How do you learn gypsy jazz guitar?

As soon as I heard Django Reihardt and other gypsy jazz guitarists I wanted to be able to play at least a little like that, and I am sure that just about any guitarist who hears gypsy jazz wants to as well. However the means to learn to play like this is not always readily available, and I speak with many years experience of trying. The biographies of Django Reinhardt and other great gypsy jazz guitarists from France and Belgium suggest that they were born into an environment where music was as much a part of life as eating and drinking and they had opportunities to learn from members of their close social group from an early age. This doesn’t happen to many aspiring gypsy jazz guitarists! A good teacher would be invaluable but again these are rare in many places. Sheffield, where I live, is a conurbation of a million people but I don’t know of any gypsy jazz guitar teachers. Generic jazz guitar methods are of no use at all – they mainly concentrate on scales whereas gypsy jazz is much more centred on arpeggios, they are often based on the premise that the type of jazz you want to play is bebop and they make great play of positional playing using all four fingers. Gypsy jazz, from my observations, is far more concerned with movement up and down the fretboard and most players usually use only their first three fingers when playing solos (and of course Django only used two).

What about specific gypsy jazz books and DVDs? Well there are a number of these available but many of them are dissappointing – I have shelves full of them! I will mention some more of the better ones in future posts but for now I will tell you about the one which I have just discovered and which might really be the solution to a lot of players’ needs – it is Robin Nolan’s Essential Gypsy Jazz Licks Vol 1.


There are many fantastic features about this book. Robin Nolan is a great player who tours all over the world and has many CDs available so we can be assured of his credentials as a gypsy jazz player. However many great players don’t make great teachers but Robin shows in this book that he is one of the exceptions. The book consists of carefully constructed solos over the changes to 5 common gypsy jazz tunes including a major and minor blues. For each tune there are five solos and these build from single note through octaves to chordal soloing. Each solo is made up of classic gypsy jazz licks that are just the sort of thing that every aspiring gypsy jazz guitarist wants to play – they don’t sound like dry technical exercises. The solos are given in ordinary notation and tabulature – no left hand fingerings are given but if you only use 2 or 3 fingers it is easy to work out sensible and consistent fingerings and that process in itself helps to assimilate the licks. The book has a CD with it which has all the solos played through twice, once at a slow speed and once at ‘gig’ speed which is absolutely invaluable. There are also notes about each solo which point out the musical features that make them work which enables you to work out your own licks.


I really can’t recommend this book enough and wish that it has been published twenty years ago – it should be everyone’s first port of call when learning gypsy jazz guitar soloing.


12 Responses to How do you learn gypsy jazz guitar?

  1. thanassis says:

    The book you mention is quite good, although I found it a bit limited (I would have prefered it much much larger). I really liked Stephane Wrembel’s “Introduction to the Gypsy Jazz Guitar” and Horowitz’s “Gypsy Picking”. The first highlights the importance of getting used to changing rythms and recomments adding at least 20 mins of daily practice on rythm changes only. It also contains very simple motives to use in all the arpeggios used in gypsy jazz. The second book is the only one that goes through a great detail explaining the picking technique.

  2. Christopher Brown says:

    Like most Gypsy Jazz people I have checked out everything available. It is important to have materials that are accessible to your own particular musical background.

    Ian Cruickshanks book is an old mainstay, and has been around for a long time–it is particulary good for people with no reading skills or much knowledge of jazz harmony.

    I came to Gypsy Jazz from years of playing straight ahead post bop jazz guitar, with reasonable reading skills; for me these are primary sources:

    Michael Horowitz’s Gypsy Picking book is essential

    Michael Horowitz and Andreas Öberg’s Gypsy Fire has been really helpful.

    Beyond that the Sammy Dassat and Angelo Debarres two books from France, Gypsy Guitar: The Secrets as Played by the Masters Vol. 1 & 2 are very helpful. I particularly like vol 2.

    I like Stephen Wrembels book too.

    Robin Nolins material is very accessible, but does quite have the same authenticity as the above material, and is a little simple. But still worthwhile.

    I would say the same thing even more for John Jorgensons books.

    I would also stress Transcriptions!!! Do your own, but also other peoples. There are lots of transcriptions books. But important: check them against the recording!!! They all have mistakes, even Michael Horowitz superb solo Django transcriptions.

    I learn Django transcriptions in two forms–1) two fingers only, and 2) four fingers.

    Then work it all into your own playing.

    Hope this is helpful.

    Christopher Brown

  3. I’m working on getting some of my transcriptions into Powertab. I have “LaGitane,”
    as a powertab file. If anybody wants a copy, email me thru my band’s site, and I’ll email it to you. BTW, Wrembel’s “Getting into Gypsy Jazz Guitar,” is worth getting,
    [I’m not saying it just because he’s a friend!] Also, most importat is to learn to do a good “Pompe.” If you don’t have that, nothing else will really make sense or matter!

  4. hey I just find out this great course

  5. angel yebra says:

    Hi! I’m trying to change my right hand way of picking following Michael Horowitz’s Gypsy Picking book, but I don´t know if I’m doing it in a right way, I’m looking for someone who could help me to find a good “rutine” , how many time expend in each exercise….etc, there are not many gypsy jazz guitars teachers in Spain.

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