We know what you’re thinking: ‘Guitar books? I don’t need books! I’ve got a subscription to Pickup Music.’ You’re absolutely right. If you have access to our courses, you can basically destroy all your guitar books and DVDs* – they’re useless.
Before you have a guitar book** bonfire, let’s take a moment just to see if there are any benefits to adding books into our guitar studies.
*For younger readers: DVDs were how your ancestors used to watch videos before Youtube and Netflix existed. There are also rumors of an even older artifact know as a ‘VHS tape’, but there’s no evidence to support those claims.
**Also, we almost forgot to mention in case you’re not familiar, books are like blog posts made out of trees. They’re pretty rare to find these days, but they do exist and were once a big part of guitar education.
Benefits of guitar books
Many of the greatest jazz players have been kind enough to share their knowledge with us, but guys like Joe Pass didn’t have Youtube channels – they wrote books instead.
And, if that’s not a good enough reason to pull you away from that sweet, sweet internet – here are a few more:
- When you Google something, there’s no guarantee that what you’re reading was written by an expert.
- It takes a lot of hard work to get a book published. Most of the time, the information is not only correct but also laid out in a way that’s easy to understand.
- We know it’s tough to stay focused with so many things trying to grab your attention.
- Guess what? Books don’t ping you with notifications every five minutes!
- You can sit down at a safe distance from your electronic devices and totally focus on the material.
- Most of these books have been around for a while and are often recommended by teachers.
- Like learning to play jazz standards, reading these classic books is almost like a rite of passage for jazz guitarists.
Whether you're a seasoned pro looking to take your playing to the next level or a curious beginner dipping your toes into the world of jazz, these books are worth checking out.
Book #1 – The Advancing Guitarist by Mick Goodrick
Mick Goodrick is a renowned jazz guitarist and educator, and this book is considered an absolute classic in jazz guitar instruction.
The book is a unique collection of ideas structured as a series of short lessons.
What’s cool about this book is that many of the lessons are self-contained. This means you can just pick a concept that sounds interesting and work through that – it’s not necessary to read the book front to back.
Here are just a few of the topics covered in this book:
- Fingerboard mechanics
- Harmonics and overtone influence
- Playing vs. improvising
Goodrick has really refined his ideas and explanations into something engaging.
The content is also as relevant today as when he first wrote it.
Regardless of your level, there’ll be things in this book that will benefit your playing.
That being said this is not a book for absolute beginners – there are a few pre-requisites to reading it:
- You’re expected to have an understanding of basic music theory and terminology.
- Most of the diagrams are written on stave so being able to read music is a big plus (but not essential).
Here’s the word on the street (“the street” being online customer reviews).
This book is praised for its depth and insight into the creative process of jazz guitar playing.
- “Not just another book on how to play guitar; it's a journey into the mind of a musician."
- “The lessons are concise and well-organized, many of the concepts were new to me.”
Numerous professional guitarists also recommend this book, including Pat Metheny and John Scofield.
Overall, The Advancing Guitarist is a worthy resource. It’s perfect for intermediate and advanced students looking to deepen their understanding of music theory and get some unique insights into guitar playing.
Book #2 – Chord Chemistry by Ted Greene
As the title suggests, this book is centered on chord construction and is absolutely essential for budding jazz guitarists.
There’s a strong focus on the underlying music theory behind the chords, rather than simply memorizing shapes and patterns.
Ted Greene’s understanding of harmony has been praised by some big names, including Steve Vai, Robert Fripp, and John McLaughlin.
Here are a few of the topics found in this book, just to whet your appetite:
- Polytonal chords
- Voice leading and systematic thinking
- Chords built from other scales
If the thought of a lesson on ‘systematic thinking’ doesn’t get you excited, we don’t know what will.
- This is a good book for visual learners
- There are loads of diagrams and chord charts explaining all the concepts
Overall, people seem to appreciate Greene's clear and concise writing style, as well as his ability to explain complex concepts in a straightforward manner.
- "Chord Chemistry is a masterclass in chord construction and application.”
- "Ted Greene was a true genius, and this book is a testament to his incredible knowledge and skill as a teacher. I can't recommend it enough."
Some may feel a little overwhelmed by Chord Chemistry at first, as there’s a lot to take in, but the rewards are well worth the effort – it will totally change the way you think about chords.
Book #3 – Joe Pass Guitar Style by Joe Pass & Bill Thrasher
If you’ve never listened to Joe Pass, drop what you’re doing and get hip!
- He’s true virtuoso that changed the way people think about jazz guitar.
- Luckily for us, he gave the world a glimpse into his musical mind with this book.
For anyone who wants to grow their jazz brain and get closer to Pass’ playing style, reading this is a great place to start.
The structure of the book is much like his guitar playing – elegant. It’s split into just two sections: harmony and melody. Here are a few of the topics from each section:
- Chord embellishment
- Chord connection
- Symmetric chord
- Altered scales
- Rhythm changes
Lots of people buy this hoping to get closer to Pass’ sound but discovered it’s much more than just a “how to play like” book.
- "Joe Pass was a true master of jazz guitar. This book does an excellent job of breaking down his playing style and so much more!”
- “Some of the advanced improvisation techniques can be quite tough, but it’s worth putting the time in.”
Joe Pass Guitar Style may be a little challenging, but any guitarist looking to improve their improvisational skills and understanding of jazz music will find so much value in this book.
Book #4 – Hal Leonard Guitar Method: Jazz Guitar by Jeff Schroedl
Jeff Schroedl is a big name in music education, authoring many of the most popular guitar books.
Unlike the other entries in our list, this one is much kinder to jazz newbies. It even opens with a basics section, answering questions like:
- What is jazz? – Which explains the origins and influences of jazz.
- Who’s who in jazz guitar? – A comprehensive list of great jazz players and their most notable recordings.
This section also covers things like the role of a guitarist in a jazz ensemble and recommended equipment – all super useful information if you’re new to the genre.
Besides what we’ve already mentioned there are accessible lessons around all the fundamentals of jazz guitar, including:
- Comping styles
- Intros & endings
Everything is laid out really clearly with diagrams, TAB, stave, and chord names – whichever works best for you. There are also audio tracks included to help with practice exercises.
It seems most feel that this book is perfect for dipping your toes into the genre. It’s worth noting that this book is not for beginner guitarists, but for guitarists that are new to the world of jazz.
- "I've been playing guitar for a few years, but I never really understood jazz until I started using this book. It's been a game-changer for me."
- “The lessons are well-structured and easy to follow, and the online audio tracks are a great help."
Advanced players might feel Guitar Method: Jazz Guitar is a little basic, especially if they’re already familiar with some jazz techniques. Overall this is a really well-organized book and covers the key elements to jazz guitar playing.
Book# 5 – The Brazilian Guitar Book by Nelson Faria
Last but certainly not least, is a book by Nelson Faria (a former student of Ted Greene) and absolute master of Brazilian jazz guitar. If you’re not sure whether this is something you want to learn, just check out ‘Um café lá em casa’ on Youtube – you can thank us later.
The book is separated into five chapters each exploring a different Brazilian style:
- Bossa nova
The musical characteristics are explained at the start of each chapter.
- Unconventional rhythms are a common theme among these styles.
- A good understanding of time signatures and rhythm notation will be beneficial for this.
Many readers appreciate Faria's attention to detail. He covers both musical techniques and the cultural/historical context of each style.
- “It’s like having a little tour guide covering Samba, Bossa Nova, Choro, Frevo & Baião with tons of examples sourced directly from the included recordings.”
- “The author has a deep understanding of the subject matter and it’s clearly been written with care and attention.”
This is perhaps the most comprehensive guide to Brazilian jazz guitar. It covers all the typical rhythmic patterns, chord voicings, and melodic ideas found within these styles.
If you want to expand your jazz vocabulary with something a little different, look no further than The Brazillian Guitar Book.
Those are some of the best jazz guitar books we’ve checked out. Now the final question is: Which one should you get?
Honestly, they’re all great!
- Any of these books will give a big boost to your jazz playing, so just pick one that speaks to you, and start digging in.
- Of course, reading alone won’t magically turn you into a virtuoso – it takes hard work, dedication, and a ton of practice.
So use the lessons and exercises as a jumping-off point for your own exploration into this awesome genre.
Jazz is so vast, the sky’s the limit – so have fun!
Of course, if you want a modern jazz education, check out our Jazz Learning Pathway. With playalong exercises, guided video lessons, interactive jams, and opportunities for video feedback on your playing, it’ll help you master jazz guitar faster than a sad old stack of paper ever could 😉
Jazz Learning Pathway
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