Wes Montgomery’s Cariba, which appears on his legendary 1962 live album Full House is a 12 bar Latin tinged blues composition which provides an excellent example of Wes’ fluid and melodic lines.  The 1st 24 bars very clearly harmonically outline the respective chord changes (via arpeggios and also extension tones) while providing short thematic variations of rhythmic ideas.  The 3rd chorus is notable for the use of F pentatonic minor for the 1st 8 bars, which while seemingly a simplistic idea, actually offers sophisticated and beautiful coloring, as this scale utilizes extension tones of the Bb7 and Eb7 chords.  Wes masterfully moves to outlining the turnaround on the last 4 measures.



Know Your Chords

It is imperative for a guitarist to have a chordal vocabulary that spans the length of the respective chord (and ultimately scale) in order to provide interesting accompaniments and also for constructing pleasing chord melodies. Specifically, a guitarist should be able to voice a chord with each scale tone (i.e. root, third, fifth and seventh, ninth etc.) as the highest voice in the chord.

As an example, we will look at voicing a Gmaj7 chord with different chord tones in the upper voice. All of the chords will function in the same manner (i.e. as a Gmaj7 chord), but the different voicing allow for unique opportunities with respects to melodic functionality. The notes of the G Major scale are as follows G,A, B, C, D, E and F#.  To construct a Gmaj7 chord with the root in the upper voice,simply put a G note on the high E string and fill in the next 3 voices with notes from the G major scale.  Repeat this process for the 3rd, 5th, and 7th scale degree as shown below.



Once the major chord and its respective variations have been mastered, repeat this process with Minor, Dominant, minor 7b5, and altered dominant chords. The ultimate goal is to be able to play any chord using any of the respective chord tones in the upper voice.

To the detriment of most guitarists, it is commonly accepted that there is no shortcut to improving one’s reading skills; consistent practice is the only means to improvement.  Furthermore, improvement will only happen incrementally and the process can prove to be frustrating to say the least.

So how does a guitarist even begin to learn how to read?  Reading (and moreover music) consists of two components: melody rhythm.  If both components are confronted separately, the reading process can becomes more palatable.

  • Melody – a guitarist must know where the notes on the guitar are located before they can play the notes that are written in music notation.

Try this drill – play the F note that is located at the 6th string on the first fret.  Then play F on the 5th string, then the 4th, 3rd etc.  Only use the notes above the 12th fret and do it in a slow, consistent tempo.  Repeat this drill going through the circle of 4ths (“learn” about 4 notes a week until you have played them all).  *Note – although this drill will effectively show you where the notes on the guitar are, it will take much more time, practice and reading to really “know” the guitar.

After this drill has been completed, it should be reviewed and coupled with a consistent reading regiment.  Many instructors will recommend William Leavitt’s Modern Method for Guitar series for a serious student who reads at a beginner’s level. Once you are familiar with were the notes are, you can move to practicing scales (this topic is explored earlier posts).

  • Rhythm – get a book that specifically deals with rhythm, such as Melodic Rhythms for Guitar.  If at first the passages seem too difficult, clap the rhythms while using a metronome before playing them on the guitar.  Note that it is advisable to read at an elementary level for a while before progressing to a book that deals with advanced rhythms.

Separating the melodic and rhythmic components of written music is a method that is used even by advanced readers when given a difficult piece to read.  For example, a good reader often taps out a few of the rhythms of a difficult piece before they attempt to play it.  And of course, all good readers know where the notes on the guitar are located!

Remember that reading is a very challenging task for all guitarists, and that the only way to improve reading skills is to constantly read.

To Read or Not to Read?

To put it bluntly, if the guitar was the main instrument you choose to learn music on, you probably can’t read music too well – or maybe even at all.  This phenomenon is due to multiple factors.  For starters, modern innovators of the instrument such as Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton have unapologetically stated in many interviews that they can’t read.  Furthermore, since most guitarists learn by using their ear to emulate their favorite players, reading is oftentimes neglected in the early stages of the learning process and can be a very daunting task to an otherwise advanced player.

The main reasons that one should learn to read are to develop an advanced sense of rhythm, harmony and theory.  Although these skills can be acquired without reading, overall musicianship can effectively be developed at a greater rate when partaking in this discipline.  As an added benefit, you will get more calls to play if you are a good reader, since many gigs require reading charts and even some sight-reading.  Big bands and small groups that perform standards would be examples of situations that necessitate a good reader.

On a side note, method books are a valuable tool in the learning process of any instrument and genre (and on a related note, these books won’t be of much use for those who cannot read).  For guitarists, the Modern Method for Guitar series is widely considered to be the most complete method book available.  This book starts at a beginner’s level (you can use it even if you don’t know how to read music – many instructors will require a beginning student to purchase this book) and progresses to advanced concepts and techniques that will challenge even an advanced player.

*Please note that the importance of ear training is not to be minimized here, but rather the importance of reading standard music notation is to be emphasized.

The F melodic minor scale uses the is exact same notes as the F major scale with the exception of the 3rd scale degree.  In melodic minor, the 3rd scale degree is lowered, which gives the scale its minor tonality.  Therefore, every mode from the melodic minor scale differs by only one note when compared to the parallel major mode.

As a starting point to conceptualize the melodic minor modes on the guitar fretboard, use the shapes from the previous lesson (F Major modes) and change every A to an Ab.  As noted in the part 1 of this lesson, there can be many different groupings of notes for a mode.

The melodic minor scale is used quite frequently in jazz improvisation and can elicit an exotic sort of feel due to the altered scale degrees that result from the parent scale.  According to Mark Levine’s The Jazz Theory Book, “almost everything in any melodic minor key is interchangeable with everything else in that key” (Levin, 72).  Therefore, when improvising over an f minor major 7 chord, the F minor major mode could be used interchangeably with G dorian b9, Ab lydian dominant……etc.

By all accounts, the guitar presents a unique set of problems, largely due to the counter intuitive standard tuning of the instrument’s 6 strings.  A great way to start the process of coming to grips with the harmonic challenges of this instrument are to learn (and ultimately work towards a mastery of) scales and the modes that are related to them.

Before we continue, we should differentiate between a scale and a mode, and also offer a disclaimer.

Scale – A group of notes.  The notes in the C major scale are as follows – C, D, E, F, G, A, and B.

Mode – A group of notes that derives its essence from a scale (so yes, a mode is also a scale).  C major has 7 modes (as do all major scales).  Each note of a scale can be thought of as a root of another mode.  For example, if you start the C major scale on the second note of the scale (D), you will have played the D Dorian mode.  The notes of the D Dorian mode will therefore be D, E, F, G, A, B, C.  Notice that the order of the notes in the mode is exactly the same as that of the parent scale ; the only difference between C major and D Dorian are the notes we started and ended on.   See this chart for all of the Major mode names and their relationships to the parent scale.


Scales and their related modes are extremely important tools for learning your instrument and also for musical expression, but scales and modes in and of themselves are not necessarily musical.  Charlie parker once said, “You’ve got to learn your instrument. Then, you practice, practice, practice. And then, when you finally get up there on the bandstand, forget all that and just wail”

A guitarist should begin this process by learning the F major scale over the whole fretboard.  We begin on F major, since the root of the scale (in this case F) can be found on the first fret of the lowest string, thereby giving a clear visual representation of all the modes that are related to the scale.

The following chart is a visual representation of F Major over the entire fretboard.

For the sake of consistency, use a “position approach” to learning the modes at first.  A position approach means the respective mode starts and ends at the same fret position but moves across the board.  Use the following “shapes” as a guide for practicing each mode.  Notice that if you add all these shapes together, you get the picture from above.

There are many different groupings of notes on the guitar that are possible for each mode.  The above diagram is merely a suggestion; alternative groupings can and should be explored.  Practice by playing each note of the respective mode in ascending order, at a steady even tempo.  After you master the modes moving in 2nds, try 3rds, etc.


This is a guide for anyone who is seeking information on how to prepare for a college / university undergraduate jazz guitar audition

1.  Learn at 1 – 2 chord melodies from the Barry Galbraith Book.  Don’t worry, this book uses TABS as well as standard music notation.

2.  Learn 1 – 2 standard tunes from the Real Book.  This book is probably the most important recourse that you will own during your jazz education.  It contains charts for Standards that every jazz musician should be familiar with.  Some suggested charts for beginners would be All of Me, Autumn Leaves, Blue Bossa, Take the A Train, or Satin Doll.  Here is what you need to be able to do with these tunes…

  • Play the melody.  This is the most important part of playing a tune.  Learn the melody (commonly referred to as the head) of the tunes that you are preparing so well that you could play them in your sleep.  A good way to internalize the melody is to listen to vocal versions and be able to sing and play along (try listening to versions by jazz vocalists such as Ella Fitzgerald or Louis Armstrong).
  • Improvise / play lead.  You should be able to improvise over about 2-3 choruses (in jazz, a chrous is defined as one full cycle through a song’s form).  Try embellishing the head using the arpeggio of whatever chord you are playing on.  Do not overplay!! Stay close to the melody if improvising over jazz charts is new to you!!  Most importantly – DO NOT LOSE THE FORM OF THE SONG!!  The best way to be comfortable with the form is to really know the head well.
  • Comp / play rhythm while the instructor improvises.  Learn how to walk a simple bass line (root and 5th of a chord) and play the chords that are written for the respective chart using good rhythm (practice with band in a box and or a metronome).  This would be a very good skill to work with an instructor on before the audition if you can.

3.  Sight reading.  Most guitarists don’t know how to read too well, so if you show that you can read a little bit, you should be ok for an undergrad audition.  The book that OSU uses to test sight reading skills is called Rhythms Complete.  Try to contact the guitar professor at the school(s) you are auditioning at and ask if they have a book that they can recommend to practice reading for the audition.

4.  Jazz knowledge / history.  Be able to name a few of your favorite jazz guitarists / albums.  Here is a list of music that would make for great talking points at an audition.

  • Charlie Christian – The Genius of the Electric guitar
  • Grant Green – The Complete Quartets with Sonny Clark
  • Kenny Burrell – Midnight Blue
  • Sonny Rollins (featuring Jim Hall) – The Bridge
  • Wes Montgomery – Full House
  • Stan Getz & Charlie Byrd – Jazz Samba

For a comprehensive overview of jazz history, check out these materials (it is not necessary to have seen / read these materials for the audition, but before you start school it would be wise to at least have familiarized yourself with them).  They should be at a public or music library.

The audition usually takes about 15 – 20 minutes and as long as these specific points are addressed, there should be no surprises.  Lastly, a quick point about equipment and tone should be mentioned.  A great way to anger the jazz guitar professor is to show up to the audition with your shred-tastic rig.  A suitable amp should be provided by the school and although I am of the mind that any guitar should work for any musical situation, many jazz guitar enthusiasts are somewhat particular about what kind of gear can be used to get a good “jazz tone”.  It would be preferable to bring some sort of hollow or semi-hollow body guitar, but a telecaster is commonly accepted as an appropriate solid body jazz instrument.  Don’t worry if you don’t have a tele, or a semi-hollow guitar though, just bring what you can and you should be fine.  Lastly, it would be a good idea to turn the tone knob on the guitar between halfway and fully off to help achieve a more traditional jazz tone.

If these concepts are new to you, I recommend giving yourself about 6 months to a year of consistent, daily practice to be able to prepare for the audition.