Want to Play Jazz Guitar? Start with These Five Songs

Wes Montgomery
(Image credit: Popperfoto/Getty Images)

When learning how to play jazz guitar, many of us know we need to learn scales, arpeggios, and chords, but we are sometimes stuck when looking for jazz tunes to learn that are appropriate for our level of development.

In this lesson, we'll check out five introductory jazz tunes, each focusing on specific concepts that will help you develop strong jazz-guitar fundamentals while expanding your repertoire at the same time.

Check out these five tunes as you begin to develop your jazz-tune list and build your jazz-soloing vocabulary on the fretboard.


One of the most recognizable jazz tunes, "Summertime" is a great intro to jazz guitar as the melody (apart from one note) comes from the minor pentatonic scale, and you can use this same minor pentatonic scale to solo over the whole tune when first exploring jazz soloing.

"Maiden Voyage"

Learning how to solo in a jazz style means learning how to change keys on a regular basis during your improvisations, which can be a big hurdle for guitarists when first exploring the jazz genre. 

"Maiden Voyage" provides four minor keys to work with. You can use the Dorian mode to solo over each key, providing a challenge for beginner jazz guitarists, while keeping things focused on one mode at the same time: Dorian.

"Cantaloupe Island"

In order to progress as a jazz soloist, you will also need to work on switching chord qualities as well as keys in your soloing, and "Cantaloupe Island" provides both of these challenges at a reasonable tempo in its construction. 

The tune features both m7 and 7th chords, has a short 16-bar form, and maintains a reasonable tempo, allowing you to challenge yourself in the practice room without providing too much frustration at this stage in your development.

"Autumn Leaves"

Moving on to another famous jazz standard, featuring the most famous jazz chord progression, "Autumn Leaves" features major and minor ii-V-I chord changes to explore in your soloing. 

When learning to play "Autumn Leaves," it would be advised to pull these two progressions out of the tune and work on them individually – major and minor ii-V-I – before attempting to solo over the tune as a whole.


"Sunny," the last tune on our list of intro jazz songs, has major and minor ii-V-I’s in its makeup, but this time they are short, two-bar phrases compared to the longer, four-bar phrases in "Autumn Leaves." 

Again, soloing over major and minor ii-V-I’s is an essential skill for any jazz guitarist to possess, and so working on both short and long versions of these progressions can go a long way in the practice room.

This is by no means a complete list of introductory jazz tunes, but these five songs cover the basics and allow for a well-balanced introduction to the genre.