Solo Guitar: Performance, Accompaniment, and Arranging


Authored by John Baboian


Course Code: OGUIT-340

Next semester
starts June 24

12 Weeks

Level 3

Level 3

3-Credit Tuition


Non-Credit Tuition


Why solo guitar? Because the guitar is one of the few instruments that can be considered a self-contained band. It has the ability to play melody, harmony, and rhythm, all at the same time. Plus, it’s advantageous to be able to do all of this without having to depend on other musicians to initiate accompanying sound. It is also an impressive ability to sound like several players at once, when it's only you doing the playing. Practical reasons for playing solo guitar include the mobility of the instrument, and the ability to be hired for less money overall than a band would require, a "plus" when promoting yourself to a prospective venue. And generally, the guitar sounds interesting when played properly as a solo instrument. The ability to put together melody, harmony, bass, rhythm, and "sell popcorn" at the same time is quite impressive when done well. And, of course, we're trying to take all of those solo gigs away from the piano players!

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As an accompaniment instrument, the guitar has many virtues, some of which are explained above: mobility, freedom of sound, an interesting sonic spectrum, good grooves, and the financial ability of the venue to hire a smaller group. Throughout history, there have been solo guitar players and solo accompanists, from the original blues players, to the country and Western artists, to the Joe Pass solo jazz types, and even to the rock and pop artists who have gone acoustic and performed as guests on each other's records. The ability to perform solo guitar is the ability to be a complete player and not be dependent on another musician to fill out your sound palette.

The majority of this course will approach playing solo guitar from the perspective of a jazz standards musical direction, primarily because of the rich harmonic background that exists in much of that music. That does not mean that the player is limited to only jazz harmonic music, but it opens up the possibilities of creating interesting harmonic motion to accompany melody and deliver the whole package with interesting rhythmic groove. Once the player achieves a modicum of success in pairing melody and harmony, the music can go in any direction that the player wishes.

In this course, we will be working on melodic embellishment, harmony as it relates to the guitar fingerboard, rhythm as it relates to different musical grooves, and improvisation concepts to put together a complete solo guitar piece. Listening to the many great solo guitarists will be a part of every lesson.

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

  • Create more interesting melodic content, using techniques that include passing tones, upper and lower neighbor notes, and rhythmic variations
  • Use creative reharmonization techniques
  • Understand rhythm as it relates to different musical grooves
  • Use improvisation concepts to put together a complete solo guitar piece
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Overview Syllabus Requirements Instructors
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Lesson 1: Notation, Chord Diagrams, Drop Voicing Theory

  • Octave Displacement on the Guitar and Notation on the Staff
  • Essential Root 6 and Root 5 Chord Forms
  • Drop 2 and Drop 3 Voicings
  • Drop 2 Voicings on the High 4 Strings
  • Assignment 1:"Europa/Autumn Leaves" Chord Progression

Lesson 2: Chord Spelling and Melodic Embellishment on Middle Four Strings

  • Chord Spelling, Triads, Maj, Min, Aug, Dim, Sus4, Sus2
  • Chord Spelling 7th Chords
  • Drop 2 Voicings on the Middle Four Strings
  • Melodic Embellishment
  • Assignment 2: "R&B" Blues and "Jazz" Blues Progression on the Middle Four Strings

Lesson 3: Tensions, Passing Tones, Drop 2 Voicings on the Bottom Five Strings

  • Tensions, Extensions, and/or Color Tones
  • Drop 3 Voicings on the Bottom Five Strings
  • Passing Tones
  • Note Recognition
  • Assignment 3: Voice Leading “All The Things You Are”

Lesson 4: Bass Lines and Simple Reharmonization, and Accompaniment

  • Bass Line Types
  • Blues Reharmonization
  • Lead Note Recognition
  • Finger Picking
  • Assignment 4: “Autumn Leaves” Walking Bass Line and Chord Voicings and “Summertime” Chord Solo

Lesson 5: Intros, Endings, Turnarounds

  • II-V-I Lead Lines
  • Introductions
  • Endings
  • Turnarounds
  • Assignment 5: Major II V I Lead Lines and "Here's That Rainy Day" Arrangement

Lesson 6: In Tempo vs. Rubato, and Diads

  • In Tempo andRubato
  • Minor II V I Lead Lines Page
  • Freddie Green Technique
  • Diatonic Dyads
  • Assignment 6: "Black Orpheus (Manja De Carnival)" Arrangement

Lesson 7: Moving Lead Lines

  • Drop 3 Voicings on the Top Five Strings
  • Major Moving Lead Lines
  • Arpeggios
  • Ascending and Descending Lines
  • Assignment: "Emily" in 3/4 Time

Lesson 8: Two-Part Counterpoint and More Reharmonization

  • Two-Part Melodic Ideas
  • Harmonize
  • More Moving Lead Lines
  • Harmonizing Ascending Lines
  • Assignment 8: "Autumn Leaves" Chord Solo and "One Note Samba"

Lesson 9: Hybrid and Cluster Voicings

  • Hybrid Voicings
  • Major I VI II V I Lead Lines
  • Closed and Cluster Voicings
  • Assignment 9: Continue “Autumn Leaves” Chord Solo and "When I Fall In Love" Reharmonization

Lesson 10: Minor Clichés and Harmonics

  • Minor Moving Lead Lines
  • Harmonics
  • Open Strings
  • Minor Line Clichés
  • Assignment 10: "In A Sentimental Mood" Chord Solo and Final Project Introduction

Lesson 11: Non-Linear Moving Lead Lines

  • "Creative" Moving Lead Lines
  • Giant Steps
  • All the "3s" You Are
  • Drop 2 and 4 Voicings
  • Assignment 11: Continue “A Sentimental Mood” and Final Project Arrangement

Lesson 12: Playing in 4ths, Quartal Voicings, and Final Project

  • Quartal Voicings
  • Contrary Motion Lead Lines
  • Creative Reharmonization Techniques
  • Assignment 12: Final Project


Prerequisites and Course-Specific Requirements 

Prerequisite Courses, Knowledge, and/or Skills
Completion of Guitar Chords 101, Guitar Scales 101, and Getting Inside Harmony 1 or equivalent knowledge and experience is required. The student should have a decent working knowledge of basic open chord forms, triads, 7th chords, and some reading ability of standard notation.


  • 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)


  • Students are required to create notation and submit it in PDF format. Options include:
    • Notation software (recommended option), such as Finale, Sibelius, Dorico, MuseScore (free), etc.
    • Handwritten notation captured by a digital camera or a scanner can be used in lieu of notation software.


  • 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.

Student Deals
After enrolling, be sure to check out our Student Deals page for various offers on software, hardware, and more. Please contact 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


John Baboian

Author & Instructor

Guitarist, composer, and educator, John Baboian has been on the faculty at Berklee College of Music in Boston since 1980. Before beginning his teaching career at Berklee, he received a bachelor’s degree in Music Education from Berklee and later a master’s degree in Jazz Studies from New England Conservatory.

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Although best known for his work in jazz and swing, John has performed in the classical, blues, rock, R&B, Latin, and world music genres. His performances include concerts, clubs, recordings, radio, and television throughout the United States and Canada, as well as performances and teaching clinics in Japan, Central and South Americas, Europe, South Africa, and the former Soviet Union, including his ancestral home, Armenia.

His compositions and arrangements have been heard on television shows such as Walker, Texas Ranger, UPN’s Seven Days, ABC’s All My Children, HBO’s The Sopranos, and others.

He has accompanied headliners Frankie Avalon, Sergio Franchi, Connie Francis, Tom Jones, Al Martino, Marilyn Michaels, Jim Nabors, Bobby Rydell, Ben Vereen, and many others, and has shared the stage with jazz greats Gary Burton, Alan Dawson, Joe Lovano, Bob Moses, Herb Pomeroy, Esperanza Spalding, Leni Stern, Phil Wilson, Warren Vaché, and many others.

John has been a featured performer on more than 20 recordings in a variety of musical styles. Recent recordings include performances with the Boston Big Band, the World Leaders, the Black Sea Salsa Band, and a host of vocalists from the New England area. Under his own leadership, John has released the Be-Bop Guitars’ . . . And More! (2000) and Freshly Painted Blues (2007), featuring his all-faculty guitar ensemble from Berklee.

John is a voting member of the Recording Academy (Grammys), an active member of the American Society of Composers, Authors, & Publishers (ASCAP), a winner of many ASCAPLUS writing awards, and a “Network with an Expert” consultant to the Jazz Education Network (JEN).

John made a "cameo" appearance in the feature film Ted, filmed in Boston. Look for the mustachioed guitar player in the house party scene. Read Less

What's Next?

When taken for credit, Solo Guitar: Performance, Accompaniment, and Arranging can be applied towards the completion of these related programs:

Related Degree Majors


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

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