The Learning Curve of Various Styles of Guitar (Part 4: Jazz and Classical)

Jazz and Pop Player

The jazz player needs a vast and extensive range of tools, because the music they play is based on sophisticated scales, and those scales are used to generate extremely complex chord structures. There are hundreds if not thousands of chord forms to learn, and a great number of scale forms all over the neck, in every key.

From a musical standpoint, Jazz soloing is about as complex as it gets for improvised styles. A very large number of scales, in all keys, and all positions, must be learned and absorbed into the mind and the fingers. A high level of refined technique, in the left hand and in the pick hand is required to play the scales and all the licks that come from them.

For the jazz player, scales, chords, and arpeggios are all one thing, and all of these tools in their seemingly endless forms are firmly in the head and hands (and heart!) of a great jazz player.

All of this knowledge of the harmonic potential of the fingerboard also gives you the tools for arranging music on and for the guitar, including playing chord melody style. Many players earnestly wish they could do something other than just strum chords, or just play single notes leads. This type of study is the path for them.

Although there is going to be repetition of patterns as we go about learning all this musical material, there is still a tremendous amount of material to study. Many great players have filled large volumes with the material they practice, and have published it for other players to study (i.e. Ted Greene, “Chord Chemistr). You can fill a room with such material, and have a lifetime of study ahead of you, which is very fortunate for you if you love this kind of thing. You will become an awesome player with a very large knowledge base, and never have to worry about having nothing to do!

Of course, we learn to use all these tools as we acquire them, step by step, and song by song. There are a large number of “standards”, songs and pieces that every jazz player knows, and can play and improvise on. All of these must be learned, although there is a “core” of material that you are going to find yourself playing in the majority of professional situations you find yourself in.

A subset of the jazz player is the “pop player”, and many jazz lovers will make a part of their living by playing in bands where pop music and standards are required. The setting will often be club dates, weddings, and social events.

Five years of study, averaging around 2 or more hours a day (hopefully more!) are required to get up and running as a player in the jazz/pop genre. Then, it takes about ten years of 3+ hours a day to fully acquire the use of these tools, and a lifetime of continuing study and refinement if you want to be among the greats. A high degree of refined technique in both hands must be developed as well.

So, you have to decide – do you want to be a brain surgeon, or a jazz guitarist? Probably becoming a brain surgeon will be a bit less of a commitment!

The Bottom Line on Jazz Guitar Playing:

Time Required: 3-5+ years of 3 – 6+ hours a day

Tools: extensive knowledge of scales and associated modes and arpeggios, advanced ability in special techniques associated with the style. Advanced picking technique.

Recommended Resource:

Our free fingerboard harmony course

Scales and Modes by Arnie Berle

GuitarPrinciples “The 6 Six Essential Major Scales With Modes & Arpeggios”

The Classical Player

People often consider the classical guitar as the most difficult and challenging style to learn and master. I am not sure if that is true, but it is certainly a contender!

The term “classical guitar” is simply the name given to the first and original style of guitar, which began about 200 years ago, when the guitar took its present form as the six string instrument we know today. It had grown out of a long tradition of plucked instruments going back to ancient times, and, whether as the lyre or the lute, always extremely popular in the cultures where it appeared.

Because of its long tradition in so many forms in so many cultures, a very wide range of music from many centuries is played on the “classical guitar”. Renaissance, Baroque, Classical, Romantic/Spanish and Modern are the main genres of music played on what is known as the “Classical Guitar”. So, one of the distinguishing features of playing the classical guitar is the fact that our repertoire spans many centuries, rather than the relatively limited time frame encompassed by the repertoire of other styles of guitar.

However, you do not have to love or desire to play classical (or “serious” music as it is sometimes called) in order to desire or benefit from classical training. The study of any style adds something precious to the depth of our artistry, and many people study classical guitar simply for the advanced use of the right hand fingers it gives you, as well as the intimate knowledge of the fingerboard’s musical potential, an asset in any style. Howard Morgen, who I studied with to learn jazz and fingerboard harmony, is such a player, having studied classical guitar so as to apply the right hand abilities to his 7 string Jazz guitar and the jazz standard repertoire.

The classical guitar has always pushed the limits of what is possible on the guitar in a musical way, and the technique required to play its repertoire is precise and unforgiving. You can get away with imperfect or homegrown technique in many styles, but not with the classical guitar.

Because the physical technique required to play the repertoire is extremely precise, getting that technique requires either an intuitive knowledge of how to do correct practice to develop technique, or exposure to an effective pedagogical system that will teach you how to do that.

The highest levels of ability in both hands are required by an advanced player, and even for the beginner and intermediate student a firm foundation is essential, or playing will be a struggle and progress will be impossible. A correct approach to practice and an absolutely relaxed and comfortable technique must be developed from the beginning, and this is very, very often not the case, especially with the adult student.

In my own experience, I never found a teacher who could do much more than give me music to play, and perhaps tell me which fingers to use. There is more information available today, but the real information for how to develop to the highest levels of ability is lacking in every method I know of – most methods are merely collections of pieces and exercises that would sound great if you knew the secrets of mastering them.

That is why I created the “GuitarPrinciples Classical/Fingerstyle Foundation Course”. It contains concepts and methods not found anywhere else, and they have been proven to work for the average student, of any age. You can see students from this course here.

A moderate practice schedule of 30min, 5 times a week can get you on the path of playing classical guitar. You will be playing nice sounding pieces within a few months, and, if you follow my methods, you will continue to develop nicely for as long as play and practice.

To play the classical guitar at a high level, meaning, being able to play the more complex repertoire well, requires 3 to 6 hours a day for about 10 years. However, anyone can enjoy playing the classical guitar as a richly rewarding hobby that they CAN be good at (just like tennis or golf), playing the pieces they have developed with a professional polish IF they learn the methods professionals use.

The Bottom Line On Classical Guitar Playing:

Time Required: Adult Student – 30 min/day, 1 to 2 years to acquire solid foundation and playing ability through beginning level, ready and able to make further progress.

Tools: note reading, a solid foundation of technique in both hands, a firm understanding of how to practice effectively, a developing ability to play in a completely relaxed way.

Professional Level: 3 to 6 hours a day for 10 years.

Recommended Resource:

The priniciples

The classical course

How to master a scale