Jazz Guitar 101


Authored by Bruce Saunders


Course Code: OGUIT-327

Next Semester Starts
June 27, 2022

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
  • Harmonic Awareness: Importance of Knowing the Underlying Harmony
  • The Difference in Tonic and Dominant Harmony
  • Focus Practice Time on One Area of the Fretboard
  • Adding the 7th to the Root and 3rd

Lesson 2: Scales, Chords, and Arpeggios

  • Scales, Chords, and Arpeggios on Minor 7 Chords
  • Major 7 Arpeggios on Minor 7 Chords—Up a Minor Third: b3, 5, b7, 9
  • Major 7 Arpeggios on Minor 7 Chords—Down a Major Second: b7, 9, 11, 13
  • Melodic Minor Scales and Arpeggios on Minor 7 and Dominant 7 Chords
  • Dmin7(b5) and G7(b9) Scales, Chord Voicings, and Arpeggios

Lesson 3: Approach Notes on Major 7 Chords

  • Scales and Approaching Chord Tones: Major 7 Approaches
  • Chords Tones on One String and Introduction to the Entire Fretboard
  • Scale Tone from Above Approaches on Minor 7 Chords

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

  • Dom7 Chords, Scales, and the Half Step below Approach to Chord Tones
  • Embellished Scale Tone from Above
  • Introduction to the II, V, I Progression

Lesson 5: Harmonic Minor and Minor II7(b5)/V7(b9b13) Intro

  • Explanation of Minor II7(b5) Chord
  • Multiple Uses of Minor IImin7(b5) Chord
  • Begin Use of V7(b9,b13) Chord and Harmonic Minor

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

  • Harmonic Minor Patterns and Resolutions
  • Introduction to Adding Tension with Secondary Dominant Harmony
  • V7(b9,b13) Chord and Harmonic Minor Scale

Lesson 7: The Dominant Bebop Scale

  • The Dominant 7 Bebop Scale (Relationship to Mixolydian Scale)
  • Starting the Dom7 Bebop Scale on the Third
  • Starting the Dom7 Bebop Scale on the Fifth and b7
  • Omitting the II Chord in a II/V Harmonic Progression
  • Great Performances: "Tune Up" Miles Davis Version, "Tune Up" Wes Montgomery Version, "Tune Up" Sonny Rollins Version, "Giant Steps" John Coltrane
  • The Dominant 7 Bebop Scale and Maj7(#11) Chords and Harmonic Anticipation

Lesson 8: Transcription Basics

  • What is Transcription? How Is It Done?
  • Transcribing Short Phrases
  • Building a Jazz Library / Some Great Improvisors and Some of Their Techniques
  • Use of Harmonic Minor by Great Improvisors

Lesson 9: Learning the Jazz Repertoire

  • The Value of Knowing Repertoire
  • Five Songs Every Jazz Guitarist Should Know
  • Learning the Correct Chord Changes Through Listening

Lesson 10: The Minor 7 and Minor 6 Pentatonic Scales

  • The Minor 7th Pentatonic on Minor 7 Tonic Chords—Three Possibilities
  • The Minor 6 Pentatonic Scale and Its Usage

Lesson 11: Intervals and Triads in Improvisation

  • Thirds: History and Use
  • Arpeggiating the Major Scale in Thirds and Triadic Improvisation

Lesson 12: The Use of Space and Rhythm in Improvisation

  • The Importance of a Proper Time Feel and Space
  • Even Eighth Notes vs. "Swing Feel"


Prerequisites and Course-Specific Requirements 

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.

Required Textbook(s)

  • None required

Students are required to record video for assignments. You can use your smartphone, digital camera, or webcam to do this. If you do not already have a preferred video software, you can use the built-in recorder tool within your assignment post. You can play the backing track through your speakers as you record and the microphone will pick up both the guitar (acoustic or through an amp) and the track as you play along.

Hardware Requirements

  • Electric or acoustic guitar. Check out Reverb for guitar deals*
  • A built-in microphone or an external microphone plugged directly into your computer (via built-in ports or an external audio interface)
  • A printer is recommended for printing music examples used in the course

After enrolling, please check the Getting Started section of your course for potential deals on required materials. Our Student Deals page also features several discounts you can take advantage of as a current student. Please contact support@online.berklee.edu for any questions.

*An exclusive Reverb deal is available to all Berklee Online students through our Student Deals page. 

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 these associated 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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