Kevin’s Jazz Guitar Glossary

This is meant to be a glossary of terms used for jazz guitar. Some terms will be specific to jazz guitar while many will be more general to jazz or music. Some are merely technical. These definitions are mine and reflect my beliefs and experience, though I have tried to include other interpretations where appropriate. If you have any suggestions or corrections, please email me at I may not choose to incorporate your suggestion, but I will listen to it.


One of the most common of all forms in jazz music. It is an A section, then a contrasting B section, followed by a final A section. Typically each section is 8 bars long making for a total of 32 bars.


Jamey Aebersold is a noted jazz educator. One of the things for which he is most famous is producing play-along recordings.


See call and response.

A-Train Ending

This is possibly the most common ending there is, and is also known as the "Ellington Ending." As you approach the end of a song, someone may holler out, "Ellington" or the bass player may just play it expecting everyone to follow him. It is taken from the Ellington song Take the A-Train.


Musician slang for an instrument.

Backdoor Turnaround

Instead of the usual turnaround of a ii7-V7, a iv7-bVII7 is played from the key a minor 3rd up. For example, in the key of C, instead of Dm7 – G7 – C, Fm7 – Bb7 – C is played.

Basie Ending

Here is a common ending popularized by Count Basie.

Bebop Blues

These are a slightly jazzed up version of the twleve-bar blues, very common in the jazz repertoire. There are a lot of substitutions, but not as much as Bird blues.

Bird Blues

These are named after Charlie “Bird” Parker. They are a highly reharmonized twelve-bar blues.


To improvise.

Blue Note

A blue note is a slightly dissonant note characteristic of the blues. The blue notes are usually the minor third, the tri-tone and sometimes the minor 7th. On a C chord, these would be Eb, Gb, and Bb. It is the juxtaposition of these notes over the top of a chord where these notes don’t normally belong that creates the sound of the blues.


Blues is a style of music. Within the world of jazz, Blues is a category of music that has some of the same characteristics of the style of Blues. Almost all of them have a chord progression based on the twelve-bar blues.


A break is where the rhythm section stops playing for a few bars and the melody or solo is unaccompanied. It is very common to have a two bar break at the end of the head (where you might normally have a turnaround) to allow the soloist to start his solo two bars early.


To simplify the accompaniment, especially with more funk oriented feels.


In jazz, this term is used differently than how pop and rock musicians use it. To jazzers, the bridge is the contrasting part of the song. For example, if the form is AABA, then the B section is the bridge.


“To burn” is to play fast.

Call and Response

This is the concept of playing a melodic statement that seems incomplete, and then playing a phrase that seems to complete it. This is also called question and answer and antecedent and consequent.


Originally, chops referred to the lips of a brass player. Now it refers to the technical and musical abilities of a musician.


This term is used differently in different types of music. For a pop musician, it refers to a part of the song that is repeated at various points. But to a jazz musician, a chorus is once through the entire form of a song. For example, a common practice is play the melody for one chorus, improvise for one (or multiple choruses) and the play one last chorus of the melody at the end. The term chorus is also sometimes used in old standards (especially those from Broadway) that have an introduction called a verse. Chorus is also an effect sometimes used on guitar to produce a thicker sound.

Charlie, Christian

One of the pioneers of jazz guitar. He did ground breaking work with Benny Goodman, being one of the first guitar players to take solos in a big band and to play along with the horns. He was also one of the founders of the Bebop movement before we died of TB.


A clam is note that is played badly or a wrong note.


"Comp" is either short for "accompany" or "complement." In either case, "comping" is to play behind and support a melody or a soloist.


See quote.


See call and response.

Count Basie

A famous big band leader, very famous for his hard swinging charts. A big part of his sound was the hard driving rhythm guitar of Freddie Green.


This is playing slightly slower than the rest of the band so that things tend to slow down. It is part of "time feel".

Ellington Ending

See A-Train Ending.


This is the piece of music at the end of the song. Some songs have specific outros. There are also certain common outros that can be spontaneously added to songs; A-Train Ending, Basie Ending, iii-vi-ii-V tag, etc.


"To fake" a song is to play it even though there is no arrangement. This is common practice in a jazz combo.

Fake Book

When musicians used to fake tunes, they sometimes wrote out these tunes as part of learning the tunes. Sometimes they were collected in books, Now fake books are available commercially.

Fast Four

The use of a IV chord in the second bar of a twelve-bar blues.


The arrangement of different sections of a song. These sections are often labeled with letters. For example, the song Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star would have an ABA form. There is a melodic statement at the beginning (A), followed by a contrasting melody (B) and then the original melody is stated again. Sometimes, successive sections (As, Bs, etc.) may differ slightly melodically or harmonically (especially in that last few bars), but that is not important. In jazz, the different sections are often 8 bars long. The form AABA is the most common form in jazz, and indeed in much popular music. Some songs have forms that cannot be easily be broken into neat sections. There is some subjectivity in how long a section is and whether a particular section differs enough to be called unique enough to receive its own letter designation.

Four to the Bar

This is playing four chords to the measure, one quarter note for each. This is characteristic of the Swing Era, especially of Big Band music. This is often used synonymously with playing a Freddie Green style.

Green, Freddie

Legendary rhythm guitar player for the Count Basie band. While many different big band rhythm guitar styles exist, his is probably considered the quintessential. There are many contrasting theories about how to produce his sound. One of the best explanations I have found is at


The melody of the tune. Towards the end of a song, someone may yell out "head" or simply point to their head to indicate to play the melody and finish the tune.


It is a common chord progression, often used in tags, turnarounds or vamps. In the key of C, a I-vi-ii-V would be CM7 – Am7 – Dm7 – G7. In practice, some of the minor chords will be made dominant.


This is one of the most common chord progressions in jazz and is the building block of many songs.


It is a common chord progression, often used in tags, turnarounds or vamps. In the key of C, a iii-vi-ii-V would be Em7 – Am7 – Dm7 – G7. In practice, some of the minor chords will be made dominant.


To take a solo and to spontaneously create a melody.


A short piece of music put at the front of the song. Some songs have specific intros.

Jack in the Box

A common rhythm used to set up a hit on the "and" of "2". The rhythm is "1 and 2 and."


Jazz music with South American origins, or with a rhythm that originates there. In modern jazz it means Brazilian bossa novas and sambas but may also includes many dance rhythms like rhumbas, cha-chas, beguines, mambos, etc. It often includes non-latin rhythms like calypso and is often broadly taken to mean any jazz that doesn’t swing.

Laying Back

A type of time feel.

Lay Out

Sometimes, someone will ask you to "lay out" for a chorus, or just stop playing.

Lead Sheet

A lead sheet is a simple melody and a chord progression written out on a sheet of paper. It's often used as a fake chart.

Loose the Form

This is forgetting where you are in the form, and to be playing a different part of the song than everyone else.


When performing live or in a studio, you sometimes need a small speaker, a monitor, in front of you so that you can hear yourself and the other musicians.


See play-along.

Nesitco, Sammy

The arranger for Count Basie.


See ending.


A small piece of plastic, wood, metal, tortoise shell, etc. used to strike the strings.


A recording without a melody or solo. It allows you to practice improvising over the chord changes.


It is another word for a pick.


This is playing slightly faster than the rest of the band so that things tend to speed up.

Question and Answer

See call and response.


Using a small, recognizable fragment of another melody in an arrangement or solo. It is sometimes called a compression, especially by singers.

Real Book

In the seventies, a group of students and teachers at Berklee put together a bunch of their fake charts into a book. They called it the "Real Book" because these were the "real" (presumably more accurate) ways to play these tunes. Although they remain popular, they are technically illegal (no royalties were paid) and are therefore difficult to find. There are now several other legal fake books that are readily available.


The changing of the chords to make a chord progression more interesting. This differs from substitution in that the fundamental harmonic function is altered, sometimes radically.

Rhythm Guitar

The art of accompanying others by providing chordal and rhythmic support.

Rhythm Section

This is the part of the band that provides the accompaniment. It typically contains a bass and drums and either a piano or guitar (or both.) Vibes would also be considered part of the rhythm section.


To "take a ride" is to take and improvised solo.


See pushing.


To improvise vocally, usually with non-sense syllables.


A shout section is a portion of a song where everyone plays a melody together, often the high point of the arrangement.


A non-improvised solo played by more than one instrument. It is very common in big band music.


This is and instrument playing a melody by itself (but usually with accompaniment.) In jazz, "solo" usualy refers to an improvised solo.


The concept of a "standard" has changed over time. Originally it meant a popular song (from the jazz age or before) that was used as a jazz song. For some, it also includes tunes composed by jazz musicians that have become part of the "standard" repertoire.

Stop Time

Sometimes the band will stop playing time and just hit the chords in a certain rhythmic patern, for example, on beat one of each measure. A melody or solo is usually played over the top.


Straight refers to the a 1:1 ratio of the eighth notes, as opposed to a swing interpretation. Latin jazz is a good example of a straight eighth notes.


The changing of some of the chords in a chord progression, usually to make it more interesting. This can be done at arranging time or spontaneously. Substitution differs from reharmonization in that the basic harmonic function remains the same.


If you want to start an argument, ask a group of musicians to define swing. In a group of five musicians, there will be at least seven definitions of swing. I will start with the simplest aspects of swing and get more advanced. One of the major components of swing is that of the relationship of the eighth notes. Traditionally, two successive eighth notes will have equal value, a 1:1 relationship. In other words, each eight note will last for 50% of the duration of the whole quarter note. This is called straight eight notes. But in jazz, not all eighth notes are equal. The simplest definition is that swing eight notes are long-short. The first eighth note takes up 67% of the duration and the second gets 33%, or a 2:1 relationship. Sometimes this is represented as eight note triplets with the first two tied together. In reality, this 2:1 relationship is not a given. It holds true at moderate tempos (about 120 bpm), but will tend to shorten (approach a 1:1 ratio) as the tempo increases and it will tend to lengthen (approach a 3:1) ratio at slower tempos. But the ratios will also differ from player to player. Another characteristic of swing is that the second eighth note tends to be accented and slurred into the next eighth note. It also often incorporates syncopation. True swing defies analytical definition. Try to listen to great players and absorb their swing feel. Swing can also refer to and era of jazz music.


Simple melodies often put the melody on the beat. For example, in 4/4 time, the melody would tend to land on the quarter notes. But syncopation puts some of the melody on the eighth notes in between the beats.


Repeating the last 2-8 measures of a song at the end. It may stay in the original key or, from one of the tags, it may go up a M2 or even a m3.

Time Feel

The placement of notes relative to the pulse of the song. One might assume that notes are to be played right on the beat (on top of the beat). But it reality, you can play the notes slightly behind the beat (laying back) or ahead of the beat. This is not to be confused with dragging or pushing, where you are playing at a different tempo than the rest of the band. In jazz, it is very common to play slightly behind the beat. You are playing at the same tempo, there is just a slight time delay before each of your notes. This creates a laid back, cool, relaxed feeling.


See head.

Tops and Tails

This refers to the beginning and ending of songs.


Sometimes, during a solo, soloists may take turns playing two, four, eight, or some other number of bars. It is very common to "trade fours" with the drummer. Please note that during each of the drummer’s four bar solo, even though no chords are being played, the chord progression is still transpiring.


This is the art of listening to and then writing down music. It is often applied to listening to a recorded solo and writing it down.


Transposition is putting a song into another key. Some instruments are called "transposing" instruments, because they naturally play in an offset key. A trumpet for example, is called a "Bb" instrument, because when he sees a C, he plays a C, but on the piano, it is really a Bb. This means that if you want him to play Take the A-Train in the key of C, then you need to tell him to play in the key of D. Alto saxophone is an "Eb" instrument so if you want to play Summertime in the key of Am, you need to give him a lead sheet in the key of F#m. Of the jazz instruments, clarinet, trumpet, soprano saxophone, and tenor saxophone are Bb instruments and alto saxophone and baritone saxophone are Eb instruments. Technically, both guitar and bass are also transposing instruments in that they transpose down and octave; they play the note one octave down from the one written.


A small piece of music (usually 2 bars) at the end of the chorus, used to bring us back to the beginning. It is not added onto the chorus but is built into the chord progression. If there is no turnaround specified in the chord progression, musicians will typically add them automatically. This works since most melodies end two bars before the end of the chorus. Two of the most common turnarrounds are iii-vi-ii-V and I-vi-ii-V.

Turn Around the Beat

This means to accidentally loose or gain and beat so that you are now one beat out of phase with the rest of the band. Now, instead of your accents being on beats two and four where they belong, they are now on one and three.

Twelve-Bar Blues

This is a very common chord progression in jazz, rock, country, and (of course) in the blues. It can be in the style of blues, in a jazzy style, or anything in between. It can be in a simple, old-style form, in the form of bebop blues, or even Bird blues. As extravagant as the substitutions can get, all twelve-bar blues tend to have a four bar phrase centered around the I chord, another four bar phrase centered around the IV chord for the first few bars, and a final four bars that starts with the first two bars centering around the V chord and then the final two bars turning around to the top.


A small, simple (often just a one or two chords) musical section that is repeated until cued to continue.


This term is used differently in different types of music. For a pop musician, it refers to a part of the song that is repeated with different lyrics each time. But to a jazz musician, the verse is an introduction to a standard (especially those from Broadway.)


Singers would take scatting to a whole new level and write out a story and set it to the melody of some instrumentalist's improvised solo. Sometimes, entire big band arrangements were sung with the help of multi tracking, the singers sing the various horn parts.


The practice of some musicians to sing along while they improvise.


A song in 3/4.

Who Parked the Car

A common rhythm for playing a jazz waltz is represented by the phrase, "Who parked the car?" The rhythm is "1 and (2) and 3."