RGT Jazz Guitar Performance DipLCM Exam Rhythm Guitar Preparation

RGT Jazz Guitar Performance DipLCMWhen preparing a student, or preparing yourself as a candidate, for the Jazz Guitar Performance DipLCM Exam, one of the sections that tends to provide the biggest challenge is the Rhythm Guitar Playing section of the exam.

Sight reading chord changes in an exam can be stressful if one is not fully prepared, as the chords will move by quickly and the added extensions such as b9s, #9s and 13ths, can add an extra layer of difficulty to any rhythm guitar sight-reading situation.

While it can pose a challenge, by practicing sight-reading chord changes each day in your practice routine, and working specific exercises that address common problems that often arise when reading changes on the guitar, you will ensure that you are as prepared as possible to tackle this section of the Jazz Guitar Performance DipLCM Exam.

In this article, we’ll be looking at the requirements for the Rhythm Guitar Playing section of the exam, as well as exploring a few exercises that I have found helpful when preparing my students for this section of the DipLCM exam in jazz guitar performance.

Click to read the first article in this series “Jazz Guitar Performance DipLCM Exam Technical Knowledge Requirements.”

Click to read the second part of this series “Jazz Guitar Performance DipLCM Exam Tips 2 – Performance.”


Component 3 – Rhythm Guitar Playing

This is the third section of the DipLCM exam presented in the Jazz Guitar Diploma Syllabus, which you can reference at any time for more detailed information on this, or any, section of the Jazz Guitar Performance DipLCM exam.

In the syllabus it states that the chords in this section will not exceed the difficulty of those in the first section, Technical Knowledge, of the exam.

This means that if you have memorized the chords required in section one of the exam, then you will give yourself a better chance of being fully prepared for this section of the exam.

One of the key elements of the description in the syllabus, is the sentence that states the candidate should “improvise a rhythm part.”

This sentence informs us that the performance should not just be an accurate reading of the chords on the page, but that the performance should be musical and creative as well, something that should be considered when preparing for this section of the Jazz Guitar Performance DipLCM exam.

Because of this element, one of the best ways I’ve found to prepare students to successfully pass this part of the exam, is to practice comping along with famous recordings.

For example, one could practice comping along with the Miles Davis version of “Freddie Freeloader” in order to work on interactivity, time feel, groove and melodic content when comping, all of which will be positive contributions to any performance during this section of the exam.

If you are preparing for the RGT Jazz Performance DipLCM Exam, I highly recommend picking up both the “Jazz Guitar Diplomas Handbook” and the “Guitar Play-Along Volume 16: Jazz Guitar” as these volumes contain all the background info needed to prepare for this exam, as well as the lead sheets, sample solos and backing tracks for the tunes required, as well as practice chord progressions for the Rhythm Guitar Playing component of the exam.


3 Exercises for Rhythm Playing Preparation

When preparing students for Rhythm Guitar section of the DipLCM exam, I have worked out a number of exercises that you can do or use with your students in order to be as secure as possible with this section of the exam.

Below are three of my favorite ways to work on sight-reading chord changes, both for this exam and in general, that you can explore in the woodshed.

If you have a particular exercise that you use to prepare for the Rhythm Guitar section of the exam, feel free to share it in the comments section below.


1 – Chord Etudes Over Standards

This first exercise is designed to slow things way down, and use composition as a tool to increase one’s ability to sight read through chord changes using proper voice leading and inversions/extensions throughout.

Here are the steps in this exercise to follow in the woodshed.


  1. Pick a standard of about the same difficulty level as the prepared pieces listed for the DipLCM exam, it could even be one of the other tunes on the list that you aren’t preparing for this exam.
  2. Begin by choosing a starting grip for the first chord in the tune, it could be on any string set or with any inversion, so feel free to explore different shapes with this exercise over the same tune over time.
  3. Write that first shape on a piece of manuscript paper, as it will be used to voice-lead to the subsequent chords in the tune.
  4. From there, work out all of the rest of the chords in the tune based within one or two-fret distance from that starting shape. So, by the end, you should have one chord shape written out for each chord in the tune, and your hand shouldn’t have moved more than one or two frets up or down the neck from that starting chord shape.
  5. Once written out, put on a backing track and jam along using these chord shapes for your comping ideas, memorizing them as soon as possible in order to fully internalize the shapes as well as the voice leading in this exercise.
  6. Repeat this process on the same tune, or on other tunes, using various starting chords and inversion and keeping the rest of the shapes in that position of the neck throughout the tune.


This exercise is a great way to work on voice leading, as well as internalize chord inversions, and applying both of these concepts to common chord changes and jazz tunes at the same time.

Often times, the biggest problem we have as guitarists when sight-reading chords is that we jump around the neck too much, causing our chords to sound jagged as well as posing technical problems from jumping all over the neck between chord shapes.

Learning how to always move to the closest inversion of the next chord in a progression will eliminate those jumps, and give your comping a smooth quality that is indicative of the great jazz-guitar compers in history such as Ed Bickert, Jim Hall and Joe Pass.


2 – Sight Reading Recording Exercise

One of the best ways to put pressure on yourself in the practice room, to simulate how you will feel on exam day, is to record yourself sight-reading through chord changes in your practice routine.

For this exercise, I like to use the Real Book, or other Fakebook, as they will have hundreds of tunes for your to sight read as you prepare for this section of the exam.

From there, you can put on a metronome, maybe at a slower tempo than indicated to begin, and record yourself sight-reading the chord changes of the tune.

After you have made it through the tune 2 to 3 times, stop the recording, grab a pen and paper, and listen back to what you recorded.

When listening back, which can be difficult to do as we are usually our worst critics, ask yourself the following questions and take notes on how you can work through any issues you find in your jazz-guitar daily routine.

  1. Was the tempo and time secure?
  2. Were the rhythms basic, or more interactive and creative as they would be in a combo situation?
  3. Did I manage to play every extension notated in the chart? And if not, which ones did I miss, was it consistent or random?
  4. Was there enough melodic interest in what I was playing to inspire a soloist that might have been blowing over those chords?
  5. What was the best part of what I just played?
  6. What is one thing I can work on today that will improve my sight-reading for tomorrow’s recording?

Though it is often hard to listen back to ourselves, and analyze our playing in a constructive fashion, it is these types of exercises that the best players in the world go through, as they can often produce the quickest and most beneficial results in the woodshed.

Try out this exercise, and though difficult, see how it can improve your playing over the course of even a few days, or a week, when it comes to sight reading chord changes on the guitar.

3 – Working From the Top Down

One of the most important, and difficult, skill for any jazz guitarist to learn is to be able to see any chord from the melody line down, rather than the bass-note up.

When comping chords, guitarists often think of the lowest note as the most important, we choose that note first and build our chords up from there.

But, when listening to your chords, audience members will hear the top note as the most important as that’s the note that stands out sonically more than any other notes in the chords, mostly because it’s the highest note of the chord you are playing at that time.

Because of this, we need to rethink our approach to chords a bit in order to take them to a professional level in a comping situation, and we do this by seeing the top note as the most important of any chord, and then add notes below that note to harmonize it from there.

Here is an example of how to practice this skill in order to introduce it to your practice routine, and later on, add to your sight-reading over chords when this approach to comping becomes more comfortable under your fingers.


Step 1 – Find a Melody Line

First off, grab a tune or chord progression that you want to work on, such as the ii-V-I-VI progression in the example below. From there, write out a melody line that uses notes from each chord, you can start with one note per chord, or two notes as in the example below, depending on the tempo and style of tune you’re playing.

Here is a sample line that I wrote out over this chord progression.

RGT Jazz Diploma Rhythm Guitar

Notice that I kept the notes on the top two-strings of the guitar, this will come in handy when we add notes below this melody line in the next step in order to bring chord shapes into the picture.

If your melody line is on the 3rd string or below, it eliminates a lot of real estate on the fretboard that you could use to harmonize your melody line.


Step 2 – Harmonize That Line

Now that you have the melody line worked out, you can add chord shapes below this line, getting you to start thinking about the top note of any chord as the most important when building any shape, rather than the more common lowest note approach.

You can use any chords that fit that melody note, and the underlying chord change, but you could use this time to work on a specific chord grip that is giving you trouble such as Drop 2, Drop 3 or 4th voicings, or whatever chord grips you are focusing on at this point in your jazz guitar practice routine.

Here is an example of how I would harmonize the above melody line, using only one chord per note for now, keeping the rhythm simple before expanding on it in the next section of this exercise.

RGT Jazz Diploma Rhythm Guitar 2

Step 3 – Add in Rhythm and Melodic Content

Now that you have a harmonized melody line under your fingers, you can begin to spice it up by improvising with these chord shapes over the underlying progression, experimenting with various rhythms and adding in passing chords, melody notes and other melodic/harmonic devices in the process.

This is a great opportunity to work on the creative side of sight reading, working out patterns, licks and phrases that you can later draw up when sight-reading chord changes during the Rhythm Guitar section of the DipLCM exam.

Here is an example of how I would add rhythm and harmonic/melodic devices to the harmonized melody line we’ve been using so far in this section.

RGT Jazz Diploma Rhythm Guitar 3

As you can see, this section of the exam will take a lot of practicing and hard work to get down, and fully prepare yourself for success in the exam room.

But, reading chord changes is something that every jazz guitarist needs to be able to do fluently and flawlessly in the real world, so any work put into this section of the exam will also pay off in real life situations as you continue your development on the bandstand.


Do you have any questions about this article or about the Jazz Guitar Performance Exam? Post them in the comments section below this article.

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About Dr. Matthew Warnock

Matt Warnock is the owner of mattwarnockguitar.com, a free website that provides hundreds of lessons and resources designed to help guitarists of all experience levels meet their practice and performance goals. Matt lives in the UK, where he is a lecturer in Popular Music Performance at the University of Chester and an examiner for the Registry of Guitar Tutors.

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