Learn Jazz Arrangements for Solo Guitar

Learn Jazz Arrangements for Solo Guitar

One of the greatest leaps a guitarist must make is the leap from playing with a band to learning to play solo. A guitarist must go from playing standard chords and melody to filling the entire sonic space, also keeping the listener interesting by changing things up and keeping the arrangement fresh. A guitarist is best suited drawing on the tradition of jazz in order to accomplish this – taking advantage of the chord substitutions and harmonic concepts that a full jazz band might use and applying them all to the guitar.

Fareed Haque will guide you through this process in his new course, Solo Guitar Handbook. You’ll apply jazz concepts to “Amazing Grace” and “Whispering”, turning them into solo guitar arrangements that feel full and rich. In these lessons taken from the course, we’ll sample how to turn dominant chords into ii-V’s, substitute tritones, and listen to a full performance of both arrangements. Let’s check it out:

Any Minor or Dom Can Be a ii V – Demonstration

Download the tab and notation for this solo guitar lesson on TrueFire.

This is one of the coolest ideas we have. Now that we have all these dominant chords in our arrangement, we can start to turn them all into ii-Vs. So, C7 becomes Gm-C7. F7 becomes Cm-F7, G7 becomes Am – D7. Basically, each dominant chord we use in our arrangement pretends to be a V chord, and now we’re simply adding in the ii to that V.

Let’s take a minute and talk about ii- V’s. If you’ve gone through my Jazz Comping Survival Guide, you may already be hip to some of this. Go back to that course and check it out, but here’s the short version: One of the most common chord progressions in all of Western music is the suspension. That’s when the 4th of a chord moves to the 3rd of a chord. C to B in a G chord for example (see chart). A ii-V is actually a just a jazzed-up version of a suspension. In the key of C, the ii is Dm7 and the V is G7. If you notice the motion of the guide tones (3 and 7, remember?) you’ll notice that the guide tones of Dm7 are C and F, and the guide tones of G7 are B and F. So, the only thing that really changes in a ii-V are the root moving and the 7th of the Dm going to the 3rd of G7, or a C going to a B. Just like our classic old suspension.

Any Dom Can Become a ii V – Performance (Sweet Jazz Arrangement)

Download the tab and notation for this solo guitar lesson on TrueFire.

Keep in mind I’m purposely trying to use only the one principle here, so you can hear it demonstrated clearly. In real life, however, we’ll mix and match all of these principles together to create our own personal sound.

Sub or Lead with a Tritone – Demonstration

Download the tab and notation for this solo guitar lesson on TrueFire.

In this section we’re going to talk about the much misunderstood, overly complicated, and crazy sounds of the tritone substitution. You can find all sorts of theoretical explanations of this in theory books, but really this evolved organically through the traditions of jazz.

Back in the early days of jazz, the tuba was playing the bass, and the tuba player would just sit on the bass note. They’d often times get bored, and eventually might succumb to the temptation to play a little chromatic run to the next, using a leading note into the next chord. In doing this, he accidentally created a new sound that is now a cornerstone of jazz.

Now, we’ll take our progression from Amazing Grace and add in some tritone subs. Don’t be scared! See chart.

Tritone Subs – Performance (Chromatic Jazz Arrangement)

Download the tab and notation for this solo guitar lesson on TrueFire.

Can you imagine that tubist or bassist just goin’ nuts!? Truth be told, the tritone sub was not really invented by a bored tuba player in New Orleans, but most likely a bored tuba player in Germany, Italy, or somewhere around 1830 or so. Honestly, jazz musicians get their panties all in a bunch over the originality of jazz, but everything jazz musicians have done harmonically, was pretty much done by classical musicians 100 years or so earlier. Most of jazz’s contributions to musical form have to do with rhythm, and in many cases harmonic rhythm (the timing of chords changing). That’s why so many jazz musicians are into comedy…and so many comedians are into jazz…’cause the real secret to jazz is…timing!

Amazing Grace: Full Arrangement – Overview

While I’m throwing in all of the principles and ideas we’ve covered, I also want to make sure this is something that most of you can play through and take some ideas from, so I’m trying not to play too much crazy fast or hard stuff. For that, go to my upcoming solo jazz guitar album Modern Virtuoso coming out next year sometime!

Amazing Grace: Full Arrangement – Performance

Download the tab and notation for this solo guitar lesson on TrueFire.

At 2:20 or so, I play a nice bebop lick that connects Cmaj7 to Gmin7 – C7 then to F. Learn that one in a few keys! At 2:25, I play a nice F#dim7 chord and then slap a diminished scale over it to lead back to the G7.

Whispering: Full Arrangement – Performance

Download the tab and notation for this solo guitar lesson on TrueFire.

A few things to notice: At 2:15, I play a little chord riff on A7. This is called a walk-up and is a very common device in rhythm jazz guitar. Also, at 1:58 I play a Bbm6 instead of an A7. Really Bbm6 is just a cool voicing of A7: Take A7#5, add the b9 or Bb in the bass and voila! Ewe ave ze mineur six chord!

Since I’m improvising here, you may notice that I had to take my time. Always remember that since you’re solo, you have all the time you want. Also, did you notice that I got into a little trouble at 2:22. Not really a mistake, I just was thinking for a second. And so, I just played the melody! Go back and listen to the version down once more and count how many times I just play the melody by itself with no chords at all. So, remember to punctuate the melody with chords on important words, and important downbeats, and for the rest, space is the place! Silence and melody are your friends and your safety net, always there to scoop you up and transport you to the next easy chord or downbeat!


Still yearning for more? There is plenty of jazz concepts to learn in the full version of the course on TrueFire. You’ll also get the tab, notation, and SoundSlice player to help you tackle these arrangements on your own. Check it out now!