Beginner’s Guide to Improvisation: Jazz


Improvisation in the style of jazz on the guitar!

Learning how to improvise can take your guitar playing to a whole new level. In this lesson I’ll show you how to play two tunes which provide the perfect starting point for improvising within the style of jazz.

Most jazz tunes involve modulation between keys, which can be quite daunting for the uninitiated. The songs below are all in one key and I’ll being showing you chords and the scales that are a great way to master improvisation. I’ll also give you tips to develop your phrasing.


The first tune is called Jazzt Play in the key of C.

The chords are:

In this tune you’ll be playing a 4/4 beat comp. This means you´re playing on every beat in the bar, emphasising the 2nd and 4th beat – which generates the ‘swing’ feel.

The scale to improvise with here is the C major scale (Ionian) which looks like this in the 5th position.

Ultimately, one should aim to learn the scales in every positions all over the neck. To start with however, in this lesson we’ll concentrate on the C major scale in the 5th position:

Screen Shot 2015-10-15 at 09.53.03

When using a scale during a solo, try to concentrate on phrasing as if you were playing a melody. Staying in one key means we can focus on the scale tones at hand and try to form them into melodies.

The tabs and notes:

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Backing track:

Video lesson:


The 2nd tune is called Peanuts, in the key of G.

The chords are as follows:

Here we take comping a step further and start to improvise with the rhythm.

In improvised music it´s common that the comping instruments try to build rhythm parts to accompany the soloist. They listen to each other and take inspiration from the music.

The scale to improvise with for the song Peanuts is the G major scale (Ionian). In the 3rd position it looks as follows:

Ionian scale in G_Peanuts

Concentrate on the phrasing. Play phrases of similar length to start with and be aware of the space between tones, feeling them as much as you feel the notes. Start to play in eighth notes and go further with triplet eighth notes. If you have the technique, try playing sixteenth notes.

After practising this for a while, experiment with the length of phrases and mix up the phrase rhythms. Play as if you were talking.

Here are the tabs and notes:

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Backing track:

Video lesson:

I hope you found this improvisation lesson useful. Good luck!

– Thomas

Front pictureThomas Berglund is a musician that has played in many different styles through the years and he has his heart in music with improvisation. He also work as a guitar teacher and have a YouTube channel with guitar lessons, releases and concert videos. To find out more you can visit his Website, YouTube Channel or Soundcloud page.