4 Easy Exercises to Play Jazz Guitar Chord Progressions

Learning how to play jazz guitar means learning how to use scales, arpeggios and patterns in order to outline each chord when you play jazz guitar chord progressions or jazz tunes.

While this can be a difficult task to tackle at first, with a little practice and the right exercises, you’ll be able to jam over your favorite tunes and hit every chord change along the way.

One of my favorite ways to practice digging into chord changes is to work on one-octave arpeggio shapes through any new tune I’m learning in the woodshed.

By isolating each chord in the progression, and using easy to play arpeggio fingerings to dig into each chord in the change, you will be able to get the sound of the progression in your ears, get the arpeggio shapes under your fingers, and allow yourself to solo over each chord in the tune, which is a big step when learning how to play jazz guitar.

In today’s lesson I have put together a video for you talking about 4 exercises you can do in order to get your fingers and ears around the arpeggios for any new tune you are working on in the practice room.

First, check out the video and then you can refer to the tab/notation below to follow along with each exercise as I demonstrate them over a jazz blues in Bb chord progression.


How to Play Jazz Guitar Chord Progressions Video


YouTube Preview Image



How to Play Jazz Guitar Chord Progressions – Arpeggios


Play Jazz Guitar Chord Progressions



How to Play Jazz Guitar Chord Progressions - Descending


Play Jazz Guitar Chord Progressions 2



How to Play Jazz Guitar Chord Progressions 3 – Alternating


Play Jazz Guitar Chord Progressions 3



How to Play Jazz Guitar Chord Progressions 4 – Alternating 2


Play Jazz Guitar Chord Progressions 4



What do you think about How to Play Jazz Guitar Chord Progressions using arpeggios? Share your thoughts in the Mastering Chord Progressions thread at the MWG Forum.

30 Responses to "4 Easy Exercises to Play Jazz Guitar Chord Progressions"

  1. kengon says:

    This is an excellent lesson, Matt. Thank you so much for sharing it with everyone. Your comments and strategy are right on the money!

    1. Matthew Warnock says:

      Thanks Ken, glad you dug the lesson!

  2. Dom says:

    It may sound silly, but for a guitar beginner, it would be cool if you could add fingerings to the scores as well !

    1. Matthew Warnock says:

      Hey Dom. For any 7th chord I always start with my middle finger and use 1 finger per fret from there. For minor chord I start with 1 or 3, in this case for Cm7 I started on the ring finger and stayed in position from there. Hope that helps.

  3. Jim Elhoundson says:

    You give very useful snippets of knowledge, Matt.

    This lesson is no exception. Thanks!

    1. Matthew Warnock says:

      Thanks Jim glad you dug the lesson

  4. Nick says:

    You are a genius mate, I’ve so many arpeggio patterns memorised but was sort of at odds with how to be creative with them. Breaking it down into asc. and desc. produces cool and ‘unpredictable’/’unexpected’ tonal qualities which in most contemporary music is disregarded. Are you following the 1,4,7,3,6,2,5,1 scaletone formulae ??

    Be interesting to know so I could maybe apply it to church, harmonic minor and melodic minor modes to see what happens!

    I’m assuming these arpeggios will sound ‘continuous’ with any jazz chord progression?? I.e 2,5,1/ dim 2, 5 , m1/ aug3,4,dom5,1 etc.

    1. Matthew Warnock says:

      Thank Nick, glad you like the lesson. You can apply these arpeggios to any tune or progression you are working on.You can also add in the 9th if you want, or even build up to the 11th or 13th. It’s cool to explore these patterns further in your playing for sure.

  5. crimson says:

    Thanks for the knowledge.Finally, I understand how to play
    chord tone melody.

  6. Ulli says:

    Fantastic lesson Matt! Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge!

    1. Matthew Warnock says:

      Glad you dug it, thanks for checking out the lesson!

  7. Susan Mcgee says:

    Hello from Calgary Alberta. Just thinking out loud here and would like you to validate my thought process. In exercise 1 it appears you are using a borrowed G7 (GBDF), is it the I chord of the G major scale as opposed to the true G7 (vi) from the Bflat major scale of GBbDF. I have not completed all of your course yet so maybe I am missing some vital information. Thanks, Susan

    1. Matthew Warnock says:

      Hi Susan, thanks for checking out the lesson. In a blues progression the VI chord is a VI7b9 chord, it’s acting as the V7 of iim7. which comes next. So that’s why I’m using that chord. Check out this article, you might find it helpful.


  8. Susan Mcgee says:

    Thank you for directing me to the article, more education and exactly what I needed to know. Joyeux Noel. Susan

  9. rick bourne says:

    Hi;matt thanks for the guitar the , i let you know that i’am watching and coping -rick

  10. Antoine Joseph says:

    Excellent stuff Matt… Keep up the good work. I will be getting all your stuff. Really awesome value

  11. Danny says:

    In the video you mentioned this was all derived from a larger lesson. Is that of outlined two octave arps for a tune or is there a different exercise?

    1. Matthew Warnock says:

      Hey, can you point out roughly the time in the video I mention this. I can’t remember off the top of my head but I can find it for you if I know which part you mean.

      1. Danny says:

        Now that I go back, I can’t seem to find it….

          1. Danny says:

            Thanks! The outlining article will definitely help.

  12. Erwin says:

    If there was a Nobelprize for music, you’ll deserve it! Very useful tips & tricks!

    1. Matthew Warnock says:

      Thanks man, :)

  13. Richard Poitras says:

    Thanks for. The lesson!

    1. Matthew Warnock says:

      Thanks, glad you dug the lesson!

  14. Ken Lawson says:

    Hi Matt,

    I’m confused, in your Bb Jazz Blues Arpeggios exercise you show/ label a chord G7b9 then show the arpeggio for a plain G7. I don’t understand why there is no Ab(b9) in the arpeggio? Otherwise I’m finding the lesson very useful.


    1. Matt Warnock says:

      Hey Ken

      I did that to keep things to 4-note arpeggios for each one. If you wanted to add the b9 you could add an Ab to that G7 chord. That’s all, just a consistency thing.

  15. Serge says:

    ‘Learning how to play jazz guitar means learning how to use scales, arpeggios and patterns in order to outline each chord when you play jazz guitar chord progressions or jazz tunes.’

    This what makes me sad about playing jazz when I encounter a message like this.

    I know there are two basic types of jazz musicians:

    - First play arpeggios, sclaes, licks to outline changes; sometimes it sounds like music but most of the time like arpeggios, sclaes and licks…

    - Second play music over changes and it’s possible to recognize arps, sclaes and licks in there playing but really their playing goes beyond analysis. Why is that?

    The Jazz forums are full of question like ‘What scale do I play over this part of the tune’ and similar. Wait, how boring it is when people are destined to insert meaningless pieces of music building blocks just to fill in the space.

    How true were the words of Charlie Parker who said something like ‘… if you don’t here anything, don’t play’.

    I’m not trying to bash the techniques presented in this article: I’m guilty myself of trying to memorize the “fingerings”. However I feel more and more that a true musician does not need to rely on familiar finger fiddling, the true musician is that who really hears music in his head and that feeling directs his fingers to the right place on the fingerboard (or maybe specific combination of sax keys).

    Maybe that’s why some professional jazz guitarists wanted to quit after hearing Joe Pass play? They realized they would never play real music but were doomed to play scales, arps and patterns over changes?

    I know what can be a typical answer to this critical statement: first, you learn the fingerings and then you here what you learned in your head. I think this is an illusion.

    The moment of revelation: should we admit for ourselves that we either have that natural ability to improvise or we don’t? Forget about arps, sclaes and patterns for a moment and try to hear something before touching the strings…

  16. Ken Lawson says:

    Hi Matt

    I’m sure Serge is a much better player than I, however I don’t think he understands how the human brain works. Put simply, we put information into our subconscious by repetitive action, then when we perform (sport, music, speak etc..) without consciously thinking about what we are doing (swinging a golf club, improvising music, speaking from the heart, etc..) we are using information we have put into our subconscious either by pure observation/listening (as babes do) or by conscious repetition (adult learning). I know it feels like your just “in the zone” or “playing what you hear/feel” but like gravity ” a ball must be thrown up for it to come down”, and it (information) has to go in before it can come out.
    Another well worn phrase but no less true for that is “you need to learn the language before you can play jazz” I feel that once you’ve learned the language you then use it to form your own sentences.

    So Serge is right in this, there are two types of Jazz guitarists, one has a good ear, and the information will go in without he/she consciously thinking about it, the other has to work harder to put it in. As in all types of human endeavour, some people will end up making better music than others which ever route they had to take.
    So Serge, no I will not stop trying to improvise just because don’t have a good ear, I only want to become as good as “I” can.

  17. lindydanny says:

    Talent is something that is given to you. Skills are learned. There are no members of our species who are 100% talent and no skill.

    Improvisation is a skill that can be learned if you are willing to put in the time. Really, it doesn’t come down to skill or talent.

    It comes down to passion.

    Are you passionate about what you are doing? If so, then you will sacrifice the time it takes to get better at it and eventually you will be good at what you do.

    Music is about 10% talent, 10% skill, and 80% passion.


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