#1
I've always had an interest in Jazz, and I've always wished I could play it. I learned some jazz songs like girl from ipanema and autumn leaves ( just the chords ) and I was even in jazz band in high school, but I had to search the most of chords/ voicings on the internet and even then I struggled with some of it. I've been playing for about 4 years and about 1 year of serious playing and I'm starting to become obsessed with watching jazz players and I've been listening to a lot more jazz than usual as well. So my question is where do I PROPERLY start with jazz to be able to play as a serious jazz musician? What are some prerequisites to playing jazz ( chord knowledge, scales, arpeggios ? ) so that I won't have any gaps to fill later on. If anyone could get help me get on the right path I'd appreciate that. Thanks.
#2
You need to know...

How chords function.
What is G7 in C?
In this example: Ab7b5 - G7b9 - C What is the function of the Ab? What is this progression in roman numeral analysis?

Chord construction and how to build chords from the major/minor scales.
What are all diatonic 7th chords in C Major?

Chord voicings and inversions all over the neck.

The Major and Minor scales in all keys all over the neck.

Arpeggios. R357 and 3579

The MOST IMPORTANT THING is TRANSCRIBING.
You have to have an aural understanding of how the jazz greats used all this stuff.
Knowing what a b9 or a tritone substitution is intellectually is useless.
You have to know how Parker used those things. How Coltrane used them.
If you don't understand aurally how real players used all these fancy sounding concepts, you'll just sound like someone forcing in an abstract definition from a theory book because "Jazz = alt notes" or something silly like that.

It's a lot to work on but if you do a bit each day it doesn't seem as overwhelming.
Personally, I need to work on my comping. I neglect that a bit.

(Insert Jazz comping vid here. I can't find it atm. It's by a guy that did something with the hot licks people. It's been posted before. I'll go search for it.)
Last edited by Duaneclapdrix at Jan 4, 2014,
#3
go to school and learn about jazz from jazz teachers.

Prerequisite for jazz?

Music theory study from Bach, and Romantic Period music.

have relative pitch

knowing every major, harmonic, melodic, diminished, whole-half and half-whole scale, whole tone, lydian augmented, and altered scale in every key from anywhere on the neck of your guitar.

Knowing every major, maj6, maj7, maj9, maj13, minor, minor6, minor7, minor11, minor13, Dominant, dom9, dom13, dom7b9, dom7#9, dom7b9 13. dom7#9 13, dom7b9 b13, dom7#9 b13, dom7#11, dom9#11, dom7b9 #11, dom7#9 #11, dom7b9 #11 13, dom7#9 #11 13, dom7b9 #11 b13, dom7#9 #11 b13, dim, dim7, dim9, augmented, and augmented7 chord in every neck position in at least the 3 low strings. i think missed a few...

have fun
#4
Quote by Deadds

knowing every major/minor scale in every key from anywhere on the neck of your guitar.


fixed that for you

!Opinion incoming!

I think "alt scales" and "Lydian Dominant Bebob Squoodilly Doodily" scales are useless.
90% of chromaticism in Jazz is just passing notes in between chord tones (Like filling out a third. You see that a lot.) and alt notes resolve in very characteristic ways that get lost when people think "G7b9#5, better play a weird scale". I think it better to see it as an opportunity to highlight the b9 and resolve it melodically in it's special way. Or use the b13 and treat it in it's special way. Sometimes it sounds like people are just barfing an alt scale over it and I don't think that's what Charlie Parker, or Wes or Hawkins was thinking. That might have been what some of the more "modern" guys were thinking, but when people try to play like that over most jazz I think it sound bad.

#5
Quote by Duaneclapdrix
fixed that for you


there was nothing to fix.

A minor scale is just a major scale starting and ending on the 6th degree.

Quote by Duaneclapdrix

I think "alt scales" and "Lydian Dominant Bebob Squoodilly Doodily" scales are useless.
90% of chromaticism in Jazz is just passing notes in between chord tones (Like filling out a third. You see that a lot.) and alt notes resolve in very characteristic ways that get lost when people think "G7b9#5, better play a weird scale". I think it better to see it as an opportunity to highlight the b9 and resolve it melodically in it's special way. Or use the b13 and treat it in it's special way. Sometimes it sounds like people are just barfing an alt scale over it and I don't think that's what Charlie Parker, or Wes or Hawkins was thinking. That might have been what some of the more "modern" guys were thinking, but when people try to play like that over most jazz I think it sound bad.



This "barfing" you are referring to is just bad phrasing and blind scale usage. You don't just learn the shape.

You learn what makes the scale and apply it to the harmony like you mentioned.

I keep forgetting to say it because I though it was common sense by now. my bad.
#6
Quote by Deadds
there was nothing to fix.

A minor scale is just a major scale starting and ending on the 6th degree.


or you could learn to think of it as its own entity, which it is. and that's not to mention the frequency with which the melodic minor scale is used in jazz -- that "i already know it" 6th degree trick isn't going to be of much use to you there.
Anfangen ist leicht, Beharren eine Kunst.
#7
Quote by AeolianWolf
or you could learn to think of it as its own entity, which it is. and that's not to mention the frequency with which the melodic minor scale is used in jazz -- that "i already know it" 6th degree trick isn't going to be of much use to you there.

Lol, yeah. When I play G mixolydian, I don't think "C major, but start on G and end on G"
#8
Call it what you want. It's still C major. I tend to play around locrian for I chords, but guess what? It's still just C major.
#9
Quote by AeolianWolf
or you could learn to think of it as its own entity, which it is. and that's not to mention the frequency with which the melodic minor scale is used in jazz -- that "i already know it" 6th degree trick isn't going to be of much use to you there.


If you really know your instrument and your theory then these scales can be made on the fly without having to change your hand position(for guitarist), like how a pianist would play, because all this talk of modes and scales tends to make people think that they should be changing positions and all that nonsense.

That is the main goal of any jazz musician's improvisation. Seamless movement through different keys and scales.

A minor to A melodic minor.

A minor but with an F# and a G#.

Don't be that person that plays from the root of every chord or tonic of every key.
Last edited by Deadds at Jan 5, 2014,
#10
There are a couple of things you want to do when learning jazz, to get into it faster.

1. (As already mentioned) Transcribe alot of jazz music. Learning by ear is essential when it comes to jazz, so i would spend most of my time working on tunes. If you are new to jazz there are some jazz players who's playing is more "less is more" then others that would probably be beneficial for you to check out. Russell Malone (Guitar) and Miles Davis (Trumpet) comes to mind, start learning their lines by ear, and the harmony they are played over.

2. Sing everything you play. You don't have to be a singer or even have a good voice to do this, this step is just to make a connection between your ears and your fingers, using your voice as a bridge between them. A lot of players fail to get anywhere with improvisation and coming up with something on their own cause they have simply just learned the lines/changes by ear once and then they just play them as patterns. By singing them you are actively thinking about the lines, and hopefully with time you will be able to get jazz lines into your head with this method, aswell as get them out of your head, onto your instrument.

3. Start analyzing jazz music you've learned. Learning a song by ear should always be the first priority, but after that it is nice if you understand the theory behind it. Why does the chord progression Dm7 - Db7 - Cmaj7 in the key of C work? What is Db7's role in this progression?
I would recommend you get Mark Levine's book, "The Jazz Theory Book". It's the only theory book i use nowadays and it will help you understand many things, if you put some time into it.

4. Practice your arpeggios. Some people will say that you should practice a bunch of different scales like lydian dominant, half-whole diminished and super locrian etc. This isn't necessary, really. Most jazz is based around chord tones and chromatic playing. So i would recommend when learning a song you should be able to play the chord progression as arpeggios aswell, it's a good foundation for soloing over it. Don't forget to sing the arpeggios aswell.

5. Study a lot of different players and jazz styles. I don't remember who said it but someone once said: "Jazz is... An open-ended music designed for open minds." To me this means that jazz is an ever evolving style of music and it is welcomed to bring new things into the style. Learn all the different styles of jazz music their is (if you enjoy all of course) and maybe even bring in stuff from other styles you like. I mean there is swing jazz, bebop jazz, Latin jazz, Gypsy Jazz, Cool jazz, Jazz fusion, Jazz Blues etc.

Lastly i am going to leave you with the names of great players of different styles and instruments that are my personal favorites, that i hope you will enjoy aswell.

Traditional jazz styles: Joe Pass, Jody Fisher, Lenny Breau, Barney Kessel, Andreas Öberg, Wes Montgomery, Jim Hall, Pat Martino, Grant Green, Joe Henderson, Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Pat Metheny, Dave Brubeck, Bill Evans, Dexter Gordon, John Coltrane, Oscar Peterson and Russell Malone.

Gypsy Jazz Styles: Django Reinhardt, Bireli Lagrene, Jimmy Rosenberg, Joscho Stephan, Rosenberg Trio, Frank Vignola, Angelo DeBarre, Stochelo Rosenberg, Tim Kliphouse and Tchavolo Schmitt.

Jazz-Fusion Styles: John Scofield, Larry Carlton, Wayne Krantz, Hiram Bullock, Mike Stern, Chad Wackerman, Steve Khan, Allen Hinds, Scott Henderson, Alex Machacek, Jeff Lorber, Frank Gambale, Allan Holdsworth, Shawn Lane, Al Di Meola, Greg Howe and Guthrie Govan.

Hope that gave you some insight, good luck with practicing jazz.
Best Regards
Sickz
Fusion and jazz musician, a fan of most music.

Quote by Guthrie Govan
“If you steal from one person it's theft, and if you steal from lots of people it's research”


Quote by Chick Corea
"Only play what you hear. If you don't hear anything, don't play anything."
#12
Quote by Deadds
If you really know your instrument and your theory then these scales can be made on the fly without having to change your hand position(for guitarist), like how a pianist would play, because all this talk of modes and scales tends to make people think that they should be changing positions and all that nonsense.

That is the main goal of any jazz musician's improvisation. Seamless movement through different keys and scales.


very true, but bear in mind that the goal in this thread is to help TS to begin his studies in jazz. it is unlikely, given the descriptions in the initial post, that he has sufficient understanding of the intrinsic concepts (and may not even know what a melodic minor scale is or, even more importantly, how to use it).

i didn't really read through sickz's post but i skimmed it -- some great advice there. the only real way to learn and internalize jazz is to immerse yourself in it. it's more complex than rock and blues (and, yes, even metal) not because it relies on blistering technique or any such thing, but because it's a language of its own, to an extent that exceeds that of all other styles.

if you're not playing jazz, you're not learning jazz. end of discussion. start by learning some standards. learn to play the melody. jazz solos are often fast and flashy with a lot of chromaticism, but so many young jazz musicians seem to think that by using an assload of jazz soloing concepts (note enclosures, etc.) that it makes a good solo, but the best solos are generally those that are derived from the melodies themselves. also, learn to comp. if your ear isn't to the point that you can figure out the chords, get yourself a lead sheet, and force yourself to find new ways to play the chords. don't get caught up in using two or three barre chord shapes to nail it all. find creative voicings, and study the comping of players who voice chords in creative ways that you might not.

i could go on and on, but this is long enough already. really, as far as learning jazz is concerned, the only way you can go wrong is to not do anything.
Anfangen ist leicht, Beharren eine Kunst.
#13
Thanks to everyone who replied. There's a lot of great and detailed answers. As far as transcribing songs, I can figure out lead parts pretty easily but chords apart from basic major and minor chords I can't figure out. AeolianWolf mentioned to just get a lead sheet if my ear isn't at that level yet, but how important is it to be able to know what type of chord is being played just by listening to it and how should I begin to work on it ?
#14
Listen to the bass. That will give you a good indication of what the root note of the chord will be. Become familiar ii-V patterns... very familiar. Because any out of key chords you come across are very likely to be ii-V approaches to the chord that IS in key. Happens quite frequently in jazz.

Learn the sound m7b5 chords in jazz progression contexts.

You may find helpful to listen to smooth and acid jazz. Stuff like Jamiroquai, Brand New Heavies, The Crusaders.

That stuff is not quite do intense as full on jazz, so it will act like a good warm up for ears.
#16
Start by listening ad nauseum to as much jazz as you an. If you decide to learn a tune listen to that song. Over and over and over. Different versions, different keys, different instruments. Listen to a piano version of it and try to mimic what you hear on the guitar. Find a version with a saxophone playing the melody and try to play that melody or solo on your guitar. Get a Real Book with the chords and melodies spelled out.

With jazz, it's all about what's going on in between the top melody note and the lowest Bass note. The inner voice. It is loaded with 7 chords of all types, diminished chords, extensions and tensions and modulations. I am still learning Jazz. Frankly, I am just getting started with Jazz.
#17
Get "The Real Book". It's THE textbook for standard jazz.
Transcribing is great. But I save it for the improvisations that I think sound cool. I learn the melody and chords from the sheets first.

Screw those pay-per-view lessons. I can't recommend that since I have only had bad experience with those kinds of online teachers (I can't speak for everyone, but they seem to only want your money IMO. Go to a real music teacher, one who can teach you theory and is passionate about it).

Here is what I know about jazz. I'm no expert, but it was a part of my curriculum, for three years, half a year ago so I do know enough to get you started.
I'm writing it down here before I forget it to help both you and me . I hope you find it useful because you seem rather serious about this.

I assume that you're well versed in basic music theory. Otherwise, buy a book or get some lessons. Don't hesitate to ask if you have any questions though.

Here we go! It's my combined braindump/jazz lesson.

Jazz basically consists of two parts. The first being theoretical knowledge. The second, knowing how to approach a jazz tune.

The theory - It's complicated untill you get it.

First of all, learn all of the notes on the guitar, if you don't already know them. Ask around the forum for tips on this.

A great exercise is to learn one note each day. E.g. Monday you decide to learn where all the e's are on the guitar. Play all the e's to a metronome for about as long as it takes to sink in.

Tuesday, all the g's. Etcetera. I don't recommend learning them in order. You'll have it down in less than two weeks if you do this (it's way easier than it sounds like).

1) Knowledge of chord functions.
I.e. What terms like "tonic", "dominant" and "subdominant" mean and how they work together. (Hint: Circle of Fifths)
For example that the dominant leads to the tonic (most important step in jazz is to know: Dominant > Tonic aka V > I).

1a) Be able to translate it into jazz terms. (this is very simple)
For example: Tonic = I, Dominant = V, Subdominant = IV, The Dominant's dominant (Don't know the english term. It's the two D's on top of each other. Looks like the Daredevil logo) = II.

1c) The difference between a dominant 7th chord and a major 7th chord.
- If you're really going at it: When it's called a 13 instead of a 4th - and so on with the rest of the double digits.
All in all: Thorough understanding of chord construction.

1d) Know your parallel keys. E.g. C major is parallel to A minor. F major and D minor and so on. (Don't worry... I don't even know all of them by heart).

1e) Know all of standard 7th chords that come from the major scale and which note is the root.
Cheat sheet:
I Maj7
II chord: m7
III chord: m7
IV chord: Maj7
V chord: 7 (dominant 7th)
VI chord: m7
VII chord: dim7

2) Analyse standard jazz tunes
I'll briefly explain what a standard jazz tune looks like, so you know what to look for when you start analysing them.

A standard jazz tune consists of 32 bars, much like a standard blues consists of 12 bars.
I believe that those 32 bars are called a "jazz choir" or simply a "choir". I was taught jazz in danish and "choir" is just a direct translation of the danish term, so feel free to correct me if I'm wrong here.

Now, the choir can be further divided into the following formula: AABA'
That's 8 bars of A, another 8 bars of A, 8 bars of B and finally 8 bars of A'.
You can often tell the difference by listening to the drums, since they almost always play the ride becken during the B part.

Obviously things can change from tune to tune. At my exam I had about a tune which was only AB for example.

This form is determined by which chords are played.

The jazz choir is actually just repeated throughout the whole song. How do they keep it fresh? It's simple, they improvise like this:

Introduction, everybody plays the melody that was written for the song together. (1 full choir)
1st solo, e.g. saxophone (1 full choir)
2nd solo e.g. guitar (1 full choir)
3nd solo e.g. drum (1 full choir)
and so on with maybe some contrabass solo and whatever.
Until the last choir. Here they play the introdution again.

Now this the complete, run off the mill, regular jazz formula.

All of the above may sound really complicated but I hope it's just encouraging. It was to me anyways haha.

2a) Key changes. This is where jazz gets complicated. This is also where you're going to need your knowledge of chords and scales - and you're gonna need it in a sort of backwards kind of way.
Normally (in anything but jazz) it goes like this: You have a key. That key determines the chords.
In jazz however, it goes like this: You have some chords. Those chords determine the key.

As a result, jazz changes keys very often and you need to adjust your play to that. I take it that you know how to do this, since you played in a jazzband already.
If you need a book on the subject, try Jody Fisher's books on jazz for beginners, intermediates and advanced students.
Other people have vouched for those books but personally found them boring.


short lesson in determining the key
There is a surefire way to identify which key you're in:
The 7 chord, since there's only one of those in a key. If it's a 7 chord (not maj7 or m7), it's the V chord of the key.
Make a powerchord using only your ring- and forefinger. Make it so that you place your ringfinger on the root of the 7 chord. The key is where your forefinger is resting.

Example:
Say we have a Dm7 followed by a G7 and then a Cmaj7. What key is this in? Well... We have our G7 so that's definitely the V. Put your ring finger on a g-note on the guitar and the forefinger is resting on a: C.
So we're in C major, which fits perfectly since we had a Cmaj7 chord in the example, which is the I chord in C major. (Consult with the cheat sheet).

In our example we also had a Dm7. Which number does that one have? Try to figure it out before you see the answer.
It's: II


2b) Jazz progressions. These are common chord sequenses that occur in jazz. The most common is probably the II-V-I (look in the spoiler for an example of one such progression).
A II-V-I in C looks like this: Dm7 G7 Cmaj7
Most of them are a variation of that one. These also help to determine the key and know which is the I in the key and so on, so you can adjust your improvisation around that.

As a guitarist, your job is to do some "comping" while not playing lead.
It's just playing syncopated rhythms in the background while another instrument takes the lead. I guess you already know that since you played in a jazz band before.
If not: Hit some off-beats, skip a beat, hit it right on for a bar, gently stroke the chords on the first beat and let it ring, then do something else etc. Remember to follow the dymanics of the drummer and don't be all over the place with your rhythm. It's generally good to stick with one rhythm for the 8 bars before you switch.

While comping you can also add 9's, 13's, 11's or use parallel chords and such to color the chords even more. Remember to learn the inversions of the chords and use them too. It's ok if you start out by only playing inversions of 7th's, you don't have to push for those inverted 11's anytime soon.


Tritone Substitution
It is only a compositional tool, so it's not really that useful for playing jazz. Except for knowing "'what's up" but then you only need to know the chord, not why it's that chord. In case you're interested anyways.
When/if you analyse jazz songs you're gonna stumble upon a common chord that doesn't fit the key. This is most likely to be because of something called a "tritone substitution":

A lot of fellow pupils in my class had a hard time grasping this concept, but it's an important one in understanding the fundamentals of jazz.

Back to our II-V-I progression: Dm7 G7 Cmaj7

You basically take what's supposed to be a V (in this case G7) chord of a II-V-I and substitute it with a 7th chord that is a tritone away from the V chord.
So G7 becomes a Db7, since the note "db" is a tritone away from the note g.

If we do a tritone substitution of our II-V-I in C, it'll look like this: Dm7 Db7 Cmaj7.
This chord is also a dominant that leads to the I, only it's much more powerful since every note in the chord is half a step away from the notes in Cmaj7.

Notice the baseline in those the chords. It's chromatic. When you come across this, it's a great time to go get some chromaticism going in your impro.


Approaching a Jazz tune
This isn't so complicated, but I'll give some pointers that I follow.

a) Learn to play the chords of the "choir" by heart. Only then experiment with different comping.
Don't use the tritone substitution for comping!!! - Tritone substitution is just a way they write the songs and a Db7 and G7 sounds terrible together. Am7 and Cmaj7 (parallel keys) do not, however.
b) Learn to play the melody as it is written. This will give you pointers about where and what to play when you improvise.


Good luck.
Last edited by dogmax at Jan 7, 2014,
#18
Voice leading is probably the biggest key to understanding jazz harmony. Your chord roots will not make sense unless you know how to voice lead.

Get cracking on those 7th chord inversions.
#19
Quote by dogmax
Get "The Real Book". It's THE textbook for standard jazz.
Transcribing is great. But I save it for the improvisations that I think sound cool. I learn the melody and chords from the sheets first.

Screw those pay-per-view lessons. I can't recommend that since I have only had bad experience with those kinds of online teachers (I can't speak for everyone, but they seem to only want your money IMO. Go to a real music teacher, one who can teach you theory and is passionate about it).

Here is what I know about jazz. I'm no expert, but it was a part of my curriculum, for three years, half a year ago so I do know enough to get you started.
I'm writing it down here before I forget it to help both you and me . I hope you find it useful because you seem rather serious about this.

I assume that you're well versed in basic music theory. Otherwise, buy a book or get some lessons. Don't hesitate to ask if you have any questions though.

Here we go! It's my combined braindump/jazz lesson.

Jazz basically consists of two parts. The first being theoretical knowledge. The second, knowing how to approach a jazz tune.

The theory - It's complicated untill you get it.

First of all, learn all of the notes on the guitar, if you don't already know them. Ask around the forum for tips on this.

A great exercise is to learn one note each day. E.g. Monday you decide to learn where all the e's are on the guitar. Play all the e's to a metronome for about as long as it takes to sink in.

Tuesday, all the g's. Etcetera. I don't recommend learning them in order. You'll have it down in less than two weeks if you do this (it's way easier than it sounds like).

1) Knowledge of chord functions.
I.e. What terms like "tonic", "dominant" and "subdominant" mean and how they work together. (Hint: Circle of Fifths)
For example that the dominant leads to the tonic (most important step in jazz is to know: Dominant > Tonic aka V > I).

1a) Be able to translate it into jazz terms. (this is very simple)
For example: Tonic = I, Dominant = V, Subdominant = IV, The Dominant's dominant (Don't know the english term. It's the two D's on top of each other. Looks like the Daredevil logo) = II.

1c) The difference between a dominant 7th chord and a major 7th chord.
- If you're really going at it: When it's called a 13 instead of a 4th - and so on with the rest of the double digits.
All in all: Thorough understanding of chord construction.

1d) Know your parallel keys. E.g. C major is parallel to A minor. F major and D minor and so on. (Don't worry... I don't even know all of them by heart).

1e) Know all of standard 7th chords that come from the major scale and which note is the root.
Cheat sheet:
I Maj7
II chord: m7
III chord: m7
IV chord: Maj7
V chord: 7 (dominant 7th)
VI chord: m7
VII chord: dim7

2) Analyse standard jazz tunes
I'll briefly explain what a standard jazz tune looks like, so you know what to look for when you start analysing them.

A standard jazz tune consists of 32 bars, much like a standard blues consists of 12 bars.
I believe that those 32 bars are called a "jazz choir" or simply a "choir". I was taught jazz in danish and "choir" is just a direct translation of the danish term, so feel free to correct me if I'm wrong here.

Now, the choir can be further divided into the following formula: AABA'
That's 8 bars of A, another 8 bars of A, 8 bars of B and finally 8 bars of A'.
You can often tell the difference by listening to the drums, since they almost always play the ride becken during the B part.

Obviously things can change from tune to tune. At my exam I had about a tune which was only AB for example.

This form is determined by which chords are played.

The jazz choir is actually just repeated throughout the whole song. How do they keep it fresh? It's simple, they improvise like this:

Introduction, everybody plays the melody that was written for the song together. (1 full choir)
1st solo, e.g. saxophone (1 full choir)
2nd solo e.g. guitar (1 full choir)
3nd solo e.g. drum (1 full choir)
and so on with maybe some contrabass solo and whatever.
Until the last choir. Here they play the introdution again.

Now this the complete, run off the mill, regular jazz formula.

All of the above may sound really complicated but I hope it's just encouraging. It was to me anyways haha.

2a) Key changes. This is where jazz gets complicated. This is also where you're going to need your knowledge of chords and scales - and you're gonna need it in a sort of backwards kind of way.
Normally (in anything but jazz) it goes like this: You have a key. That key determines the chords.
In jazz however, it goes like this: You have some chords. Those chords determine the key.

As a result, jazz changes keys very often and you need to adjust your play to that. I take it that you know how to do this, since you played in a jazzband already.
If you need a book on the subject, try Jody Fisher's books on jazz for beginners, intermediates and advanced students.
Other people have vouched for those books but personally found them boring.


short lesson in determining the key
There is a surefire way to identify which key you're in:
The 7 chord, since there's only one of those in a key. If it's a 7 chord (not maj7 or m7), it's the V chord of the key.
Make a powerchord using only your ring- and forefinger. Make it so that you place your ringfinger on the root of the 7 chord. The key is where your forefinger is resting.

Example:
Say we have a Dm7 followed by a G7 and then a Cmaj7. What key is this in? Well... We have our G7 so that's definitely the V. Put your ring finger on a g-note on the guitar and the forefinger is resting on a: C.
So we're in C major, which fits perfectly since we had a Cmaj7 chord in the example, which is the I chord in C major. (Consult with the cheat sheet).

In our example we also had a Dm7. Which number does that one have? Try to figure it out before you see the answer.
It's: II


2b) Jazz progressions. These are common chord sequenses that occur in jazz. The most common is probably the II-V-I (look in the spoiler for an example of one such progression).
A II-V-I in C looks like this: Dm7 G7 Cmaj7
Most of them are a variation of that one. These also help to determine the key and know which is the I in the key and so on, so you can adjust your improvisation around that.

As a guitarist, your job is to do some "comping" while not playing lead.
It's just playing syncopated rhythms in the background while another instrument takes the lead. I guess you already know that since you played in a jazz band before.
If not: Hit some off-beats, skip a beat, hit it right on for a bar, gently stroke the chords on the first beat and let it ring, then do something else etc. Remember to follow the dymanics of the drummer and don't be all over the place with your rhythm. It's generally good to stick with one rhythm for the 8 bars before you switch.

While comping you can also add 9's, 13's, 11's or use parallel chords and such to color the chords even more. Remember to learn the inversions of the chords and use them too. It's ok if you start out by only playing inversions of 7th's, you don't have to push for those inverted 11's anytime soon.


Tritone Substitution
It is only a compositional tool, so it's not really that useful for playing jazz. Except for knowing "'what's up" but then you only need to know the chord, not why it's that chord. In case you're interested anyways.
When/if you analyse jazz songs you're gonna stumble upon a common chord that doesn't fit the key. This is most likely to be because of something called a "tritone substitution":

A lot of fellow pupils in my class had a hard time grasping this concept, but it's an important one in understanding the fundamentals of jazz.

Back to our II-V-I progression: Dm7 G7 Cmaj7

You basically take what's supposed to be a V (in this case G7) chord of a II-V-I and substitute it with a 7th chord that is a tritone away from the V chord.
So G7 becomes a Db7, since the note "db" is a tritone away from the note g.

If we do a tritone substitution of our II-V-I in C, it'll look like this: Dm7 Db7 Cmaj7.
This chord is also a dominant that leads to the I, only it's much more powerful since every note in the chord is half a step away from the notes in Cmaj7.

Notice the baseline in those the chords. It's chromatic. When you come across this, it's a great time to go get some chromaticism going in your impro.


Approaching a Jazz tune
This isn't so complicated, but I'll give some pointers that I follow.

a) Learn to play the chords of the "choir" by heart. Only then experiment with different comping.
Don't use the tritone substitution for comping!!! - Tritone substitution is just a way they write the songs and a Db7 and G7 sounds terrible together. Am7 and Cmaj7 (parallel keys) do not, however.
b) Learn to play the melody as it is written. This will give you pointers about where and what to play when you improvise.


Good luck.

I was scrolling up and up and up, and I was thinking "yup, 20Tigers." Man, the disappointment is just like ridiculous.
#20
Quote by dethh
Thanks to everyone who replied. There's a lot of great and detailed answers. As far as transcribing songs, I can figure out lead parts pretty easily but chords apart from basic major and minor chords I can't figure out. AeolianWolf mentioned to just get a lead sheet if my ear isn't at that level yet, but how important is it to be able to know what type of chord is being played just by listening to it and how should I begin to work on it ?


Well jazz is notoriously hard on the ears, if only because the harmonies move so quickly. Even people with good ears aren't going to pick up ever tone in every chord on the first listen. The chords are dense, sometimes the bass is too melodic to nail down the harmony, harmonies are substituted or heavily embellished... What you should listen for first is general motion. Once you really get the Circle of 5ths sound in your head you'll start hearing it in jazz, too, and you'll recognize chunks of progressions.

And listen for rhythm - there is often much less happening that you might think at first. A tune can spend 4-8 bars on one basic harmony, but if the players are really milking it, it can still sound very busy.