a proficient jazz guitar player you need to know all the previously mentioned scales. I would suggest using TrueFire’s Total Modal to learn these scales. A combination of these two methods will give what you need to know to apply scales to any idiom.

When learning a new scale I would recommend to first memorizing the notes and not relying on the shape or the fingering to play a scale correctly. I would also learn the scales as degrees. So for C Major the degrees would be:


Remember to always apply any scale you are learning to jam tracks so you hear how it sounds in relationship to a chord or chord progression. I also recommend having a jam track playing in the background as you learn each scale. This will help you to hear the scale in the right relationship. Total Modal also contains jam tracks for all 22 previously mentioned scales.

Video Guitar Lesson:

Check out the full Jazz Guitar for Beginners course from Bruce Arnold for more video guitar lessons about how to play jazz guitar.