How to play jazz on acoustic guitar - Guest post
Jazz is a genre of music that originates from African Americans and it emerged at the beginning of the last century. The main characteristics of the jazz are syncopations and improvisations usually over a regular or forceful rhythm.
Woodwind and brass instruments, as well as piano, are the instruments mostly associated with jazz music, but it is not unusual to hear guitars and violins as well. Some of the styles of the jazz are swing, Dixieland, free jazz, hard bop, soul jazz, jazz-rock, cool jazz, west coast jazz and bebop.
The genre originates from New Orleans and you can trace its roots in ragtime and blues. Somewhere around the 1920s, jazz became a major form of musical expression. Jazz of the 1920s emerged as a bond between African American and European American music style oriented on performance. It’s characterized by blues and swing notes, polyrhythms, improvisation, and call and response vocals. Although jazz is quite deeply connected to an African American’s experience in the US, many different cultures gave their contribution to a jazz style and therefore created many different styles of the genre.
Jazz music is considered to be “one of the America’s original art forms”.
Now, when it comes to jazz guitar, the sound is usually associated with an electric guitar. But something that is not very well known is that there is a completely developed contemporary acoustic segment of jazz.
It does sound a bit different but it is a very rich and nice sounding style of the genre.
If by any chance you own an acoustic guitar or you plan to get one and you want to play jazz on it, there are some important things you need to know about your instrument and about playing jazz on it.
I am going to show you some of the most important things that are necessary to know if you want to start playing jazz on your acoustic guitar.
Nylon or steel
This decision is in most cases completely up to you and your personal preferences. Most of the conservative and old school jazz guitar players prefer nylon strings and classical guitars because of the warmer tone of these setups.
With that being said, you can most definitely use a steel string acoustic guitar if you wish. A steel-string acoustic guitar is more practical if you like to play different genres.
However, the main advantage of a classical guitar is the warmer and softer tone and relatively similar technique of playing jazz and classical music. You see, acoustic jazz technique is mostly based on the basics of classical technique. These two have the same fingerpicking patterns as well as some other aspects.
This is the technique that is mostly used for playing jazz on an acoustic guitar. The majority of the jazz guitarists use the standard classical guitar fingerpicking style. Basically, you play the lowest 3 strings with your thumb and the highest 3 with your index finger, middle finger, and your ring finger.
The most recommended technique for playing single note sections is alternating your index finger and your middle finger on the same string. This technique is basically the same as the technique used on electric basses.
When your guitar is unplugged it’s in its natural state. An acoustic guitar is a quite versatile tool and it gets “amplified” organically. It takes some time and practice to learn to manipulate the dynamics of an acoustic guitar, but once you learn it, it will take you very far when it comes to your musical expression.
Some tones can be palm muted and some can be accentuated by harder strumming, and these two are just examples. You can do so much more with your instrument. Every acoustic guitar behaves a bit differently.
The chances are that your acoustic guitar has some “hidden” qualities that you are not yet aware of. It’s important that you spend a lot of time with your guitar so you can get to know it. The more time you spend with it the more doors will be opened for your creativity.
Use your emotions
The most important difference between an electric and an acoustic guitar is the nature of the tone. An electric one has more metallic sound and it gives you tons of options when it comes to building your tone. But nothing can sound warm and sweet as the tone of an acoustic guitar.
And the sweetest and warmest sound comes from a classical guitar. You can use that unique tone of your guitar and explore the sound and tone of every single string when you play it. Find the technique that can translate your emotions into a perfect jazz masterpiece.
After some time of playing you will understand and appreciate the power of an acoustic guitar tone.
Chromaticism is very often used in jazz music. It adds a certain layer of complexity to your composition while sounding completely natural. This technique has a profound impact on an acoustic jazz guitar.
Generally speaking, when you reach the end of your chord progression and you need to start again from the beginning, try to add a chromatic bridge somewhere in between. This can significantly spice up your song and performance.
It doesn’t matter if you just started playing the jazz or you have been playing it for years, if you decided to switch to an acoustic guitar you will find this experience both fun and challenging.
It takes a decent amount of time and practice to cross over completely to this whole different world of fingerpicking and to learn all of the necessary techniques required for playing the jazz on an acoustic guitar, but it is worth the struggle.
Of course, the most important thing is to practice until your hands hurt. Once you are able to play jazz tunes on your acoustic guitar for hours you will see how amazing acoustic jazz is.
When it comes to musical theory and technique, I highly recommend that you check out the basic and advanced classical guitar techniques and musical theory. You will find a lot of useful information and knowledge there.
I’m Alex Frank who has worked sound technology industry for 10 years now. Today, I am an affiliate blogger who likes to educate my audience more about sound technology. Visit to musicinstrumentscenter.com to contact me.
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