How to Read Guitar Music for the Jazz Guitar

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Guitar music places emphasis on bars and notes in ways that are different from normal music sheets, especially if using music for jazz. Translate jazz guitar music for playing with help from a professional musician in this free video.

Part of the Video Series: Applications for the Guitar
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Video Transcript

Hi, I'm Kirk Wilson, and I live in California. And, as a session player, I play guitar in Hollywood, Burbank, and the surrounding areas of Los Angeles. And, I also teach at Orchepia School of Music in Irvine. And today, we're going to talk about how to read guitar music for jazz guitar. The unique thing about jazz guitar, similar to jazz piano, is that, many times, you have to read chords. You have to read elaborate chords, and jazz chords, and chords that are unique only to jazz. But, what we going to do right now, before we get into the chords, we going to say a little bit about the actual notes when you read, like, melody lines, and things in guitar music where you have to play a single line melody. The thing that you must understand first when you look at melody lines, is that you first need to identify the notes on the guitar. And, so we'll start off by saying that the lowest note on the guitar is open E, we call it open E. And then, here's E, A, D, G, B, and E, okay? Now, once you understand that, then all of the other notes on the guitar are accordingly. One fret up from low E is F. One fret up from F is F sharp. So, each fret is one half step. So, once you identify your half steps and whole steps, and assuming you know what the notation is on the chart you're reading, or the sheet music you're reading with tablature, then knowing half steps and whole steps are only one fret and two frets apart, then you can read your music accordingly. So, first thing you want to recognize is where your notes are in this first position, a root position F, and C, and, all of the other chords that are established on the upper part of the guitar neck. So, once you establish that, then you want to learn where all of those notes are. So, this is E, then this is F, F sharp, G, G sharp, A, A sharp, which is, you know, A sharp is a really popular note, especially with the horn sections, but they like to call it B flat. And then, we have B natural, and then we have C, we have C sharp, or D flat. And then, we have the open string D. And then we have, you know, and basically just go chromatically, and learn all of the notes up here, where it's really close to the top of the guitar. And, once you learn that, then you can learn how to play those same notes in other positions on the neck of the guitar. And, that is really important, because there's so many different ways to play the same notes on the guitar, and each one gives you different tonality. For example, my favorite song by George Benson, "Breezin'", there's a way where you can play that down here, okay? So, when you play "Breezin'", up here, you're going to have one sound, okay? So, now that same note, you can find it here. But, it sounds different because it's a smaller string, as opposed to playing it down here. And, you can play the same line down here. Same thing. So, that same exact note, a group of notes, a phrase, can be played, also here. It just depends on the sound that suits you best. So, when you're reading these notes, it's important to know where you are on the guitar. So, that's the first thing about reading notes on the guitar. The second thing about reading guitar music is reading the chords. So, typically, the main thing, what I want to say about that, is that there is a process of learning your chords on the guitar, and it doesn't happen overnight. But, with good practice, you can learn. So, what's important that you want to work on early on, you want to practice playing the chords without looking at your fingers. And, so many people, they want to stare at the fingers, but when you're reading chords for the guitar, you cannot just watch your fingers. You have to be able to play. So, what you want to do is start out with playing C, F, G, just chords that you know, like some simple chords, A7, D7, G7, C major 7, you know. So, like, it's okay to, like, glance like that, you know. You can do this. You know, you can look. But, you don't want to stare at your fingers. So, that way, when you see B minor 7, just go straight to it. You can do that, but you have to work at it, you have to practice. You know, you're going to mess up, you're going to make a mistake. But, teach yourself how to just put your finger on the guitar, put your hand on the guitar, and if you want to play G, you play a G. You don't have to look. Take your hand off the guitar, look somewhere else, just like I'm doing. I'm looking out, you know, I'm looking at the ceiling, and I can just play a C. I don't have to look and find where everything is. But, it will not happen unless you work at it. So, that is the main thing. Once you do that, then you can look at a chord chart, or you can look at sheet music, or any music that you're reading, and actually read, because you can keep your eyes on the paper, and away from your hand. And, my name is Kirk Wilson, and that is how you read guitar music on the jazz guitar.


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