Jazz Chords – The 7 Comping Rhythms That Really Matter

Even if you are like “Guitar George” and know all the chords, that won’t get you anywhere if you don’t have some solid rhythms to use while playing chords behind a soloist. Let’s make sure that is not what is holding you back!

Here are 7 comping rhythms that will make you sound a lot better when you are playing chords, some of them can get even you in trouble, but if you use them the right way they are amazing. I’ll also go over some other essential things to consider playing chords!

Rhythm #1 – Charleston

The Charleston rhythm: It’s quite magical if you think about it, it is a two-note rhythm with a clear downbeat and syncopation.

This is probably the rhythm that most lessons start with, and it is a solid foundation. Here’s a bit of  Take the A-train using that rhythm:

And as you can hear, this already sounds full and clear enough so that you can easily solo on it. A bonus is that  The Charleston Rhythm becomes a great exercise in anticipating chords as well if you play a song with several chords per bar, because you play the 2nd chord on the 2&.

You can hear this in another Strayhorn classic, Satin Doll:

What really matters is not the short rhythms, it is how you put them together, let’s first get some more rhythms to work with.

The Chords You Should Start With

The chords I am using to demonstrate these rhythms are shell-voicings which are simple and easy to play 3-note versions of the 7th chords that you can use to get the harmony across and later also can use as a foundation to expand on and add more color and extensions.

I have videos on that part of it and I’ll link to them in the description of this video. In the end,

this is more about the rhythm than the chords, and I think this entire video applies to other instruments as well, not just guitar. What do you think?

B-roll: Split screen:; Illustration with 1-bar Charleston and arrows to blurred 1-bar patterns

The Charleston rhythm is very clear and strong, but you want more rhythms to put together in your comping and not just play the same thing all the time, and you can add a lot more energy to the Charleston by making a very simple change!

Rhythm #2 – Shifted Charleston

First, we had a very grounded and clear Charleston rhythm

But check out what happens when I shift the rhythm an 8th-note. You can hear much more energy pushing the music forward.

Like this, it is great for intros, really helping us get to the beginning of the melody.

 

The Real Power: Combinations

One thing that so many jazz beginners don’t get right when they are starting out is that rhythm is really melody, and you need to think of these smaller comping patterns as words, and if you want to say something then you need to put the words together in a sentence and maybe even put the sentences together into a story.

Already with these two patterns you can put it together and create something that sounds really solid, like these first 4 bars of A-train:

Let’s do another transformation of the Charleston and play it upside down to really give it forward motion, and hen I will tell you a bit more about how to practice these rhythms.

Rhythm #3 Mirrored Charleston

The first Charleston was a downbeat followed by a more interesting offbeat on 2&, but what if we mirror that in the barline to get a note on 3& that really drives us to the 1 in the next bar?

It almost sounds like the kind of rhythm you would have in a stop-chorus:

Using this rhythm as a repeated riff is maybe not amazing, but check out how it works together with another rhythm, especially on the repeat:

Rhythm #4 – Longer Words

Let’s add two new things: A Longer rhythm and a repeated note. Here it is on A-train:

And this one also sounds amazing on a more dense progression like Satin Doll:

These are all still fairly safe, but later there are a few where you need to be a little more careful. First let’s talk about how to get the most out of these short patterns.

Building Your Rhythm Vocabulary

This might sound a bit like a paradox. The first thing you want to do is of course to learn to play the rhythms, either using a single chord.

or the examples I have given you here in the video, You can download a PDF on my website.

But as soon as you start getting familiar with them then you also want to spend time making variations and inventing your own rhythms so that they start to open up a bit. It has to become a natural flow and something you can improvise with. Just explore adding or leaving out notes to get new ideas

Rhythm #5 Just Like Red Garland

This rhythm is a great way to make it lighter, move forward, and emphasize the swing. And you do this without getting in the way of the soloist, which is of course also very important. It is also a nice exercise in being precise and anticipating the chord:

And it combines very well with other rhythms like this intro:

Rhythm #6 – A Few More Notes

Let’s add some more double-notes, because that’s a great sound, and a very clear way to get the groove and the swing across.  After that, we can get to that one tricky rhythm. check out this 2 bar pattern:

See if you can spot how you can look at the 2 bars as both being variations of the Charleston rhythm, thinking like that can give you a lot of useful options to explore!

And check out how great that sounds on Satin Doll:

Rhythm #7 Anticipate Getting Fired

This is one of those rhythms that you don’t use all the time, but even if you don’t throw it in at random,  it is very important that you are able to play it and not get lost if it comes along, and it is not at all uncommon!

Bringing It All Together

If you put in the right place it sounds great! Working on rhythms and voicings is important when you develop your comping, but to really make it work, some other exercises bring that together and helps you get there a lot faster! You want to check out this video to get started with those exercises.

Learn Jazz Make Music.

3 Basic Jazz Chord Exercises That Will Change Your Playing in 2024

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