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. But, while is a popular and fun tune, it’s often hard to know where to start. To help you get your hands, head, and ears around summertime, here’s the melody and a few soloing concepts to explore.
These concepts will help you navigate the changes to Summertime with confidence, and the melody ensures you always know where you are on the tune and can quote the melody in your solos when inspiration strikes.
Have fun exploring this melody, sample solos, and improvisational concepts over this classic Gershwin tune.
It’s a fun song, but often harder than it looks, so studying this material builds your confidence and skill set to navigate this jazz standard.
Here is an easy arrangement of the Summertime theme:
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 Scale||A||B||C||D||E||F||G|
Here is the most common fingering on guitar (but always learn to play all guitar scales over the entire fret board):
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 Scale||A||C||D||D#||E||G|
Here is the most common fingering:
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 Scale||D||E||F||G||A||Bb||C#|
|Played over A7||11||5||b13||b7||1||b9||3|
Here is the fingering in 5th position:
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:
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:
|Played over A7||3||5||b7||b9|
Here’s a possible fingering:
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]
Bar 20: here I use an Am(add 9) arpeggio:
Bar 26: here I use a G triad arpeggio:
|Played over Am7||b7||9||11|
Summertime Solo Study Chorus 2 [1:02 in the video]
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.
|Played over Dm7||b3||5||b7||9|
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 Scale||E||F||G||G#||Bb||C||D|
Bar 45: this is a Chet Baker phrase.
Summertime Solo Study Chorus 3 [1:30 in the video]
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.