Summertime Melody & Solo Study

Summertime is one of the most popular jazz tunes at jam sessions and on pick-up gigs. It’s also one of the most fun jazz tunes to play on guitar. Because of this, Summertime is an essential tune to have under your fingers. While is a popular and fun jazz standard, it’s often hard to know where to start. To help you get your hands and ears around Summertime, here’s the melody and a few soloing concepts to explore.

These concepts will help you navigate the chord changes of Summertime with confidence. Learning the melody ensures you always know where you are in the tune and enables you to quote the melody in your solos when inspiration strikes.

Summertime is a fun song, but it’s harder to play than it looks, so studying this material builds your confidence and skill set to navigate this jazz standard.

Have fun exploring the melody, sample solos, and improvisational concepts over this classic Gershwin tune.

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Video

Summertime Melody

Here are the tabs and notation for this easy arrangement of the Summertime theme, where I combine the melody with simple jazz chord voicings.

 

 

Summertime melody for jazz guitar

Summertime Scales

There are 2 guitar scales that can be used over the entire chord changes of Summertime, the A natural minor scale and the A minor blues scale.

 

A Natural Minor Scale

The first is the A natural minor scale (aka A Aeolian scale). This scale has the same notes as the C major scale.

 

A Natural Minor ScaleABCDEFG
12b345b6b7

 

Here is the most common fingering on guitar (but always learn to play all guitar scales over the entire fret board):

A natural minor scale diagram

A Minor Blues Scale

The minor blues scale has the same notes as the A minor pentatonic scale, but with an added blue note.

 

A Minor Blues ScaleACDD#EG
1b34#45b7

 

Here is the most common fingering:

A minor blues scale diagram

You can get by using only these 2 scales in your improvisation, but your solos will sound repetitive and not very interesting. One way to spice things up a bit is to add some other scales, especially over the dominant chords…

 

D Minor Harmonic Scale

This scale can be used in the 4th bar, over the ii V in D minor (Em7b5 A7):

 

D Minor Harmonic ScaleDEFGABbC#
Played over A7115b13b71b93

 

Here is the fingering in 5th position:

D Harmonic minor scale diagram

The harmonic minor scale can also be played over the ii Vs in A minor, but here we have to use the A harmonic minor scale:

 

A harmonic minor scale diagram

 

Summertime Arpeggios

Another way to add interest to your solos is using arpeggios. While explaining how arpeggios work is beyond the scope of this lesson, here’s one example you can use over the ii V in D minor in the 4th bar.

A common arpeggio to play over a dominant chord is the diminished arpeggio starting on the 3rd of that dominant chord.

For example, you can play a C#dim7 arpeggio over A7:

 

C#dim7 ArpeggioC#EGBb
Played over A735b7b9

 

Here’s a possible fingering:

C# diminished 7 arpeggio diagram

If you want to learn more about using arpeggios in your solos, check out The Easy Guide to Jazz Guitar Arpeggios.

Summertime Backing Track

Here’s a backing track you can use to practice:

Summertime Solo Study Chorus 1 [0:35 in the video]

 

Summertime jazz guitar solo 1

 

Bar 20: here I use an Am(add 9) arpeggio:

 

A minor add 9 arpeggio diagram

Bar 26: here I use a G triad arpeggio:

 

G arpeggioGBD
Played over Am7b7911

 

G triad arpeggio diagram

Summertime Solo Study Chorus 2 [1:02 in the video]

 

Summertime jazz guitar solo 2

 

Bar 38: here I play an Fmaj7 arpeggio over Dm7.

When playing over minor chords, play a maj7 arpeggio starting on the 3rd of that minor chord to get a 9 sound.

 

Fmaj7 arpeggioFACE
Played over Dm7b35b79

 

Fmaj7 arpeggio diagram

Bar 40: here I play the E altered scale, with a chromatic note in between (click here to learn how to use the altered scale).

 

E Altered ScaleEFGG#BbCD
1b9#93b5b13b7

 

E altered scale diagram

Bar 45: this is a Chet Baker phrase.

Summertime Solo Study Chorus 3 [1:30 in the video]

 

Summertime Jazz Guitar Solo 3

 

Click here to check out our Jazz Standard Study Guides, 5 eBooks that break down 5 classic jazz standards: All of Me, Autumn Leaves, Corcovado, In a Sentimental Mood and Summertime.

 

Jazz Standard Study Guides

  • JB says:

    Great lesson! The notation is incorrect for Bars 55 (that F-flat, vs the tab) and 64 (wrong rhythm). Just wanted to let you know because it’s been a big help to me!

  • Pierre95 says:

    Excellent blog for real musicians

  • felice scordi says:

    lezioni splendide .grazie

    • Dirk Laukens says:

      Glad you dig our lessons, Felice!

  • Sergio says:

    I like the lessons, but i havent conditions to buy the Ebooks, someone please help me.

  • pierre says:

    Très bel arrangement avec une belle sonorité et une telle facilité d’exécution! Je suis jaloux!!!Lol

  • hans says:

    Really Nice again!

  • Dallas says:

    You play this beautifully, I would really like to know how you get that nice mellow tone. I know tone is also how the player touches the notes (both left hand and right hand) but what suggestions would you have. Interested in knowing what amp your using and any pedals you us, settings on amp and guitar. Thank you so much.

    • NoChord says:

      basically set your mids max bass max or 3/4 and treble 1/2 and on your guitar turn your tone knob all the way down for such an extreme sound anyway that works for me
      i hope i could help

  • steve says:

    I really like how you have put this lesson together, thanks much!!

    • Dirk Laukens says:

      Thanks for the feedback Steve!

  • Jorge says:

    Gracias por esta leccion muy bueno

  • Miles says:

    Nice post!!! I can’t download the backing rack though, there seems to be a server error

    • Dirk Laukens says:

      Hi Miles, this should be fixed now, please try and let me know…

  • Matt Hawkins says:

    Hi Dirk,
    Thank you, you do so much work for us. I have been with you since the early days and you are always giving more and teaching new material. For the Love of Jazz…You Are Great. Ill get some one day to repay your kindness, and i will buy from you. All the best. Matt Hawkins.

  • Wizard3739 (Howie) says:

    This is an excellent jazz guitar improvisation lesson. The solo was was well done with good lines, good tone and good variation in the feel of the improv

  • Philip Peters says:

    Thank you for this wonderful lesson!

  • Andy says:

    Great lesson Dirk
    Thanks so mutch

  • Robert says:

    Many Thanks Dirk!
    Really looking forward to practice over the weekend now!

  • Igor says:

    Amazing!

  • Fred van Tongeren says:

    Hallo Dirk,
    Ik ben momenteel met vakantie.
    Na de vakantie pak ik de gitaar weer. Summertime is een heerlijk nummer. Na de vakantie ga ik mij daar zeker in verdiepen.
    Dank je wel voor de info.

  • Michael Hendry says:

    Good morning, Dirk.

    I’ve had a quick skim through this, and I’m looking forward to getting my teeth into it, but I have one comment to make about your description of the C# diminished arpeggio over an A7 chord.

    The reason this arpeggio works, and the way it functions as a replacement for a dominant seventh chord, is that it’s actually an A7b9 arpeggio that misses out the root. When I hear a diminished chord or arpeggio in context, it feels transitional to me – providing a stepping stone from one chord to the next. A dominant seventh has a different feel and function.

    Obviously there’s a tension in your lessons between the pragmatic (“this is where to find this arpeggio during a solo”) and the theoretical (“this is what’s really happening here”), but we’re big boys and girls on this forum, and I think we can take a little theory!

    My tip for finding where to start this arpeggio it to play the root first and slide up a semitone (to Bb in this case) before starting the familiar sequence of minor third intervals.

    A similar chord-naming issue arises with Em7b5, C9 and Gm6, where the same shape is used but is (usually!) given the name that fits its function.

  • Martin says:

    Thank you so much, Dirk. One of your best lessons, definitely. Wonderful tone and sound. So jazzy!

    • Theo says:

      Great Lesson, thank you very much!!

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