How to practice Jazz Guitar and improve your golf swing in 3 easy steps

Following on from my previous post “Tips on creating a solid jazz guitar practice routine”
- I thought I would take things a step further by actually telling you how to practice jazz guitar in a structured format.

Here I have chosen three different sets of material that I would work on, over three separate 1 hour 30 minute long practice sessions.

Yes you need to commit some solid time to practice jazz guitar! It’s like developing a good golf swing, you need to develop the muscle memory consistently over time to master jazz guitar. If you have ever stared down the fairway wishing that the ball will go straight, only to find the ball swinging aimlessly to left you will know what I am talking about. This is the last thing you need when you are playing with a live band. They (like the crowd) will not appreciate your good intentions when swinging the axe, they will only react to the result!

If you practice these formats consecutively you will not only improve your playing; you will also form a rotating series of contrasting approaches to analysing, practicing and applying the different concepts you’re working on over one particular time period.

Group 1: 90mins

Sub groups to be covered:

Time; singing / counting basic rhythms without instrument (no harmony, any random note value), up to and including quavers, quaver rests, and including the use of ties and dots. 64 bars, tempo assigned per session. Then apply to instrument without harmony, then with. 30 minutes practice then log all notes.

Repertoire; choose 1 new tune, learn melody, then chords, then practice soloing entire tune. Take note of odd forms / special arrangement issues, modulations and difficult passages to improvise over. Isolate and ‘loop’ or repeat difficult passages at least 10 times each. Choose tempo / style as appropriate to inclusion in own playable trio repertoire / for rehearsal sessions. 45 minutes practice then log all notes.

Review; review previously learned material by reading log book and working on any studies. 15 minutes.

Group 2: 90mins

Sub groups to be covered:

Harmony; Choose new scale to be studied, write out scale degrees, assign to difficult key and write out note names, intervals, associated triads and 7th chord arpeggios. Sing / play with instrument. Play on one string only. Play 2 8ves in Root 5 and 6 positions till fluent, then link through 4 main positional link points over 12 frets, all strings. 40 minutes practice then log all notes.

Technique; choose / write new ‘technical’ finger exercise for LH / RH only – isolate. 20 minutes practice then log all notes.

Reading; Bach partitas / sonatas; choose one piece (easy), sight read slowly through entire piece. Don’t memorise piece, or part, play with consistent tempo. 20 minutes practice, log any notes.

Review; review previously learned material by reading log book and working on any studies. 10 minutes.

Group 3: 90mins

Sub groups to be covered:

Time / Harmony; Parallel patterns; apply any grouping of 3, 4 or 5 note (choose one only) shifting parallel linear patterns to a scale needing to be practiced (e.g. maj7 #5). Play positionally (one place on neck) then vertically (up and down neck). 3 keys a major 3rd apart, play through each one 15 minutes. Total; 60 minutes practice, log all notes and write out study.

IMPROVISATION; Record session; Open recording software, record bass-lines to tune needing practice, use metronome. Record comps over this (pan L), pretend real band is playing and record 8 choruses worth of solos. NO EDITING. Listen back to time feel, accuracy etc and take notes. 20 minutes.

Review; review previously learned material by reading log book and working on any studies. 10 minutes.


These three groups are part of around ten (total) ‘topical groupings’ I would have on constant rotation for my practice routine. The key to becoming a better improviser is staying focused for the entire duration of the routine, always logging what you practice and how you work on it, reviewing what you’ve worked on and ensuring that after about 2 weeks, you have covered all the concepts around which you want to improve and that you’ve spent the most time on whatever needs the most attention.

What are you thoughts on the three step approach to practicing jazz guitar?. Your thoughts and comments are appreciated.

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  1. guitarguy1234 says:

    Thanks for the great post Dixon. I’ve been thinking I need some structure in my practice for a while and this has helped me to do so!

  2. guitarguy1234 says:

    I did want to ask a few questions about the template.
    The very first subgroup of time, I’m not quite sure what you mean. Do I make up a random rhythmic piece and write it down and then read through it. Or am I just making up rhythms over a 64 bar form. Or something else?
    In group 2 subgroup technique, I’m not quite sure what you mean here either. Would something like “Play chromatically across the strings using picking Down Down Up Down Up” be the sort of thing you mean? What do you mean by isolate?
    Sorry these are probably very silly questions. Its been a while since I’ve had a teacher so I am probably out of the loop when it comes to lingo…

    • dixonnacey says:

      Hi Michael, great query!

      These sub-groups are designed to be flexible enough to include any type of material – what you put together for yourself is entirely up to you. It sounds like you’ve got the hang of it though! Just ensure you cover material that is challenging (as in you know you have to work on it – fundamentals like rhythm are usually rife with stuff guitarists need to work on: playing to tempo, playing subdivisions, sight-reading rhythms, playing on the beat, behind the beat or ahead at different tempos, playing lines at fast tempos, displacing lines, etc) but also material that you feel you can progress with quickly enough to not get discouraged!

      So yes – if you have sibelius (or even if you have to write it out!) make up a page or two of 64 bars of rhythms you have trouble sight-reading and playing well, say the triplet 8th note or ties, or dots, or durations etc – and write in 64 bars of that material, then do cold sight reading – metronome on very slow (around 60-80 bpm) then play through without stopping. So making the exercise, printing it out then sight reading it might be 30 minutes total, all great practice! The key to sight reading, is NEVER STOP COUNTING! Have the pulse-rhythm in your head (1 2 3 4) or even say it aloud so you never lose place. And DON’T MEMORISE or stop and redo parts – get through the whole thing, then if there’s really tricky bars in particular, go back and focus on them by looping them. If you memorise it it stops being a reading exercise, so don’t spend too much time on the same exercise.

      By ‘isolate’ I simply mean take one particular aspect of the thing you want to practice and work on that. If its LH technique, then design a difficult exercise that focuses on LH only, maybe lots of slurred / legato / HO / PO notes etc, not much picking or RH stuff. If it’s harmonic – for example a scale, maybe try it on one string or map it everywhere on the neck but only improvise with it using one finger, or within certain frets (say frets 6-10 or frets 8-13 – thats a good one). Try work on ONE key. Try work on soloing with ONE rhythm. Practice RH technique by using only open or muted strings and playing lots of string skipping exercises – but don’t fret notes with your LH, so the focus is placed on one aspect only; your RH!

      That is the key to isolation – kind of like body building – focus on many, many lots of one thing at a time; and it helps make everything stronger in the long run because each thing develops in a more crafted, deliberate, fluent, accurate sense, rather than everything you’re doing developing loosely and approximately, as can happen when you’re perhaps a bit overwhelmed by the tempo / harmony / style of a tune or music type.

      At the end of the day, playing tunes is key though – playing with other people (hopefully good players!) too – learn lots of melodies as these are the key to getting inside playing melodic, musical structures!

      Hope that helps, happy practicing Michael!


      • guitarguy1234 says:

        That’s a huge help. Thanks so much.
        Yeah man trying to do as much playing as pos. Playing lots of Kurt stuff which keeps me on my toes… Haha



        • dixonnacey says:

          Kurt’s killing. Check out James Muller if you haven’t already, that dude’s so inspiring bebop lines and forward momentum wise. Ridiculous good!

          • guitarguy1234 says:

            Is he what?! James is incredible and he seems to sell a lot of guitars… Haha
            Have you checked out Kristin Baradi Band album? Its got Jame and Mike Nock playing on it. Killer album

          • dixonnacey says:

            Nock’s great – so musical, always! Haven’t checked out that album. But he did a great trio album with Matt Penman (ex pat kiwi) and Bill Stewart called Kaboom, and also I have Thrum and a lot of recordings of him live. Amazing…

          • guitarguy1234 says:

            You definitely should. Kristin is great singer and there are some really nice tunes.
            Oh great. I will have to check it out. Matt is great. I had a bit of a chat to him when we was here with Sco. Great player, nice guy and a lover of fine wine!

          • dixonnacey says:

            Yes! Matt is the man and loves his (and makes his own) wine. Killing player! Also check out Ben Hauptmann and Aaron Flower, great trio band called Alcohotlicks in Aus.

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