Jazz Guitar 101


Authored by Bruce Saunders


Course Code: OGUIT-327

Next semester
starts June 24

12 Weeks

Level 3

Level 3

3-Credit Tuition


Non-Credit Tuition


While it's important to have an understanding of the licks and runs that top jazz players use to define their own style, it's essential for any guitarist who wants to succeed in the genre to know the chords, scales, and harmonic language that these great players are actually referencing. Jazz Guitar 101 provides the basics behind the jazz language: effective chord/scale usage, reharmonization, approach notes, arpeggio substitutions, melodic tension through the manipulation of harmony, rhythm, and melody, and improvisation techniques over jazz chord changes. Through the use of transcriptions and slowed-down examples, you'll study the styles of some of the most influential jazz guitarists over the past 50 years (including Grant Green, Wes Montgomery, John Scofield, Mike Stern, and Pat Martino). The course utilizes video, MP3 tracks, and written notation to infuse these techniques into your playing as quickly and thoroughly as possible.

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By the end of the course, you will:

  • Negotiate basic jazz chord changes
  • Learn five jazz standard tunes and to be able to comp and play an effective solo over the chord changes
  • Play and know how to use stronger harmonic language through the use of Mixolydian, harmonic, and melodic minor scales, the bebop scale, and the pentatonic scale
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Overview Syllabus Requirements Instructors
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Lesson 1: Chord Tones

  • Motivic Improvisation
  • Playing Root Notes on a I–VI7–IImin–V7 Progression
  • Playing Root Notes on I (IIImin)–VI–IImin–V in the Key of C in Half-Notes
  • Playing Root Notes on Imin, VImin7(♭5), IImin7(♭5), V7(♭9)
  • Harmonic Awareness: Importance of Knowing the Underlying Harmony
  • Great Performance Examples: Wes Montgomery, John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, and Grant Green
  • Tonic vs. Dominant
  • Identifying and Playing the 3rd of the Underlying Harmony
  • Playing the 3rds on a Tonic/Dominant Progression
  • Playing the 3rds on a Blues in C
  • Focus Practice Time on One Area of the Fretboard
  • Roots and Thirds on Different Fretboard "Neighborhoods"
  • Notes From the First to the Fifth Fret
  • Playing Roots and 3rds on i–vi7(♭5)–ii7(♭5)–V7(♭9)
  • Adding the 7th to the Root, 3rd, and 7th

Lesson 2: Scales, Chords, and Arpeggios

  • Introduction
  • Scales, Chords, and Approach Notes
  • Bb Major Scale and Arpeggios
  • Major 7th Arpeggios on minor 7th Chords
  • Etude Using Major 7th Arpeggios on minor 7th Chords
  • Major 7th Arpeggios on Minor 7th Chords - Dorian Sound
  • Using Maj7 Arpeggios to Produce a Dorian Sound
  • Major Seventh Arpeggio over Minor Seventh Chord
  • Bb Major over Cmin7 Chord
  • Dorian Major 7 Arpeggios over Minor 7 Chords
  • Great Performances: Wes Montgomery
  • Great Performances: Joe Henderson and Mike Stern
  • Learning Chord Voicings and Comping
  • New Chord Voicings for "Blue Bossa"

Lesson 3: Approach Notes on Major 7 and min7 Chords

  • Scales and Approaching Chord Tones on Major 7 Chords
  • Major 7 Chords and Scales and the Half-Step-Below Approach to Chord Tones
  • Half Step Below Chord Tones on B♭Maj7 Chord
  • Half-Step-Below Chord Tone in the Key of B♭
  • Half-Step-Below Chord Tone in the Key of B♭ Starting on the 3rd
  • Chords Tones on One String and Introduction to the Entire Fretboard
  • Etude: Half-Step-Below Approach Notes on Two Major 7 Chords
  • Great Performances: Dexter Gordon
  • Great Performances: Pat Martino
  • Great Performances: Peter Bernstein
  • Scale Tone from Above and Combined Approaches on Minor 7 Chords
  • Scale Tone Above Minor 7 Chord Tones in B♭ Dorian
  • Combined Approaches on Minor 7 Approaches

Lesson 4: Approach Notes on Dom7 Chords and II-V-I Progressions

  • Mixolydian Scales, Dominant 7 Chords, and the Half Step from Below Approach to Chord Tones
  • Half Step from Below Dominant 7 Chord Tones in F
  • Great Performances: Mike Stern, "Suspone"
  • Embellished Scale Tone from Above
  • Etude: Blues Study with Approach Notes
  • Introduction to II-V-I Progression
  • Playing Over II-V-I Progression
  • Great Performances: Grant Green, "Miss Ann's Tempo"
  • Transcribed II-V-I Selections from Grant Green's solo to "Miss Ann's Tempo"
  • Great Performances: Jim Hall, "Autumn Leaves"

Lesson 5: Harmonic Minor and Minor II7(b5)-V7(b9b13) Progression

  • Introduction
  • Explanation of min7(♭5) Chord and Locrian Mode
  • Dmin7(♭5) Chord and D Locrian Mode
  • Half Step from Below on min7(♭5) Chord
  • Scale Tone from Above Approaches on min7(♭5) Chord
  • Combination Approaches on min7(♭5) Chord
  • Multiple Uses of Minor min7(♭5) Chord
  • Begin Use of V7(♭9,♭13) Chord and Harmonic Minor
  • Fifth Mode of C Harmonic Minor and G7(♭9,♭13) Chord
  • Harmonic Minor over V7(♭9,♭13) Chord
  • Harmonic Minor Workout
  • Approaches on V7(♭9,♭13) Chords
  • Approach Notes and Scales on Dmin7(♭5), G7(♭9,♭13) and Cmin7
  • Great Performances: John Coltrane, "Mr. PC"
  • Selected Coltrane Examples from "Mr. PC"
  • Great Performances: Grant Green, "What Is This Thing Called Love"

Lesson 6: Harmonic Minor, Resolving Tension, How to Add Tension, Dominant 7(b9,b13) Drop-2 Chord Voicings

  • Harmonic Minor Tension and Resolution
  • Grant Green's Phrase Using Harmonic Minor in Four Keys
  • Using Harmonic Minor with Resolutions to Chord Tones
  • How to Add Tension Using Implied Harmony
  • Secondary Dominant Using Harmonic Minor
  • Dominant 7(♭9,♭13) Drop-2 Chord Voicings
  • IImin7(♭5) - V7(♭9,♭13) - Imin7 Progressions Using Drop-2s
  • Etude Using Harmonic Minor, Implied Harmony, and Secondary Dominant Harmony
  • Great Performances: Joe Pass, "Relaxin' at Camarillo"
  • Great Performances: Grant Green, "Airegin"
  • Selected Examples from "Airegin"

Lesson 7: The Dominant Bebop Scale

  • The Dominant 7 Bebop Scale (Relationship to Mixolydian Scale)
  • Dominant Bebop Scale Workout from Root
  • Starting the Dominant 7 Bebop Scale on the 3rd
  • Dominant Bebop Scale Through Cycle from 3rd
  • Dominant 7 B♭ Blues Workout with Bebop Scale from 3rd
  • Omitting the IImin Chord in a IImin-V Harmonic Progression
  • IImin-V-I Workout
  • Learning the Miles Davis Composition "Tune Up"
  • John Coltrane's Use of the Bebop Scale on "Tune Up"
  • Wes Montgomery's Use of the Bebop Scale on "Tune Up"
  • Sonny Rollins' Use of the Bebop Scale on "Tune Up"
  • Great Performances: John Coltrane, "Giant Steps"
  • The Dominant 7 Bebop Scale and Major 7(#11) Chords and Harmonic Anticipation
  • Major 7(♯11) Harmonic Anticipation

Lesson 8: Jazz Blues

  • Introduction to Jazz Blues
  • Changing the Dominant/Subdominant Section into a IImin-V and Adding Secondary Dominants
  • Using Harmonic Minor and the Bebop Scale with Secondary Dominants
  • Drop-3 and Fourth Chord Voicings
  • Using Drop-3 and Fourth Voicings on the Blues Form
  • Converting Dominant to Minor
  • Using Dominant to Minor Conversion and Melodic Minor
  • The Blues Scale
  • Using the Blues Scale
  • Great Performances: Wes Montgomery - "D Natural Blues"
  • Great Performances: Wes Montgomery - "James and Wes"
  • Great Performances: John Coltrane - "Some Other Blues"
  • Charlie Parker-Style Blues Progression
  • Great Performances: Charlie Parker "Blues for Alice"

Lesson 9: The Minor 7 Pentatonic Scale

  • Introduction to the Minor 7 Pentatonic Scales
  • The Minor 7 Pentatonic: Construction and Five Fingerings
  • Practice with Minor 7 Pentatonic
  • Minor 7 Pentatonic and Minor 7 Chords: Usage and Alternative Usage
  • Minor 7 Chords, Minor 7 Pentatonic Scales on Root and 5th
  • The Minor 7 Pentatonic Scale on Major 7 and Major 7(#11) Chords
  • Minor 7 Pentatonic Scales on Major 7 and Major 7(#11) Chords
  • "Across the Bar Line Phrasing"
  • Minor 7 Pentatonic Scales and Minor 7 Chords Across the Bar Line
  • Minor 7 Pentatonic Scale and Major 7 Chords Across the Bar Line
  • Great Performances: Grant Green - "Cantaloupe Woman"
  • Great Performances: McCoy Tyner – "Passion Dance"
  • Great Performances: Woody Shaw – "Steve's Blues"

Lesson 10: The Tritone Substitution

  • The Tritone Substitution
  • Learning to Identify the Tritone
  • Quiz 10.1: Identify the Tritone
  • Two Triads a Tritone Apart
  • Triads a Tritone Apart
  • C Major and F# Major Triad Arpeggios Practice
  • II-V-I-VI Progression in the Key of F
  • Great Performances: Kurt Rosenwinkel – "How Deep is the Ocean"
  • Great Performances: George Benson – "Billie's Bounce"
  • Great Performances: Peter Bernstein – "Public Domain"
  • Comping Using the Tritone Substitution
  • II-V(♭II)-I Chord Progressions Using Tritone Substitution
  • The Lydian ♭7 Scale and Tritone Substitution
  • Lydian ♭7 Scale and Tritone Substitution

Lesson 11: Modal Improvisation and Vamps

  • Introduction to Modal Improvisation
  • Learn the Melody and Chord Changes to "Impressions"
  • Wes Montgomery Improvisational Techniques Overview
  • Theme and Variation Technique
  • Great Performance: "Do Like Eddie" - John Scofield Improvisational Techniques
  • Explanation of Relationship of Diminished to 7(b9) Chords
  • Two Triads and Scofield Diminished Idea – Four Keys
  • Great Performance: "Round Trip" – Free Jazz and Pat Metheny Solo
  • Easy and Great-Sounding Chord Shapes
  • Chord Shapes
  • One Chord Shape Over C Major Vamp
  • Great Performance: Miles Davis' "So What"

Lesson 12: Time, Sound, Rhythm, Repertoire, and Practice Routines

  • Introduction: Now, Forget About the Notes!
  • Time-Feel and the Misunderstood "Jazz Feel"
  • Time-Feel Example: Dexter Gordon
  • Great Performances: John Scofield, Billie Holiday
  • Playing Behind the Beat
  • Rhythm
  • Repertoire and Learning Tunes
  • Tunes in Different Keys: "There Will Never Be Another You"
  • Solo Jazz Guitar
  • Great Performances: Peter Bernstein "Blood Count" and Ben Monder "Orbits"


Prerequisites and Course-Specific Requirements 

Prerequisite Courses, Knowledge, and/or Skills
Completion of Guitar Chords 101 and Guitar Scales 101 or equivalent knowledge is required. Students should have at least two years of playing experience and the ability to play various scales and chords on the guitar. Guitar tablature and some chord blocks, in addition to traditional notation, will be used throughout the course.


  • No textbooks required


  • Students are required to record video while performing with a backing track for their assignments. Options for recording video include:
    • Smartphone
    • Digital camera
    • Webcam (using either video recording software, or the video recording tool that is built into the learning environment)


  • Electric or acoustic guitar


  • Students are required to capture their instrumental performance, as well as monitor audio output. Options include:
    • Input (one required):
      • Instrument connected directly to audio interface (recommended electric option; alternatively, the microphone options below can be used with amplified instruments)
      • XLR microphone and audio interface (recommended acoustic option)
      • USB microphone
      • Built-in computer/mobile device microphone
    • Output (one required):
      • Headphones (recommended option; required if multitracking and/or input monitoring a microphone)
      • Studio monitors and audio interface
      • Built-in or external speakers
  • Note: Depending on your setup, you may also need XLR/instrument cables and a microphone stand.
  • Recommended: Printer, if you would like to print out examples used in the course.

Student Deals
After enrolling, be sure to check out our Student Deals page for various offers on software, hardware, and more. Please contact support@online.berklee.edu with any questions.

General Course Requirements

Below are the minimum requirements to access the course environment and participate in Live Chats. Please make sure to also check the Prerequisites and Course-Specific Requirements section above, and ensure your computer meets or exceeds the minimum system requirements for all software needed for your course. 

Mac Users

PC Users

All Users

  • Latest version of Google Chrome
  • Zoom meeting software
  • Webcam
  • Speakers or headphones
  • External or internal microphone
  • Broadband Internet connection


Bruce Saunders

Author & Instructor

Guitarist Bruce Saunders is a Professor at Berklee College of Music. With New York City as his base since 1988, he has toured Europe, South America, Australia, Japan, and the United States as a band leader and as a sideman. He has recorded with musicians such as Jack DeJohnette, Peter Erskine, Dave Holland, Kenny Werner, Bill Stewart, Michael Cain, Glen Velez, Harvie Swartz, David Berkman, Tony Scherr, Mark Murphy, Ben Monder, Steve Cardenas, and many others. He has four recordings CDs as a leader: Fragment (Moo Records, 2002); Likely Story (Moo Records, 1998); Jazz Hymns (1995 and 1998); Forget Everything (Moo Records, 1995).

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Saunders has taught at Berklee since 1992. He has also taught at New York University and various clinics worldwide, including the International Jazz Seminar in Xalapa, Mexico, numerous times in Colombia, South America, and the Maine Jazz Camp. He holds a Bachelor of Music degree in classical guitar and theory from Florida State University, and a Masters in Jazz Performance from the University of North Texas, where he studied with Jack Petersen and Tom Johnson. He is the author of Pentatonics, Modern Blues, and Melodic Improvisation (all Mel Bay Publications). For further information on Bruce Saunders. Read Less

What's Next?

When taken for credit, Jazz Guitar 101 can be applied towards the completion of these related programs:


Contact our Academic Advisors by phone at 1-866-BERKLEE (U.S.), 1-617-747-2146 (INT'L), or by email at advisors@online.berklee.edu.

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