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These are a series of lessons/ tips that I have gotten over the years and found to be very helpful. Here they are in no particular order. Wherever possible I've listed the source. Happy browsing!


I am a big fan of warming up SLOWLY. Some nice slow scales played at low volume allow us to warm up our playing muscles and our playing mind. Playing guitar should not be a strained activity. I like to tune into tension spots when I warm up, i.e. shoulders, jaw, fore arm, etc. and try to get those spots to relax.


This continues the relaxation theme. One of my first lessons with the great classical guitarist David Leisner consisted of sitting stright in a chair and becoming aware of my posture. Then David handed me my guitar and asked me to "incorporate the guitar into my posture." It was eye opening and since then I try to always be aware of posture; whether sitting down or standing while playing.


When I was younger I used to rent songs. What does that mean? I would carry around fake books to wherever I played and have my head buried in music. Without the books I was lost and very limited. I was renting tunes and the books were my landlords.

Now I am interested in being an owner. That means:

1)Learning tunes from recordings or at least comparing what is in a book with a recording since fake books are very often wrong.

2) Memorizing! In at least three keys. If you do that, you'll OWN the song. Now you can direct your attention to theaudience and other players. You'll be able to pick up on substitute changes someone might throw at you or bring your own to the table. You'll find you learn tunes more quickly and will also be able to deal with tunes on the gig that you have never heard before.


Whenever a guitarist asks me about getting into jazz (and this applies to any style) I always tell them the best and quickest way is to transcribe from the masters of the art. How best to do that is a question that has many answers, however the best I have found came from bassist/arranger John Clayton during a clinic that the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra conducted some years ago. Here is the basic approach:

1) Pick a solo that you LOVE and will be able to play technically. Especially for the first few times out, it is a good idea to choose a solo that is on the sparse side, note-wise.

2) Listen intently yet passively to the solo 10 times through. Don't try to learn it, just let it seep in. Go through the solo completely each time. Keep your instrument in the case!

3) Begin to learn the solo by SINGING it. This is the start and stop part with lots of rewinding. Pay attention to pitch, rests, phrasing and articulation. The instrument stays in the case!!

4) Sing through the solo 10 times perfectly before picking up your instrument. If you can't, go back and work on trouble spots until you can.

5) Pick up your instrument, turn off the CD player or tape and learn the solo on your instrument from your singing. After you have done this play through with the recording and check yourself. Again, pay attention to the phrasing, articulation and note length.

6) Play along with the recording while quietly and simultaneously singing. After doing this a couple of times, take note of the challenging spots and rehearse them without the recording. Once comfortable, play with the recording again.


This is a small tip that has helped me learn difficult passages with very little time to work on them. It consists of separating the intervalic and rhythmic elements and dealing with them one at a time. For instance if a particular rhythm is difficult, play the passage slowly using one pitch or just tapping out the rhythm. Conversely, if the intervals are the problem, treat them all as quarter notes until you get comfortable playing the notes. This has saved me a lot of time in the past.

Another tip for improving sight reading is to read duets with a friend. Duets for flute, violin, clarinet are available at any good music store. Get a bunch of them and go for it. You'll both improve.


Playing Chord Melodies is a big part of jazz guitar. I have found it best to learn a tune by isolating and then combining three basic elements; melody, harmony and bass lines. Although following these steps is time consuming the payoff is having a deeper understanding of the tune you choose to learn. Have fun!

These are the basic elements needed to play a chord melody broken up in order to isolate them.

1) Melody
2) Harmony
A) Roots of chords as bass notes
B) Guide tones of chords (3rd and 7th)
C) Full chords

1) MELODY: First let's address the source. Pick a reliable source to learn a tune. Original sheet music or a CD by a great jazz artist are good sources. Two favorites to check out for learning standards are Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra (very accurate melodic singers.) If you are learning a jazz composition listen to a recording of the composer playing his/her own composition. e.g. Monk playing Monk, Kenny Dorham playing Kenny Dorham, etc. A) Go slow. Check out the big intervallic leaps. B) SING ALONG! There is no better way to get a song in your head. C) Get comfortable with playing the melody in several positions and especially up and down the neck on the top 2 or 3 strings. D) Try a couple (at least) of different keys.

2) BASS LINES: A) SING the melody while playing only the roots of the chords. B) SING the melody while playing a bass line. Start w/ Root, 3rd and 5th of the chord.

3) GUIDE TONES: SING the melody while playing guide tones only (3rd and 7th of each chord.) This comes in very handy for comping w/ a pianist or another guitarist. You can get in the game without crashing into someone harmonically.

4) FULL CHORDS: SING the melody while playing full chords. Imagine you have a duo gig with a singer (in this case you!!) Be aware of the top notes of the voicing you choose and try to support the melody without actually playing it, or worse interfering with it. The D7-9 might sound great but not if the melody happens to be an E natural (9th.) Be aware... we need more wares!

5) MELODY AND BASS TOGETHER: Play the melody and bass notes of the chords simultaneously. Be patient and go slow. It is a bit harder than it seems.

6) PUTTING IT TOGETHER: Now you are ready to play the tune. Remember the primacy of the melody and interject harmony or bass notes as you see fit. Keep in mind that different instrumental combinations (as well as musical personalities) will suggest different textures. Comping is the same; try different things. Sometimes playing only guide tones can be really refreshing. So can LAYING OUT!!
Above all, have fun and experiment!

©2009 Jim Hershman
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