Jazz Guitar 201: Advanced Jazz Guitar Improvisation


Authored by Bruce Saunders


Course Code: OGUIT-427

Next semester starts September 23

12 Weeks

Level 4

Level 4

3-Credit Tuition


Non-Credit Tuition


Picking up where Jazz Guitar 101 left off, Jazz Guitar 201 explores the advanced techniques that great jazz guitarists use in order to successfully solo over chord changes found in both traditional and modern jazz compositions. Each lesson will provide you with a step-by-step approach to jazz improvisation, covering both rhythmic considerations as well as effective use of scales, arpeggios, and modes. Topics include altered pentatonic scales, across-the-bar-line phrasing, creating melodic tension on dominant chords, blues in jazz, and non-functional harmonic improvisation. You'll also explore transcription and rhythmic techniques applicable to both comping and soloing.

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The course also provides a number of listening examples that you will study and model—recordings from past and present jazz giants, including John Coltrane, Wes Montgomery, Miles Davis, John Scofield, Grant Green, Pat Metheny, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Mike Stern and many others. You will gain a more complete knowledge of the guitar fretboard—and how scales, modes, chords, and arpeggios are applied to jazz. By the end of Jazz Guitar 201, you will be able to compose your own modern jazz songs and have further developed your own jazz improvisational personality.

By the end of the course, you will be able to:

  • Improvise over chord changes through the use of scales, modes, and arpeggios
  • Play solo transcriptions of Wes Montgomery, John Coltrane, Grant Green, and many other jazz greats
  • Apply advanced rhythmic concepts to comping and soloing
  • Demonstrate a more complete knowledge of the guitar fretboard
  • Improvise over nonfunctional harmony and modern jazz progressions
  • Compose your own modern jazz songs
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Overview Syllabus Requirements Instructors
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Lesson 1: Major Modes & Chord Scales and Harmonic Minor Review

  • Major Modes and Learning the Fretboard
  • Fifth Mode of Harmonic Minor [7(b9b13)]
  • Dom7(b9 13)
  • Introduction to Transcription
  • Great Performances: "All the Things You Are" by Grant Green
  • Great Performances: Sonny Rollins Solo on "All the Things You Are"
  • Great Performances: John Scofield Solo on "All the Things You Are"

Lesson 2: Modes of the Melodic Minor Scale

  • Modes of the Melodic Minor Scale
  • Time Feel, Swing Feel, and Subdivision
  • Melodic Minor (1st mode), Melodic Minor Scale Rhythmic Subdivision
  • Lydian b7 Scale
  • The Locrian n2 Scale
  • The Altered Scale
  • Great Performances: Charlie Parker's "Moose the Mooch"

Lesson 3: Continuity: Across the Bar Line Phrasing

  • Creating Continuity via Scales, Intervals and Arpeggios across the Bar Line
  • Major Modes across the Bar Line
  • Harmonic Minor Mode 5 (Mixolydian b9b13) across the Bar Line
  • Melodic Minor across the Bar Line
  • Great Performances: Peter Bernstein Solo On "Eronel"

Lesson 4: Blues in Jazz Continued

  • Review Charlie Parker Blues Form
  • Bebop Scale Review
  • Harmonic Anticipation and the Bebop Scale
  • Adding Tension to Basic 12-Bar Blues with the Altered Scale and Harmonic Minor
  • Coltrane Blues Variations
  • Great Performances: John Coltrane's "Take The Coltrane"
  • Great Performances: Charlie Parker "Visa"
  • Great Performances: Wes Montgomery's "No Blues"

Lesson 5: Rhythm Changes

  • Rhythm Changes: A Short History
  • Basic Rhythm Changes
  • Tonic/Approach, Continuity, Harmonic Minor, Harmonic Anticipation
  • The Complete A Section
  • Adding the Secondary Dominant
  • The Bridge—Lydian b7
  • Great Performances: Sonny Rollins, Sonny Stitt, Dizzy Gillespie's "Eternal Triangle," John Scofield's "Wee"
  • Great Performances: Miles Davis and John Coltrane's "Oleo"

Lesson 6: Pentatonic Scales

  • Pentatonic Scales in Jazz
  • Review of Minor 7 Pentatonic and Its Uses
  • The Dominant 7 Pentatonic Scale
  • The Major (b6) Pentatonic Scale
  • Mixed Pentatonics on Major and Minor Blues Progressions
  • Great Performances: Joe Henderson's "Recorda Me"

Lesson 7: The Diminished Scale

  • The Whole-Half and Half-Whole Diminished Scales
  • The Half-Whole Diminished Scale and Its Relationship to the 7(b9) Chord
  • Secondary Dominant Exercises
  • Diminished Scale Patterns
  • Triads and Diminished Chords and Scales
  • Great Performances: Peter Bernstein Solo on "It Happens"

Lesson 8: Phrasing, Dynamics, and Rhythm & Jazz Guitar Comping

  • Using Space
  • "Play/Rest" Exercises
  • Rhythmic Groupings
  • Dynamics
  • Comping Rhythms
  • Great Performances: Jim Hall's "John S."
  • Great Performances: Kurt Rosenwinkel's "Pannonica"

Lesson 9: John Coltrane's "Moment's Notice"

  • The First Eight Measures
  • Across the Bar Line on the First Eight Measures
  • Easy Chord Voicings for "Moment's Notice
  • "John Coltrane's Solo on "Moment's Notice"
  • Great Performances: Mark Turner's "Moment's Notice"
  • Great Performances: Mike Stern's "Moment's Notice"

Lesson 10: John Coltrane—The Coltrane Matrix ("Giant Steps" )

  • "Giant Steps" Matrix
  • Arpeggios, Approach Notes, and Four-Note Motives—Analyzing Coltrane's solo
  • Using the Whole-Tone Scale on the Matrix
  • Applying Coltrane Changes to Other Songs
  • Great Performances: John Coltrane's "But Not For Me"
  • Great Performances: Jochen Ruckert's "Satellite"
  • Great Performances: Wolfgang Muthspiel's "Giant Steps"

Lesson 11: Contemporary Jazz Guitarists (Jim Hall, John Scofield, Bill Frisell, Pat Metheny);

  • Harmonic and Melodic Characteristics of Each
  • The Importance of Sound and Time
  • Blending Jazz, Blues, Rock, and Funk Styles
  • Analysis of Selected Excerpts from Each Guitarist

Lesson 12: Nonfunctional Harmony, Contemporary Jazz Guitar, and Slash Chords

  • Nonfunctional Harmony Progressions
  • Slash Chords and the ECM Compositional Style
  • Modern Jazz Guitar
  • Modern Jazz Guitar Composition


Prerequisites and Course-Specific Requirements 

Prerequisite Courses, Knowledge, and/or Skills
Completion of Jazz Guitar 101 or equivalent knowledge and experience is required.


  • 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 Classes. 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 201: Advanced Jazz Guitar Improvisation 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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