Friday, September 11, 2009

The Jimmy Bruno Guitar Institute | Overview

I've long been a fan of jazz guitarist Jimmy Bruno.  And when I heard that he was offering an online jazz guitar course in 2007, I simply had to sign up at The Jimmy Bruno Guitar Institute.

I stayed for two 3-month subscription terms. At $60 per term, I felt that I had gotten more than my money's worth.

The layout of the course is very logical and systematic -- Jimmy Bruno takes the student from ground zero up to more advanced levels of jazz improvisation. Depending on one's current level, combined with the willingness to work dilligently every day at the material presented, the student should be able to become a fairly decent jazz guitar player in about a year.

Jimmy introduces his course using the piano to illustrate the concept of extended arpeggios -- a cornerstone concept in jazz improvisation -- and indeed the sound of jazz itself. Playing a basic C triad with his left hand, he plays extensions built in thirds above it and starts to explain how any chord can be played over using extended triads.

Jimmy then goes on to detail the 5 Forms which maps out the entire fretboard in any key. He also advocates being able to play in one position while going through all 12 keys using the 5 Forms, which I found to be particularly helpful. And quite challenging if you played all 12 keys through, say the Cycle of 4ths, using only one position on the guitar neck.

It's interesting that, by Jimmy's own admission, he has abandoned his rather complex fingering naming system which he detailed on his earlier video instructional tape No-Nonsense Jazz Guitar in favor of the more streamlined 5 Forms.

And I agree. I myself was baffled as to why he was using nomenclature such as '6V2' and '5V4' on his earlier tape to explain what were basically the 5 Forms.

Putting theory into practice, Jimmy begins creating simple jazz-style melodies out of the 5 forms and goes on to supply a myriad of ii-V patterns in various keys which he plays over Band-In-a-Box backing tracks. He plays all the examples on video, supplies the PDF file for all the notation and also makes the midi backing tracks downloadable so the student can further explore the concepts.

Jimmy also explains his improvisational approach to some basic jazz standards -- Blue Bossa, Satin Doll, There Will Be Another You and On Green Dolphin Street were all being thoroughly explored during the time of my subscription. I do believe he has since added more advanced tunes to analyse -- including that harmonic minefield, Giant Steps.

Perhaps the most innovative aspect of the entire course is the Masterclass section where enrolled students can submit their own improvisations for Jimmy to critique. While I felt that the lessons in the course curriculum were a little slow to come -- sometimes weeks passed with no new lessons -- Jimmy was absolutely on the ball with his video responses to student submissions. Which might have been the thing that took him away from his core curriculum development to begin with.

Bear in mind that I signed on in 2007 when the Institute was still in its infancy. The core curriculum is now probably well fleshed out -- which is the advantage to signing up later instead of earlier for this type of course.

There is no expense spared as far as the production quality -- there is absolutely none of that camera-in-a-poorly-lit-bedroom, dishevelled-hair-at-9-in-the-morning sort of vibe. The video is studio-quality sharp and the audio is excellent -- Jimmy even goes to the extent of sweetening the tone from his Sadowsky archtop with a touch of studio reverb.

While there is a lot of material for the student to download and work on, my only gripe perhaps is that the lesson videos themselves are not downloadable -- a protection against digital copying and file sharing. The only way to view them is to log-in and watch them online.

All in all, I would say that the material in JBGI is targetted at the beginner right up to the upper-intermediate level jazz guitar player. If you're already a gigging jazz guitarist there won't be much here that is groundbreaking or totally new in terms of theory or outside playing concepts.

But perhaps therein lies the beauty of Jimmy Bruno's approach, and indeed the approaches of all the legendary jazz masters who used simple, easy-to-use-on-the-bandstand concepts instead of being bogged down by a vocabulary derived from scales and modes.

And if you're a guitar teacher yourself, this course provides a huge resource from which to tap into.

Note: The Jimmy Bruno Guitar Institute has since closed.  Jimmy Bruno is now currently offering online jazz guitar lessons at

The complete home study jazz guitar course

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