Solo Jazz Guitar

I would like to tell you about my enthusiasm for solo jazz guitar; something which currently preoccupies me in my studies and practice schedule. First of all, I would say that solo guitar playing in any form is appealing; because it provides the player with an independence you don’t get if bashing the skins (drums) is your occupation: no need for other musicians; and it means performances are a simple affair: just turn up with one guitar and away you go! Furthermore, it is a great challenge to make six strings sound like a complete piece of music.

And of course it can be done. In fact, it has a long history dating back at least to the beginning of Classical Guitar; though I dare say that its predecessors were often played self contained too; such as the Lute. I think I’m correct in saying that most guitarists would love to sound as self-contained as a pianist can. Whilst piano playing no doubt has its own difficulties, it is far easier to sound complete on a piano than it is on a single guitar!

In order for a guitar to sound complete by itself then it must observe the essential ingredients of any composition or arrangement: melody, rhythm and harmony. Ok, I hope that doesn’t sound old fashioned because I do accept that not all music has these qualities in equal measure. Some music has virtually no melody at all. Fine. But let me say this: if you want a composition or arrangement to sound effective on a single guitar then having a melody helps; because it’s often only the melody that allows us to change things so much and yet for the piece to remain recognizable. The kind of music that doesn’t have much melody is often the sort of music that would never work well on one guitar anyway; perhaps the kind of music that never had a guitar in the first place!

The truth of it is this: some musical genres work better than others on solo guitar. It would be very difficult – if not impossible – to replicate some styles without the use of technology or some banging drums etc. So for example, Metal is hard to replicate on solo guitar though I’m not saying we cannot give a representation of it; but how effective is it? Electronic Dance music can never be replicated on solo guitar; not unless you include in that description the addition of loops and other gizmos; but that’s not what I mean by solo guitar.

When it comes down to it, there are only a limited number of styles that sound effective on solo guitar. And Jazz happens to be one of them; and that’s because the essence of Jazz lies in harmony, rhythm, bass lines and indeed melody (though not always). Certainly when it comes to tapping into the Jazz standards, we are referring to tunes that were written pre-war and are strong in all of these areas. They are perfect for subjection to a solo guitar arrangement. However, this same Jazz approach could be taken to any song with these characteristics. It is more often than not the case that we take a tune that did not start out as Jazz; and Jazzify it: meaning we sophisticate its harmony, give it syncopated rhythms and walking bass lines etc. Jazz always gives something a sophisticated sound which often jars with the song’s original meaning but there you go. It would be easy to take a rousing Punk tune and turn it into Muzak if we so wished; not that I am saying Jazz is Muzak; but it can be.

Solo Jazz guitar is a great challenge, as I have said: to take a tune and sophisticate its harmony and more – it relies on a lot of knowledge, if one is doing the sophistication for oneself! And it often requires great techniques: maintaining all the essential components at one time! But the end result is usually worth it: chilled, relaxing music that distracts one from the world’s chaos and turmoil. And it doesn’t have to be saying anything weighty or profound: it’s just music. I will probably write some more about Jazz Guitar in the near future so watch this space.

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