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Guitar lesson: How to start playing gypsy jazz

(Image credit: GAB Archive / Getty)

Guitar skills: Pioneered by Django Reinhardt, this jazz style grew out of Paris in the 1930s. Listen out for chromatic licks, swing feel and unusual sounding diminished and dominant chords.

What you need to know

Gear: The Selmer-Maccaferri acoustic guitar is closely-associated with the genre and Django Reinhardt. Gitane Guitars now make affordable versions.

Tone:  Get closer to the traditional tone by using silver plated copper or steel strings on an acoustic guitar. But playing further back towards the bridge with a thicker pick will serve you well, especially on an archtop or classic guitar. If your electro acoustic guitar has a graphic eq as part of its preamp, raise the midrange slightly.

Tip: Semitones matter here – Try playing the notes of a major chord, adding a semitone above each note as you go. This trick spells out an authentic gypsy-style melody (see the G chord below).

Three key players to hear

1. Django Reinhardt


2. Biréli Lagrène


3. John Jorgenson 


Learn this signature chord 

(Image credit: Future)

G chord with extra ‘semitone up’ notes


Gypsy jazz rhythm style 

(Image credit: Future)

The Gypsy Jazz rhythm style is very percussive, based on a swung 16th note groove known as ‘la pompe’. Here, play downstrokes on the chords, then a quick upstroke on the muted notes (marked ‘X’ in the tab). Our descending lick in bar 2 pays tribute to Django’s amazing injury-induced two-finger melodic technique.

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