Whether you are an accomplished professional or a student just learning how to play guitar, if you want to learn how to play jazz guitar, many classics are surprisingly simple in structure. They also can be relatively easy to learn.
Jazz guitar requires you to know how to play chords and which notes you can play along with them. When you can play even some of the easiest and most basic chords and change them as a song requires, you are playing rhythm jazz guitar. And when you know how to solo without playing off-tune, you are playing improvisational jazz guitar.
The following are 13 of the easiest jazz guitar songs for beginning players to learn.
1. Summertime by George Gershwin
The classic from the Porgy and Bess musical has entertained fans across many generations. Summertime continues as one of the most popular and accessible jazz guitar songs to learn.
A relatively simple melody and moderate chord changes enable beginning jazz guitarists to learn the song relatively quickly. As your improvisational skills improve, the song leaves plenty of room for musical expression.
2. Blue Bossa by Kenny Dorham
Another popular tune found on most lists of easy songs to play on guitar is Blue Bossa, one of the most beloved bossa nova-inspired songs that any jazz guitarist is happy to learn to play.
It has a great rhythm backing a harmonious melody that often is played at a tempo that is simple to match and follow.
The song combines bop with bossa nova to create one of the most enduring jazz guitar songs ever penned. The blues-tinged jazz tune uses the II-V-I chord progression in Cm, F7, and Db before returning to Cm again.
3. Autumn Leaves by Joseph Kosma
Jazz is a uniquely American form of music that has been very popular in France for nearly a century. Autumn Leaves is a famous jazz standard that originally was penned for a French film in 1946 but has made a big impact in the United States.
The slow and sad song has a very memorable melody that makes soloing easier for guitar students. Its chord changes enable you to play in either G throughout or match the changes with more advanced soloing as you learn more.
4. Road Song by Wes Montgomery
Road Song is the title track for the Billboard No. 1 jazz LP recorded by Wes Montgomery in 1968. The song combines the funky elements of a bossa with Montgomery’s blues-inspired playing.
Montgomery uses a lot of octaves in Road Song, and you can, too. Or you could just play the melody without the octaves until you feel comfortable enough to take the extra step to play two strings instead of just one while playing melodies and solos.
5. So What by Miles Davis
Great songs written for trumpet players often times make great songs for jazz guitar players. So What is one of those songs and is written by possibly the greatest trumpet player ever.
So What has a simple melody playing over a II-V-I chord progression with D minor and Eb minor serving as the root chords. There is plenty of room for soloing with lots of room for changing from lead to rhythm.
6. Fly Me to the Moon by Bart Howard
Composer Bart Howard intended the song to be relatively simple but still memorable. He succeeded mightily. Originally titled and recorded as “In Other Words,” the song simplifies the complicated jazz compositions that were popular during the mid-1950s.
The Songwriters Hall of Fame inducted Fly Me to the Moon as a “Towering Song” with great influence over songwriting and jazz. It is a great song to learn when trying to master chord changes and for soloing.
It originally was written in ¾ time, but the Sinatra version is in 4/4 after Quincy Jones initiated the change in tempo.
7. Song for My Father by Horace Silver
Brazilian music inspired Horace Silver to write Song for My Father, which is the title track of the 1964 album recorded by the Horace Silver quintet.
The melody floats above the rhythm and helps to produce natural musical harmonies. You can practice chord changes and modal changes with some Mixolydian scales thrown in for good effect.
8. Work Song by Nat Adderley
Nat Adderley is the trumpet-playing brother of famed saxophonist Cannonball Adderley and a very accomplished musician and composer.
Work Song combines blues harmonies with jazz chord changes and creates one of the most expressive compositions in jazz.
Work Song supports improvisation even while playing rhythm and helps to affirm the creative nature of jazz. The song has been recorded by many artists who add their own inflections, but it always remains a thoroughly delightful tune with an unmistakable melody.
9. Blue Monk by Thelonious Monk
Although it is written for piano by one of the best jazz pianists to ever walk the planet, Blue Monk works great when played on jazz guitar. The blues-based song has a melody that you can learn to play but has a subtle phrasing variation that you need to nail to get right.
Fortunately, you can do that with some practice because Blue Monk is a standard blues-jazz composition with fun chord changes. Blue Monk is the kind of song that makes jazz players feel excited to play because, like Monk, it is unique and unlike whatever else you might have learned thus far.
10. Georgia On My Mind by Hoagy Carmichael
You likely have heard the Ray Charles version of this very classic jazz standard that Hoagy Carmichael co-wrote and recorded in 1930. A very compelling and highly memorable melody and a fun chord progression make it very fun to play for jazz guitarists of all skill levels.
The melody is fairly straightforward and fun to learn to play. The chord changes are more challenging but use basic chords that beginners should know. Using them on a great song like Georgia (On My Mind) helps to improve chord chops as well as single-note playing.
11. Sunny by Bobby Hebb
Sunny is a very popular jazz standard that reach No. 2 on the Billboard charts in 1966. Bobby Hebb composed the piece in 1963 and did not record and release it for three more years. It became a huge hit when he did. Hundreds of recording artists have performed and recorded their own versions since.
Sunny uses a five-chord progression that repeats every four measures through the first 16 bars. A third phrasing adjusts the progression slightly, and the final measure uses a simple three-chord variation. Vocal versions use half-step changes of key that instrumental versions generally discard to enable more soloing.
12. Mack the Knife by Kurt Weill
Originally penned as a show tune for a German Opera by Kurt Weill in 1928, Mack the Knife underwent significant lyrical and instrumental changes before becoming a very big hit for Bobby Darin in 1958. The Bobby Darin version stands out and mostly is the one that guitar players learn.
The song initially was played mostly in Bb major and had a simple rhythm to follow. But its many recorded versions have added several chords to match the vocals of the many famous singers and performers who also have recorded versions. Those singers and performers include Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, and Frank Sinatra.
13. C-Jam Blues by Duke Ellington
If you enjoy extensive solos and moderate chord changes, then C-Jam Blues is an outstanding jazz song to learn. As clearly indicated by its title, it is an extended jam in C, although it does have chord changes. That makes it a great song for working on your lead playing in keys other than derivatives of E or B.
There are only three chords, which are C, Bb, and Eb. The song is structured like a standard 12-bar blues piece and uses two notes to create a repeated phrasing for each chorus. In between is a lot of room to improvise and have fun while mastering jazz guitar.
Summing up Our List of Easy Jazz Songs on the Guitar
That about sums up our list of simple jazz guitar songs for beginners to learn and help to provide a solid foundation for any budding jazz guitarist.
Some will require more practice and work than others.
But the effort will produce exceptional results when you master the chords and playing styles.