Do you dream of being a jazz guitarist one day but do not know how to get started? Are you looking for the easiest jazz standards for beginners? Or maybe you’ve already found a jazz guitar song but find it difficult to play because you’re new to this genre?
Starting with simpler songs can boost your confidence and set a strong foundation for your jazz journey. Why not try some easy jazz songs for guitar?
If you’re new to jazz, these easy jazz pieces below are a great way to get started. Delving into them will not only familiarize you with popular jazz rhythms but also introduce you to the intricate world of jazz harmonies.
These tunes cover a range of jazz styles, from early ragtime and Dixieland to Bebop, Bossa Nova, and beyond. Each one is relatively easy to learn, and they’ll help you develop the skills you need to play jazz guitar.
Also, note that most of them are only instrumentals with no vocals, which means you can fully focus on the guitar techniques and nuances without any distractions.
Easy Jazz Songs To Play On Guitar
So, whether you’re a complete novice or have some experience with the guitar, these 15 easy jazz guitar songs for beginners, coupled with beginner jazz guitar lessons, offer a delightful entry into the world of jazz.
1. Fly Me To The Moon – Frank Sinatra
“Fly Me To The Moon” by Frank Sinatra became one of the most popular easy jazz songs to learn on guitar for beginner jazz guitarists even before YouTube was invented. The song is actually just a cover version of “In Other Words” which was originally written in 1954 by Bart Howard.
The reason why this is so famous is because of its poetic-romantic lyrics and its beautiful orchestration/ arrangement of the song.
Despite its easy-going melody, this tune is actually harmonically quite complex. It features a host of jazz chords, including minor 7ths and dominant 7ths. This track is perfect for beginners to get a feel for these types of chords and how they work together.
2. So What – Miles Davis
If you’re looking for a kind of modal jazz song, Miles Davis’ “So What” is the perfect one for you! This relaxing jazz masterpiece was composed by American trumpeter Miles Davis and produced by American saxophonist Teo Macero.
The “So What” chord progression is based on an II-V-I where the root chords are Dm and Ebm. It’s a great tune to start with because the melody is easy to remember, and once you get the hang of the chord changes, you can add your own embellishments and improvisations.
3. Autumn leaves – Joseph Kosma
The title might sound solemn and naturalistic, but it is also one of the most popular beginner jazz guitar songs to practice as a jazz guitarist!
This tune was originally composed by Hungarian-French composer Joseph Kosma in 1945, with lyrics added later by French poet Jacques Prévert. It’s become a classic jazz standard, and it’s been recorded by countless artists over the years.
Autumn Leaves is a must-learn, not only does it have a good melody but its chords are bright and very soothing. It’s also a good song to learn if you’re interested in learning how to improvise, as there are many opportunities to take solos.
4. Song for My Father – Horace Silver
This jazz standard was written by Horace Silver and it quickly became a staple of the hard bop genre. The tune is based on a traditional Portuguese folk song that Silver heard on holiday in Brazil. He was so caught up with the melody that he decided to write his own composition based on it.
The resulting song, Song for My Father, has become a Latin-jazz classic that has been recorded by many different artists over the years. The original Horace Silver Quintet recording is probably the most famous rendition, but there have been many wonderful interpretations of the tune since then.
So if you’re looking for a daring and classic jazz song to practice at home, you definitely challenge yourself and learn Horace Silver’s “Song For My Father”.
5. Minor Swing – Django Reinhardt
If you are looking for a Gypsy jazz sound that makes you feel as if you are playing in a Parisian café, look no further than Django Reinhardt’s Minor Swing.
This song has a fast tempo and is great for developing your improvisational skills. In addition, the progression of the chord is relatively easy to learn, making it a perfect choice for beginners.
While the melody of Minor Swing is fairly straightforward, the real challenge of the song comes in the form of its fast tempo. If you can master this tune, it will definitely showcase your guitar playing skills.
6. C-Jam Blues – Duke Ellington
This fun and catchy jazz melody was written by one of the most important figures in jazz history, Duke Ellington. Despite its simplicity, C-Jam Blues is a great tune to practice your improvisation skills.
The harmonic progression remains the same throughout, so you can really explore different melodic ideas and see how they fit with the harmony. This is one of the easy jazz guitar songs to be used as a starting point for learning how to improvise in the style of jazz guitar.
7. Nuages – Django Reinhardt
Nuages is a Gypsy swing repertoire composed by Django Reinhardt in 1940 that makes you feel like you are dancing to French music. This beautiful ballad became one of his most popular tunes, and it’s often cited as one of the best jazz guitar songs of all time.
While it may be difficult to play some of the faster passages, the overall melody is quite easy to learn. This tune is a great way to work on your single-note soloing, and it’s also a good introduction to Django’s unique gypsy jazz style.
8. Billie’s Bounce – Charlie Parker
Billie’s Bounce is a bebop tune written by Charlie Parker in 1945. The tune is based on the chord progression of 12-bar F blues, and it’s full of the fast-paced, complex language that characterizes bebop music. If you’re new to bebop, this piece is a great place to start.
If you’re a beginner but you’re challenging yourself to learn fast jazz guitar songs, then you’ll surely try Billie Bounce! To begin, take a look at the chord chart and practice the changes. Then, once you’re comfortable with the chords, work on the melody.
9. Summertime – George Gershwin
This Gershwin classic from his opera Porgy and Bess is one of the most popular but not-so-easy jazz standards (for guitar) ever written. It has been recorded by many famous musicians such as Billy Stewart, Janis Joplin, Louis Armstrong, and Ella Fitzgerald.
While the melody of this piece is easy to learn, the harmony is a bit more challenging. It features several unusual chord progressions, including an I-VI-II-V progression in the opening bars. These common types of progressions can take some time to get used to.
But once you get the hang of them, they’ll open up a whole new world of harmonic possibilities.
10. Blue Monk – Thelonious Monk
Blue Monk is a jazz standard written by Thelonious Monk. Here, the soothing and relaxing sound of soft jazz music is wonderful with the fusion of blues.
This song is a fine example of Monk’s unique approach to composition and improvisation. The melody is based on a simple three-note figure, but the harmony is anything but simple. Monk uses chromaticism and dissonance to create a sense of tension and release that is an integral part of his style.
Blue Monk is also a great tune for beginners to improvise. The simple melody and harmonically rich chords provide ample opportunities for exploration.
Related Article: If you're looking to learn the harmonically rich chords in Blue Monk, checking out some guitar chord books could be a helpful resource.
11. Mr. P.C. – John Coltrane
One of the most important and quite challenging jazz guitar songs, “Mr. P.C.” was written by John Coltrane and first appeared on his album Giant Steps. This classic swing tune is based on the 12-bar minor blues.
The original recording features Coltrane on tenor saxophone, Kenny Burrell on guitar, Paul Chambers on bass, and Philly Joe Jones on drums. The melody is initiated by Coltrane and then passed around by the soloists. Burrell’s solo is particularly beautiful, as he weaves in and out of the chord changes with ease.
This tune is a must-know for any jazz guitarist, as it is a great example of how to navigate an II-V-I chord progression. You’ll find many recordings of this tune, so take your time and find one that you like.
12. Blue Bossa – Joe Henderson
Mix your jazz taste with a blend of Bossa Nova and Hard Bop! Blues Bossa was composed by Kenny Dorham and became a jazz standard because it is famous and widely played among jazz players around the world.
However, this song became more known when introduced in saxophonist Joe Henderson’s album Page One in 1963. This tune is perfect for beginners because it uses only easy chords and has a very simple melody.
It’s also a great tune to learn because it’s slow to the average speed in beats and is played in a bossa nova style, which is common in jazz.
13. Tenor Madness – Sonny Rollins
Sonny Rollins is one of the most iconic tenor saxophone players in jazz history, and “Tenor Madness” is one of his most famous tunes. This 12-bar blues song is a great example of bebop, a style of jazz that emerged in the 1940s.
Bebop is an adventurous and complex style that involves fast tempos, complicated harmonies, improvisation, and chord progression with an emphasis on the respective musician’s own virtuosity.
“Tenor Madness” is a great tune for beginners to learn because the melody is relatively simple and easy to remember. The simple chord progression makes it easy to comp (accompany) the melody. And finally, the solo sections are short, so you don’t have to worry about improvising for long.
If you’re looking to learn more about Bebop, “Tenor Madness” is a great place to start.
14. Road Song – Wes Montgomery
Wes Montgomery was a master of the guitar and his song Road Song showcases his exceptional talents in the use of octaves in his melodies. The tune is based on a simple 12-bar blues progression, making it easy to learn for beginners.
The melody is played by the guitar and saxophone, with the guitar playing chords on the higher register and the saxophone taking the lead on the lower register. Even though the melody is straight, Montgomery’s improvisational art is fully on display.
His solos are a great example of how to use jazz guitar scales and arpeggios in your playing. Try it now and feel the soothing feeling of playing soft jazz guitar music.
15. Work Song – Nat Adderley
Work Song was written by American jazz trumpeter Nat Adderley and originally recorded by Cannonball Adderley in 1960. The bossa nova-flavored tune is catchy and the groove is infectious, making it a fun song to play.
Blues harmonies are at the heart of this 16-bar F minor blues tune, so it’s a great way to get started with Jazz if you’re coming from a Blues background.
The chord progression is simple but effective, and you can really have fun with it as you experiment with different voicings and substitutions. Work Song is a perfect introduction for beginner jazz guitar players.
For those venturing into jazz for beginners, this list is a perfect starting point. The selection offers easy jazz tunes that are not only melodious but also challenging enough to hone your skills.
Whether you prefer acoustic jazz songs or more traditional tracks, there’s something here for everyone. So, pick up your axe and start with these easy jazz songs on guitar. Dive into the rich world of jazz and enjoy the journey!
About the Author
Gustavo is a music teacher and classical guitar player from Brazil, currently residing in Dublin, Ireland. He holds a graduate degree in Classical Guitar Performance from the Federal University of Pelotas. In 2020, Gustavo successfully completed a Master's degree in Sound Engineering from the Academy of Sound in Ireland.