Learning Jazz Guitar Scale Patterns – Tips for Success

Learning Jazz Guitar Scale Patterns – Tips for Success

In this video you’ll find out the answers to the following:

  • How do you ensure that you actually remember those jazz scale patterns you’re spending so much time learning in the practice room? 

  • How do you stop tearing your hair out with boredom and start practicing scale patterns in a more musical way?

  • How do you practice scales efficiently to get best results in the shortest possible time?

Check out the above video for the secrets revealed!

Pro tip: If you’re looking for jazz standards to build your set-list, with all the resources and backing tracks in one place, it might be worth giving my FretDojo Jazz Guitar Academy a try.

It’s got a huge collection of lessons on the site and features many courses focussed around learning classic jazz standards (melody, comping, soloing, chord melody and more).

The best part:

You can get a no obligation, 14-day FREE access pass to the FretDojo Jazz Guitar Academy to see if it is a good fit for you, no credit card required. To get instant access, go here: https://www.fretdojo.com/free-trial/

Wrap Up

I hope you enjoyed today’s post on strategies for learning jazz guitar scale patterns.

Now over to you:

what tips can YOU share with your fellow readers?

Leave a comment below with your ideas and thoughts on this topic…

Greg O’Rourke
Founder, FretDojo
World Leader in Online Jazz Guitar Education

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Interview with Mark Whitfield, The Man Himself

Interview with Mark Whitfield, The Man Himself

It’s finally here:

As the final post in the FretDojo.com series on jazz blues guitar I’ve featured this month, I’m honored to welcome critically acclaimed jazz guitarist Mark Whitfield, in this exclusive interview.

Simply put, this was one of the best conversations about jazz guitar I’ve ever had, and I was thrilled that Mark had time in his busy schedule for our conversation.

mark-whitfield-graceThis interview also includes the title track off Mark’s brand new album, Grace  his 15th album as a bandleader and first release for 7 years.

A truly family affair, the new album features his two sons, Davis Whitfield on keys and Mark Whitfield Jr. on drums, as part of the Whitfield Family Band. I highly recommend checking it out! Get the album here>>

Interview: Video Version


Interview: Audio Version

Download the Audio Version Here >> (Right Click + Save As…)


 About Mark Whitfield

Mark Whitfield is one of the most highly regarded jazz guitarists alive today.

Throughout his career, he’s collaborated with legendary artists including Dizzy Gillespie, Art Blakey, Quincy Jones, Ray Charles, Herbie Hancock, George Benson, and many others.

In 1990 the New York Times dubbed Whitfield “The Best Young Guitarist in the Business”. Later that year, Warner Bros. released his debut album The Marksman.

I reached out to Mark after working on a transcription from one of the tracks from this album: The Blues From Way Back, a jazz guitar blues I’ve been featuring lately on this website.

(Check out the full transcription I did of Mark’s solo from the Blues From Way Back here and a breakdown of essential licks from the solo here.)


In the interview, you’ll learn about…

  • Mark’s special relationship with the blues, and how he’s naturally been drawn to incorporating it into his jazz style.
  • Mark’s journey with jazz guitar, studying at Berklee College of Music, sessions at the Blue Note in New York, and beyond
  • Mark’s thoughts on how to learn jazz guitar to make solid progress, regardless of the time you have for practice.
  • The essential ingredients of an effective and rewarding jazz guitar practice session
  • How Mark met Joe Pass as a young man, leading to one of the most important (and unusual!) jazz guitar masterclasses he ever had.


Album’s and Resources Mentioned By Mark:


Thanks for Checking This Out!

To share your thoughts:

  • Leave a note in the comment section below.
  • Share this show on Twitter, Facebook, or anywhere else you hang out online.

Special thanks to Mark Whitfield for joining me this week. Find out more about Mark Whitfield via these links:

Until next time!


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The Blues, from Way Back by Mark Whitfield (Part 1): Transcription and Analysis

The Blues, from Way Back by Mark Whitfield (Part 1): Transcription and Analysis

I’ve got something special to share with you today.

To kick off this month’s series on jazz guitar blues, you’re going to learn a complete transcription of highly acclaimed jazz guitarist Mark Whitfield’s solo from The Blues, from Way Back: a track from his classic debut album, The Marksman (1990).

In today’s post, you’re going to learn:


  • The reasons why studying transcriptions is so important for any jazz guitarist
  • How to play the complete transcription of Mark Whitfield’s first solo from the recording of The Blues, from Way Back
  • A general overview of the types of approaches and concepts Whitfield uses in this solo.
Cool Bonus:  Get access to a FREE print friendly PDF version of The Blues, from Way Back transcription by Mark Whitfield, complete with notation, TAB and analysis.

First, let’s have a brief discussion on why to learn a transcription in the first place…


Why Learn a Jazz Guitar Blues Transcription?

Learning transcriptions of master players is one of the most important things you can do as a jazz guitarist.

The reason?

It gives you a complete all-around jazz guitar workout.

Here’s how it works:

  • Usually transcriptions are tough technically, so learning a transcription is a great way to build up your technique.
  • You’ll learn a wealth of jazz vocabulary that fits well together, giving you plenty of new ideas to bring into your own playing.
  • Learning a transcription is the best way by far to train your ears – especially if you transcribe a recording from scratch.
  • By playing a transcription along with the original recording it was transcribed from, you’ll get a sense of how to add shape to your own solos – i.e., how to structure the rise and fall of a solo in order to tell a captivating musical story.

The last point is particularly important.

If you just learn jazz guitar licks in isolation, without listening to the lick in the context of the full solo it came from, you won’t get a well-rounded picture on how to the lick effectively as you improvise.

Here’s the thing:

Even if you end up only delving into a few licks from a transcription after you learn the full solo, these licks act as a kind of ‘trigger’ in your mind for the general vocabulary and approaches contained in the complete transcription.

So, learning a transcription is a very effective way to learn a huge amount of jazz vocabulary in a short space of time.

Convinced? Good. So let’s now dig into the transcription itself…


The Blues, From Way Back

The Blues, from Way Back is a track from Mark Whitfield’s debut album The Marksman, which catapulted him to international recognition in the 90s after he graduated from Berklee College of Music.

Why did I want to transcribe this recording?

This solo is probably the best example of jazz guitar blues I’ve come across, so I was keen to study this one intensely in order to get a more authentic jazz blues sound into my improvised lines.

Here’s the original recording of The Blues, from Way Back on YouTube:

What I particularly like about this solo is how seamlessly Mark Whitfield weaves traditional blues ideas between sophisticated bebop vocabulary.

Learning this solo has also been a great technique builder for my own playing.

Both the bluesy licks and the bebop lines are classic pieces of vocabulary that are really worthwhile to work into your own playing.


Presenting The Complete Jazz Guitar Blues Transcription!

So here it is:

The complete transcription of Mark Whitfield’s first solo from The Blues, from Way Back.

Watch the video to get a demonstration of the fingerings I used to play the solo, then read through the notation and TAB of the transcription below.

(Hint: If you want a print-friendly PDF of the transcription, click here to access it now).

Note: Fast-forward the video to 5:00 in for a close-up slow-motion view of my hands as I play the solo (if you need a closer look at the fingerings in action).



















Backing Track:


Having trouble printing out the above transcription? Get a print-friendly PDF version by clicking here…

You may be scratching your head as to what some of the annotations are in the analysis below the notation, so here’s what they all mean:


  • 4123 = Bebop finger pattern using 4123 fingers in that sequence
  • Aalt = A Altered Scale
  • AN = Approach Note
  • ANT = Harmonic Anticipation
  • APhrDom = A Phrygian Dominant Scale
  • BN = Blues Note
  • C7arp = C7 arpeggio
  • Chr = Chromatic Approach Chord
  • Chrom = Chromatic notes
  • CMajBl = C Major Blues Scale
  • CMinPent = C Minor Pentatonic
  • CMixo = C Mixolydian
  • App = Double Approach Notes
  • Ch.Enc = Diatonic Chromatic Enclosure
  • Enc = Diatonic Enclosure
  • DStop = Double Stops
  • Enc = Chromatic Enclosure
  • LN = Lower Neighbour Note
  • PN = Passing Note
  • Q = Quartal Voicing
  • UN = Upper Neighbour Note

Also, you may have noticed that I play entirely fingerstyle on the video, but Mark Whitfield uses a pick on the original recording.

A confession…

My plectrum style simply wasn’t up for the job of playing a solo as difficult as this, so I resorted to using my more secure fingerstyle technique for this one.

Feel free to use either a pick or fingerstyle to play this solo depending on what you’re most comfortable with.


Tips for Learning a Transcription to Get Great Results

There’s no doubt about it:

When you study a transcription like this, it’s crucially important to practice it in an effective way.

Here are some tips to ensure you end up getting the sounds of the transcription into your own playing when you improvise:


  • Memorize the transcription – don’t just read it off the page! Learn the transcription just one small phrase or even one bar at a time, and memorize it as you go. You’ll learn it faster, and assimilate the sounds into your ears much more than if you read a whole page at a time and then try to memorize a whole chunk at once. You’ll find that if you memorize as you go, you’ll memorize it much faster and more securely that way.
  • Listen to the video (especially Mark Whitfield’s original recording of The Blues, from Way Back). Don’t just try to emulate the notes and rhythms, but also the sound, feel and phrasing that he uses in his playing. This is all the stuff you can’t notate on a page but is one of the most important benefits of learning a transcription: learning how to shape and ‘speak’ your phrases in an authentic way.
  • Once you can play the transcription through, circle licks and patterns that appeal to you in the solo, and practice incorporating them into your own improvisations.
  • Practice improvising on a blues backing track in the style of the transcription you’ve just learned – this is a great way to bring your own original voice to the material.

One more thing:

Pay close attention is to the fingerings that I’ve given in the TAB – it matches the fingerings that I play on my video. Getting a workable fingering is one of the most crucial aspects of being able to sound fluent on your instrument.


Vocabulary Ideas Used in The Blues, from Way Back

Let’s look at some general points on the ideas Whitfield uses in his solo to create interest. Start experimenting with these in the woodshed, as they are classic jazz blues vocabulary ideas:

  • Sliding from b3 to 3 – this is a well-known blues cliche but Whitfield does it so much throughout the solo it helps give that classic blues sound throughout.
  • Harmonic Anticipation: Whitfield often anticipates a chord in his solo before it appears in the rhythm section. This is a simple way to create interest and forward motion in your playing and is a technique that’s been used since Charlie Christian. In particular, Whitfield often anticipates the I7 (C7) chord when the harmony is still on V7 (G7).
  • Harmonic Generalization – This means using the same lick or idea without transposing it over various key centers. This is an easy way to create tension and interest.
  • Alternating C Major Pentatonic/Blues and C Minor Pentatonic/Blues – using these two distinct harmonic colors is another classic blues idea that helps to keep the interest going in this solo.
  • Motive Repetition – Whitfield reuses a lot of phrases over and over throughout the solo in various ways – can you spot them?
  • Alternating between fast tension and slow relaxation – Most of the double time lines you can see in this solo are classic bebop vocabulary. The solo creates tension by using these elaborate double time lines. This tension is then released by following the double time lines with more simple pentatonic and blues lines. This helps to maintain interest, excitement, and variety.



As you can see, there’s a wealth of jazz vocabulary to be unearthed in The Blues, from Way Back solo by Mark Whitfield.

But we’ve only just scratched the surface…

Once you’ve learnt the whole transcription, it’s time to take some key lines and concepts out of the solo and incorporate them into your own playing in a deeper way.

That’s what part 2 of this series will be all about.

In my next upcoming post, I’m going to dig deeper into a few of the licks out of The Blues, from Way Back solo, look at how they function and give you tips on how you can incorporate them into your own playing.

I look forward to working on these with you then – stay tuned… :-)



Greg O’Rourke

BMus (Hons), ANU

Special thanks to Mark Whitfield for giving me the permission to publish this transcription on FretDojo.com. Find out more about Mark at his website, www.markwhitfield.com.

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It’s Christmas – Solo Jazz Guitar Style! (First Noel Chord Melody)

It’s Christmas – Solo Jazz Guitar Style! (First Noel Chord Melody)

This video is an arrangement of The First Noel – my favourite Christmas carol. Playing this tune takes me back to my childhood and listening to the church congregation singing this beautiful melody.

I’ve incorporated a few jazz guitar arranging techniques but tried not to overdo it – sometimes the simplest techniques work best.

Here are some notes about the arrangement:

  • To get some low bass notes, I tuned the 6th string down to D, and the TAB reflects this.
  • The arrangement has an intro section with cascading harmonics, an idea I’ve been playing with lately. Lenny Breau often added these to his chord melody arrangements and it’s a really neat effect. 

Anyway, I hope you enjoy listening to this one – let me know what you think! It reminds me a little bit of Ted Greene’s solo guitar arrangements.

Thank You!

Finally, a huge thank you for being part of the FretDojo journey this year.

I’d never conceived that my website would become so popular in such a short space of time. It’s only been up and running for little over a year and there are now thousands of FretDojo readers just like you, learning jazz guitar and chord melody from all over the world.

To all of you who bought my new chord melody book last week, contributed to the Facebook group, got Skype lessons with me or simply just read my articles and got value from them – thank you. It means so much to me that you find this material useful and a valuable addition to your jazz guitar practice.

I have some big plans for FretDojo in 2017 – I’ll tell you all about them in the coming months…

Wishing you and your family a very Merry Christmas and a fantastic New Year!

Happy playing,

Greg O’Rourke

*STOP PRESS* The Easy Guide To Chord Melody Guitar Released!


The wait is over…

My new eBook, The Easy Guide To Chord Melody Guitar, is now officially released!

The Easy Guide To Chord Melody Guitar is a complete A-Z guide on creating your own great sounding chord melody arrangements for trio and solo guitar situations, and you’ll also learn how to chord solo (i.e., improvise with chords) like a pro.

Click here to get your copy of The Easy Guide To Chord Melody Guitar at the low price of only $24.99!

This is what you get with The Easy Guide to Chord Melody Guitar eBook:

  • 7 Chapters (356 pages) that break down essential chord melody and chord soloing concepts.
  • Over 300 musical examples in TAB, diagrams, photos, and notation.
  • 280 audio examples to make learning chord melody and chord soloing easy.
  • 14 Backing tracks, so you can apply each concept to a musical situation.
  • Chord melody arrangements from beginner to advanced levels.
  • Chord soloing studies for beginner, intermediate, and advanced players.
  • Comping studies for duo, trio, and solo jazz guitar.
  • All for one low price of only $24.99!

I’ve co-authored this brand new eBook with Matt Warnock and it’s been published by his website, Jazz Guitar Online.

Matt and I have been collaborating on this eBook together for over a year, and we’re thrilled to finally have this ready for you guys!

So who is The Easy Guide To Chord Melody Guitar eBook for?

  • Are you feeling bored and stuck playing only single line melodies and solos?
  • Do you play jazz guitar as a hobby at home and either don’t have the time to attend jam sessions, or have no jazz musicians to play with in your local area? In this case, solo jazz guitar is a logical choice – but you’ve got no clear ideas on how to get confident with this style?
  • Have you ever wanted to learn how to play chord melodies or chord solos, but didn’t know where to start, or thought it was too difficult to even try?
  • Do you listen to players such as Joe Pass, George Benson, and Barney Kessel and wonder how they get that smooth, sophisticated sound with their chord melodies and chord solos?

If you want to learn chord melody and chord soloing, but never had a pathway to get started, then The Easy Guide to Chord Melody Guitar is for you.

Click here to get your copy of The Easy Guide To Chord Melody Guitar now!

What will you learn in this new eBook?

  • Essential fingerstyle and hybrid picking techniques to set you up for chord melody success.
  • Fingerstyle and hybrid picking licks in the style of Joe Pass, Lenny Breau, Kurt Rosenwinkel, and many more.
  • Chord melody arranging concepts and full chord melody arrangements.
  • Chord soloing phrases in the style of Wes Montgomery, George Benson, and more.
  • Learn full chord melody and chord soloing arrangements in the style of Joe Pass, Ted Greene, and more.
  • Everything you need to go from day 1 to chord melody mastery in your playing.

Here’s the thing:

Investing in your own development as a jazz guitarist is one of the greatest gifts you can give to yourself.

And I’m sure your friends and family will enjoy the great music you’ll make as a result of this book too!

Click here to get your copy of the new Chord Melody eBook.

P.S. Have a question about the new eBook? Email me at [email protected] and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.


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Modern Jazz Chord Progression Workshop with Stuart King (Replay)

Modern Jazz Chord Progression Workshop with Stuart King (Replay)

This week Stuart King, jazz guitarist and composer extraordinaire did a wonderful live online workshop for FretDojo entitled Breaking Out of the ii-V-I: How to Make Your Own Jazz Chord Progressions That Sound Great.

As one participant Karl remarked afterward:

“The workshop was about 3 years of theory explained in little over an hour!”

In the leadup to the workshop, I got a lot of emails from people indicating that they would have loved to attend, but couldn’t due to the time zone differences.

So, for the benefit of all you guys and gals that couldn’t make it, here is the complete replay of the workshop in all it’s glory, along with some notes on the ideas Stuart put forward in his presentation.


How This Workshop Came About

As a bit of background, many of you know I’ve been helping co-produce Stuart’s debut album of original jazz guitar compositions Qualia, which has just been released – get your copy here!

The idea for the workshop came to me in the studio during the final mixing sessions for the album.

What struck me was how interesting and innovative the chord progressions were that Stuart was using in his compositions, so much so I couldn’t help but ask Stuart to reveal all his techniques to the FretDojo community.

Without further ado, let’s get into it!


Workshop Replay:

Below are some notes on the workshop as well as diagrams of chord shapes you can use to get started with modern jazz chord progressions on guitar.

(Hint: fast forward the video to the relevant timecode in green to get to the relevant part of the workshop.)


Cycle 5 Harmony and Tritone Substitution (6:00)

Stuart kicked off his presentation with an overview of typical Cycle 5 root movement.

This refers to the traditional movement of the root notes of chords via the interval of a perfect 5th.

A good example of this is a typical ii – V – I progression: e.g Dm7 => G7 => C.

In this case, G is a perfect 5th from D, and C is a perfect 5th from G.

You can manipulate this standard root note movement with tritone substitution, a well-known technique in jazz harmony to create variety and to facilitate smooth voice leading from chord to chord.

Stuart’s opening track on Qualia, Forty One is a good example of this technique in action:




You may ask here:

“So what is a tritone substitution anyway?”

Let me explain.

Have a look at a G7 chord and a Db7 chord, pictured below:




Notice anything similar?

As you can see, these chords share two of the same notes – only the root note has changed.

These two notes are the guide tones – i.e. the 3rd and the 7th. The intervallic distance between them is known as a tritone.

Therefore, as the chords are so similar, they can be used to substitute one another.

Hence the term ‘tritone substitution’ – whereby you substitute one chord with another that has the same tritone.

In bar 12 of Forty One, Stuart uses this technique – substituting a Db9 in place of where you would expect a G7 chord to be:




Although this is a well-known technique, you can play with it in interesting ways.

In the next example, Stuart does the same substitution but also does a tritone substitution on the C7, using a Gb13 chord instead.

Therefore, we now have a cycle 5 root movement off the tritone substitutions, giving us what’s sometimes known as ‘Cycle 5 off the Sub V’s progression’:




For all the nitty gritty detail about everything covered above, check out the workshop video from 6:00 onwards.


Upper Structure Triads (18:48)

To demonstrate upper structure triads, Stuart referred to one of the tracks off Qualia, Great Ocean Road:




The upper structure triad concept is simple to understand but can give you really interesting chords as a result.

In the following example, you’re going to use the same root note for all the following chord voicings, which then superimpose different triads on top of this static root note.

This results in some colorful, modern sounding voicings you can use in your comping as well as in your compositions:

(Note: the following chords could potentially have other names and functions as well, below is only one way you could label each chord)






At 22:25 in the video, Stuart then flips this idea on its head.

Rather than keep the root note static and change the upper structure triad, what if you keep the upper structure triad static but change the root note instead?

Great Ocean Road is full of this technique – watch what happens when I replace some of the chord names so that you can see what’s going on more easily:




Stuart goes into a lot more detail about the techniques he used on this tune, check out the workshop replay video from 22:25 for more details.


Quartal Harmony (4ths voicings) (30:05)

Quartal harmony is extremely useful for jazz composition and arranging, as well as for comping.

Whilst regular chords are built by stacking 3rds, quartal voicings are built by stacking 4ths.

As quartal voicings are tonally ambiguous, the same shape can be used in many situations and still sound good.

At this point in the workshop, Stuart showed a neat trick of how to find various 4ths voicings, by playing a 4ths voicing chord scale based on E Dorian:




The title track off the album, Qualia, demonstrates the use quartal harmony in action:





Notice how, early on in the above chart, Stuart also plays with the root note movement to create some very interesting and colorful chords:




The workshop wrapped up with some interesting questions from participants as well as a couple of performances of the tunes from Qualia by Stuart on solo guitar (see the video from 44:13).


Wrap Up

Special thanks to Stuart King for putting on this fantastic workshop! Hearing the examples directly off Stuart’s album Qualia bought these techniques to life for me, and the participants really enjoyed being a part of the session. I hope to do more of these types of workshops in the future.

qualiaIf you haven’t already, get your copy of Qualia here – Stuart King’s debut album of original jazz guitar compositions.

We’re both very proud of the work we have put into this album project and it’s a great resource for you to study some of these more advanced chord progression techniques that Stuart outlined in the video workshop above.

Click here to buy the album now>>

Thanks for reading! Did you find this workshop useful? Let us know your thoughts by leaving a comment below…

Greg O’Rourke, BMus (Hons), ANU

About Stuart King:

Stuart KingStuart is a guitarist with over 20 years experience as a performer in many varied contexts, ranging from classical through to contemporary styles, musical theater, and jazz.

In 2005 Stuart graduated from the Canberra School of Music, Australian National University with a Bachelor of Music as a jazz performance major.

These days Stuart performs regularly around Canberra as a band leader, sideman, session guitarist and solo jazz and acoustic guitarist.

Stuart has performed with the Canberra Symphony Orchestra on various occasions and has performed with many notable Australian jazz musicians including Mike Price, Ben Hauptmann, Carl Dewhurst, Lucinda Peters, and Luke Sweeting.

Find out more about Stuart at www.stuartkingmusic.com

Want To Become...
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• FREE 49 Page eBook: The Top Ten Mistakes Jazz Guitarists Make in Their Practice Session, for FREE as well!

• My hottest tips for boosting your jazz guitar playing, delivered straight to your inbox!

8 Steps to Slaying The Speed Demon: Speed Picking Secrets for Jazz Guitar with Stuart King

8 Steps to Slaying The Speed Demon: Speed Picking Secrets for Jazz Guitar with Stuart King

As you can see in the lesson video below, I’m pretty excited today.

There’s a good reason for this:

I was lucky to pin down my good friend and virtuoso guitarist Stuart King to record a lesson on how jazz guitarists can build their speed picking.

Why did I pick this topic?

Because learning to play lines fast is a critical skill for any jazz guitarist.

Besides being a great all round musician and a top jazz guitarist (and a nice bloke to boot), Stuart is endowed with incredible chops.

He’s simply the fastest guitarist I’ve played with to date.

Stuart and I have been busy lately, working on his debut jazz guitar album Qualia, which will be released in a couple of weeks time – watch this space. has now been releasedget your copy here. (By the way, I’ve been the producer for this album project, and I also play on a few tracks too!)

During our mixing session, I was able to nab Stuart for a few hours in the video studio, and I’m so glad I did.

As you’ll see in the lesson video (below), it’s resulted in a sensational how-to-guide on building speed – you’re going to enjoy this one.

It turns out Stuart is one of those ‘hidden guitar yogis’, who has quietly worked out an incredible shortcut to boosting your speed and accuracy on the guitar.

Since recording this video, I’ve been practicing Stuart’s approaches to speed picking daily.

After one week of following the step-by-step process in this lesson, I’ve noticed a significant boost in my maximum speed, and my speed picking accuracy has increased as well.

Without further ado, let’s get into it!


Video Lesson: Speed Picking Workshop With Stuart King

Don’t have time to read this post now? Get your Handy PDF Download: Click this link to get a print friendly version of all the exercises in this post for your practice.


Why Do I Want To Learn To Play So Fast Anyway?

There’s no doubt about it:

Whether you are interested in shredding it up or not, any serious study of jazz guitar requires an ability to play fast tempos.


The majority of single line solos by the jazz guitar greats are stuffed full of double time runs that are often tricky to play.

So, if your chops aren’t up to the job, you’re missing out on being able to incorporate critically important jazz guitar vocabulary into your playing.

That’s not all:

If you can play quickly, you’ll be able to think more quickly when you improvise.

This means that you’ll have a greater ability to be more creative when you solo, regardless of the tempo, as your mind will be working faster.

Now that I’ve convinced you why you need to get your speed picking up to scratch, here’s what not to do…


The WRONG Approach

Like what Stuart mentioned in the video above, I myself have always had issues with building speed.

Here’s the typical approach when it comes to guitar speed exercises:

Take a passage and practice it over and over, bumping up the metronome 1 to 5 bpm at a time, gradually increasing the speed until you reach your desired tempo.


It doesn’t work.

Most of my colleagues and students I’ve talked to about this approach describe a threshold that, upon reaching it, is impossible to get past.

But there’s another way.

Initially, Stuart was unwilling to part with his hidden secrets about speed picking…

…but I got them out of him eventually.

Read on for his method in all its glory!

(Hint: Fast forward the above video to the time code (in green) to get to the spot in the lesson video that demonstrates the steps below.)


Step 1: Presenting The Sprinting Technique (4:04)

To get started, choose a lick that you want to practice building your speed picking with. Ideally, a longer line will be the most useful to study.

Try to stick with just one lick initially – you’ll see why later.

Here’s the one that Stuart was using in the video above:




As Stuart describes in the video, a ‘sprint’ is:

“…a short burst of fast notes, interspersed by slower notes either side.”

To start building your chops with the Sprinting Technique, take the first 5 notes out of this lick and isolate it:




Why 5 notes?

The reason:

You want the cell to start and end on a downbeat.

Practice this short cell of notes at a slow tempo a few times until you get the hang of it before moving to the next step.


Step 2: Choose Your ‘Target Tempo’ (5:55)

What you need to do now is choose a fast tempo that you’d ideally like to become comfortable at.

Stuart refers to this as your ‘target tempo’.

We aren’t talking about bumping your speed picking tempo up only 10 bpm.

You want a tempo where you could keep up with Pat Martino at least:

Stuart chose 150bpm as the target tempo in this video, because you won’t often find double time licks played much faster than that in jazz.

If you can play 16th notes at 150bpm, you should be pretty comfortable with most tunes and transcriptions.

Ok, let’s not mess around:

You’re going to learn to do speed picking at this tempo right now.

“Whaaaat?!? But I could never play that fast!”

Never fear my friend.

At the end of this lesson, you’ll be carving it up like there’s no tomorrow.

Let’s take these guitar speed exercises step-by-step.

As Stuart demonstrates in the lesson video above, first practice ‘sprinting’ at your target tempo with tremolo speed picking on just the first note of the 5 note cell, along with a metronome.

Here are a few exercises to show you what I mean:








Speed picking isn’t so much about building muscles as it is about being able to hear fast tempos.

The above exercises are pretty straightforward, but make sure that you’re nailing the notes on each downbeat precisely along with a metronome.

These are really ear training exercises to get you familiar with moving at a fast tempo.

Notice how on either side of the 16th note sprints in each exercise, you play simple quarter notes on each downbeat.

This helps you verify you actually did, in fact, nail the sprint with rhythmic accuracy.

It’s easy to think that you’ve played a sprint rhythmically in time, but…

…you can make subtle errors that will, when it comes to playing a longer sprint, start to skew you away from the metronome.

Playing quarter notes either side of the sprint helps you avoid this problem, forcing you to zero in on the beat.

Onwards to Step 3…


Step 3: Sprint on the First 5 Note Cell At Your Target Tempo (8:12)

Now that you’ve gotten used to the target tempo of 150bpm on a single note, the next step is to take the 5 note cell we isolated and use the Sprinting Technique on that.

Remember to pump out those quarter notes before and after each sprint. This will help you check if you’re getting the sprints rhythmically in time. Here’s an example:




If you aren’t sure you’re playing the sprints exactly in time with the metronome, record yourself using an audio recorder or smartphone and check how accurate your rhythm is.

An important point to mention here:

Don’t worry if you’re technique is a bit messy, i.e. missing strings or hitting wrong strings with your pick as you play the sprint.

Ignore all that for now, we’ll clean it up later.

Just focus on developing your rhythmic awareness of the target tempo, regardless of any technical flaws.


Step 4: Isolate The Next 5 Note Cell – Rinse And Repeat (8:35)

Now that you’ve used the Sprinting Technique on the first cell, isolate the next cell of the lick and repeat the process:




Here’s how you would practice a sprint with this cell:




Step 5: Start to Glue The Cells Together (9:08)

Now we have two ‘chunks’ out of the lick that you can play pretty quickly. I want you to now glue them together, to make a longer sprint:




This is where things can get tricky.

It can be a struggle to be able to play a longer sprint like this at a fast tempo like 150 bpm.

But if you can’t play them together – don’t slow down the metronome!

Instead, take a couple of notes temporarily off the end of the sprint and try again:




Once you can play this shorter version of the sprint, add the notes back on that you removed and it should start to work for you.

In this way, work through the lick, one 5 note cell at a time.

Then, gradually combine them until you have cobbled together the entire lick at the target tempo.

Here’s the thing:

You’re likely going to find that the lick still won’t sound that good and you are dropping notes, playing messy and generally struggling.

Don’t stress – the point of this exercise so far is not to have clean speed picking…yet.

We’ll sort that out later.

For now, you’re just trying to train your ears to hear that fast target tempo of 150 bpm.

Read on, because Stuart has a great trick here when you get to this point, and things start to get mind-bendingly interesting…


Step 6: Drop the Tempo to 80% Of Your Target Tempo (10:54)

At this point, notice how Stuart on the lesson video took the tempo down from 150bpm to 140bpm.

He was able to play the lick pretty cleanly at that slower tempo. In his own words, it was like he was:

“…only playing at 80% of my ability.”

Now here’s the thing:

What if you can make your target tempo (in this case 150bpm), 80% of your ability?

You can.

You just need to train your ears to hear a tempo much faster than 150bpm, which is what you’re going to do next.


Step 7: Ramp Up The Tempo Beyond Your Wildest Dreams (12:46)

“190 bpm? Are you mad??”

Trust me, it’s going to work.

Attempt to either play the full lick or some 5 note sprints at 190 bpm or at a similar, incredibly unrealistic, fast tempo.

Go to 150% of your ability at least.

As you can see in the video, Stuart failed miserably at 190bpm, but that’s not the point.

What you’re really doing here is tricking your mind into thinking that 150 bpm is actually a pretty reasonable tempo.

Spend some time with this. Put your ego aside and be prepared to bomb out at this insane speed. Ignore your lack of accuracy or not being able to play the whole lick.

Just keep focusing on those metronome clicks and see if you can generally approximate that stupidly fast tempo.

On to the final step…


Step 8: Now Go Back To Your Target Tempo (14:06)

Once you’ve suffered for a while at 190bpm, it’s time to chill out.

Wind the metronome back down to an easygoing 150bpm.


See how much more comfortable 150bpm feels then the crazy tempo we attempted in the last step.

You might surprise yourself at this point how easy it will feel to play at a tempo which was, just minutes before, a real struggle.

I couldn’t believe it when I tried Stuart’s approach this week, as prior to this 140bpm was pretty much my 100% tempo…on a good day.

To have 150bpm feel relatively comfortable was unbelievable.


Ok, So How The Heck Did That Work?

The point of these guitar speed exercises was not to develop finger dexterity, fast twitch muscles, picking techniques or anything like that.

They were simple exercises in training the mind to perceive an incredibly fast tempo (in this case 190bpm), even if you can’t play it cleanly yet.

By doing this, you are speeding up your mental awareness, which seems to be the crux of the whole speed development issue on guitar.

Interestingly, when you then go back to your ‘slower’ target tempo (e.g going back down from 190bpm to 150bpm), it feels much slower than it actually is.

You’ve tricked your mind into thinking that the target tempo is only 80% of your ability.

Rhythm awareness and rhythmic accuracy, not technical accuracy, is the key to unlocking the ability to play fast on the guitar. Regardless of your lack of accuracy with your speed picking, through following this approach you now have that ‘raw’ speed under your fingers to work with.

Be patient: the technical accuracy will come over time, as your fingers get used to playing at these faster tempos.


A Groundbreaking Approach

What I found most interesting about trying out Stuart’s approach is how quickly it worked to build speed.

This indicates to me that the ability to play fast isn’t really to do with building muscles in your fingers. If you’ve been playing guitar for a while, this should have already been developed long ago. Speed building is more of a mental training issue.

Here’s another fascinating outcome:

Through practicing this approach, it hasn’t just been the lick I’ve been using that has had a speed boost.

Everything else has felt much easier to play as a result of these guitar speed exercises.

It seems as though learning how to play just one lick fast gives you the ability to play other licks fast too.

Plus, I’ve found my picking accuracy has increased at slower tempos and my hands are more relaxed.

Stuart mentioned to me that he cottoned on to this approach by watching instructional videos by rock guitarists John Petrucci and Shawn Lane, but hasn’t seen it ever clarified into a clear practice method like what is presented in this post.

It appears that Stuart may have indeed slain the speed demon, a ferocious beast that has tormented guitarists for generations.


Further Resources

  • If you need a metronome, I use TempoPerfect, a free software metronome. Pretty basic but does the job.
  • On Stuart’s recommendation check out guitarist Troy Grady’s website at troygrady.com. Although geared more towards rock players, Troy has excellent tips for improving your speed picking accuracy, regardless of what style of guitar you play. Troy has an excellent online course you might like to check out called Pickslanting Primer, which is a detailed guide to guitar picking technique that I highly recommend. Click this link for more info…

Enjoyed this post on speed picking?
Get your Handy PDF Download: Click this link to get a print friendly version of all the exercises in this post for your practice.


*Stop Press* Stuart’s Debut Album,
Qualia – Out Now!

qualiaFinally, I wanted to let you know about Stuart’s album Qualia – the first release under the FretDojo Studios label.

Qualia is Stuart’s debut jazz guitar album and features all original jazz compositions by him.

I’ve helped co-produce the album, and I also play on a few of the tracks too.

As I was sitting in the studio during the mixing sessions, I was taken aback by how enjoyable and innovative Stuart’s jazz compositions are on this recording, which got me motivated to want to share it with you guys.

Find out more about Qualia here>>

In his own words, here’s what Stuart himself has to say about Qualia:

“The entire recording of Qualia was made during a 3-hour recording session at ArtSound Recording Studios in Canberra.
For the session, I had a great local bass player, James Luke. I also was accompanied on nylon string by my long time friend Greg O’Rourke on a few tunes.

What I wanted was to really capture on this album is the raw energy of our playing – the tunes aren’t overly rehearsed or produced and the performances are very much in the moment.

Greg and I felt that this gave the recording a very honest and live feeling, which is close to what you might get if you were to see us play live.

This organic, living type of approach I believe breathes some life into the tunes, and is more in the spirit of jazz. We felt that this allowed us to capture a special kind of raw energy on that Saturday afternoon, in that small studio.

We’ve put many hours crafting this into a good sounding product, something we can all be proud to put our names on, and something that gives you, the listener, the best experience possible.”

As you’ve seen in this post about speed picking, Stuart is an incredible jazz guitarist and a top class musician.

Stuart’s hard work has resulted in a really groundbreaking album, that I know you’re going to enjoy.

Get your copy of Qualia now by clicking here>>

Thank You!

A special thanks to Stuart King for taking the time out of his busy schedule to record this great video lesson for you.

Give this technique a try for a few weeks, and let us know what you think! Did you find this approach worked for you? Leave a comment below to share your thoughts.

If you enjoyed this speed picking lesson, please share it with your friends; it would mean the world to us.

May the force be with you,

Greg O’Rourke & Stuart King


About Stuart King:

Stuart KingStuart is a guitarist with over 20 years experience as a performer in many varied contexts, ranging from classical through to contemporary styles, musical theater, and jazz.

In 2005 Stuart graduated from the Canberra School of Music, Australian National University with a Bachelor of Music as a jazz performance major.

These days Stuart performs regularly around Canberra as a band leader, sideman, session guitarist and solo jazz and acoustic guitarist.

Stuart has performed with the Canberra Symphony Orchestra on various occasions and has performed with many notable Australian jazz musicians including Mike Price, Ben Hauptmann, Carl Dewhurst, Lucinda Peters, and Luke Sweeting.

Find out more about Stuart at www.stuartkingmusic.com

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