How to Kickstart Your Jazz Guitar Practice Routine After a Lull

If you haven’t been playing your jazz guitar lately, and finding it hard to get back into a practice routine, then today’s post is for you.

I’ll be honest with you:

It’s not easy to maintain a jazz guitar practice routine.

Whether you’re a student at jazz school seeking to be a pro player, or retired and just want to learn a few jazz standards for your own enjoyment…

The pressures of life can easily disrupt the practice routine of even the most well-intentioned.


There’s a simple approach to firing up your jazz guitar routine and getting back on track.

It’s my ‘Three Day Set-List’ Method. 

Let’s check it out!

Step 1: Choose 3 jazz standards you’ve learned (or half learned) in the past

Go back through your set list or song collection and choose 3 songs that you enjoyed playing in the past. This is going to be your “mini set-list” for the next few days.

 Step 2: Get all your ingredients in order

One of the biggest obstacles preventing you from kickstarting your practice again is when your tools and resources are hard to find.

Make sure you have all the “ingredients” at hand to cook your jazz cake, namely:

  • Your guitar is tuned and ready and waiting on a guitar stand (rather than in the guitar case).
  • Get backing tracks for each of the songs you chose in Step 1, and assemble a playlist on your computer or audio player. (Hint: as a shortcut, my FretDojo Jazz Guitar Academy has high-quality backing tracks for loads of jazz standards at multiple speeds). Otherwise, find some backing tracks on Youtube or elsewhere.
  • If you don’t have them already, get copies of the charts by looking online, or have your real book handy on a music stand.

In a nutshell, I want you to be able to just go straight in your practice session without having to look for tracks or charts. It’s a great feeling to be able to walk straight into your room and begin your “set”.

Step 3: Commit to practicing daily for the next 3 days

When you’re trying to get into a routine again, I find it works better if you don’t focus so much on the analytical and technical aspects of playing.

Instead, what you should do for the first 3 practice sessions is to just “get in the thick of it” and start playing the songs again that you chose in Step 1, running them through as if you were playing your set at a gig.

Don’t be too concerned if it’s all a bit rusty. I just want you to get started again making some music and not trying to get everything perfect. Put self-judgement aside!

So for the next 3 days, play through each of the tunes once or twice through doing the following:

  • Play the melody (reading from the Real Book or charts is perfectly okay)
  • Play through the comping
  • Improvise around the melody for a couple of choruses or do some simple lines you know
  • Play a chord melody version of the head (if you’re skill level permits)

Rinse and repeat for each of the 3 tunes you chose earlier. That’s it!

Benefits of the ‘Three Day Set List’ Method

Try this for 3 days, and you’ll be surprised at what’s happened:

  • You’ll feel like you’ve made a strong start back into your playing.
  • You’ll have the confidence of knowing you’ve got 3 tunes under your belt.
  • You’ll have given yourself a general workout on the guitar and things won’t feel so rusty.
  • You’ll have a good stock of material to develop specific soloing, comping, and chord melody approaches.
  • You’ll be more motivated to practice jazz guitar regularly, and feel like you’ve “gotten over the hump”.

Why this method works

By avoiding self-judgement, and simply committing to playing a set list daily for 3 days in a row, you’ll instantly have a set of tunes under your belt that you can improvise over a little.

That’s a very satisfying outcome for just 3 practice sessions, and it will give you the confidence and encouragement to continue your studies.

Here’s the thing:

Often players start to lose interest in jazz because they get too caught up in analytical approaches, technique, and “trying to get it right”. In doing so they miss the heart center of jazz, which is beautiful melodies, cool harmonies, and a living rhythm.

Once you have a solid set-list, it then becomes much easier to build more advanced approaches to soloing and so forth.

If you don’t have a set-list, it’s hard to put the various jazz techniques you’re learning into context. It’s very important to make sure you have a set of tunes you can play with familiarity.

If you’re stuck in a rut, I highly recommend you give this ‘3 Day Set-List’ method a try.

Wrap Up

I hope you enjoyed today’s post on this very important topic of re-kickstarting your practice routine for jazz guitar.

How about you – what ideas do YOU have for getting your practice routine “back into gear?”

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

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

8 thoughts on “How to Kickstart Your Jazz Guitar Practice Routine After a Lull”

  1. Dear Greg, Thanks for the encouragement. My wife underwent hip replacement surgery a couple of weeks ago. Prior to that she was in terrible pain . The surgery was a success and she is recovering nicely. As her husband and caregiver, my main focus for the past couple of months has been her health and not the wonderful courses I have signed up for at FretDojo. You advice is exactly what I have taken. While she is in recovery, I am simply playing the tunes whose melody lines and chord changes I know : Summertime, Autumn Leaves, Girl from Ipanema and Sunny. I am getting Watch What Happens under my belt slowly. After that I want to learn All the Things You Are. It’s good to be back.

    1. Hi Doyle, very happy to hear that your wife’s treatment was a success. Sounds like a good strategy you have taken to keep your jazz guitar going through challenging times. It’s great to have you back in the Dojo Doyle!

    2. Greg,

      Please forgive me for asking a question out of context to the post, but I feel if anyone can help with my question, it would be you. Do you know where I can find a nylon string guitar with a cutaway ( with or without electronics) with the scale and nut width (~52 mm) of a standard classical guitar? I’ve searched everywhere but have come up empty. Again, my apologies for imposing on you. And thank you.

      1. Hey Michael, Have you tried checking some standard guitar manufacturers’ websites? They usually have all measurements displayed online and can be ordered too. Some that come to mind are Cordoba and Yamaha.

  2. Jorge Luis Hernández Velasquez

    Hi Greg,. I like this concept. First playlis de standards jazz : Autumn leaves. Summertime, Blue bossa. thanks. Im back to play my guitar jazz. Thank you Greg.

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