Tag Archives: jazz comping guitar

Jazz Chords – The 3 Rules That Make You Sound Pro!

I am incredibly lucky that I get to jam with great musicians, and one of the reasons for that is something that Jazz beginners miss: You need to be able to lay down great-sounding chords that feel comfortable to play over. If you can’t play chords and comp then nobody wants to play with you. Let me show you 3 rules that your comping needs to follow, and don’t worry none of them are about difficult complicated chords and with the 3 rules, you can start to play beautiful and swinging comp, and even though I am starting with really simple chords, you can go as far as you want with this, check it out!

Let’s take a simple medium Bb blues, with a focus on playing as if you are in a duo with a horn, a vocalist, or another guitarist which means that when you are comping then you are responsible for three of the main ingredients of the song:

The Tempo, The Groove, and The Harmony.

#1 Be Clear

You need to be clear! Make it easy to understand what you are playing, where the time is, and how the groove sounds.

If we start with Time and rhythm: There is a great Peter Bernstein quote: “Don’t Be Afraid of the one when you are comping” – What that means is you have to communicate the groove to both the soloist and the audience, so stay grounded and play a chord on beat 1 often. That’s what makes it comfortable for the soloist and easy to follow for the audience. Be Clear!

When it comes to notes then being clear is about working with simple chords with a bass note

Like this:

I am playing shell-voicings here, so these easy 3-note versions of the chords: Bb7 and Eb7, Fm7 Bb7.

A trick I am using for Getting the groove across is that I split the shell-voicing into two layers: bass and chord,

You’ll see later just how much you can open that up and how powerful that is! Here it is helping me get the swing feel in there. Like this:

Notice how having two layers already is a melody, similar to how a drumkit has a bassdrum and a snare drum for comping.

A mistake that I sometimes hear is when a student plays too many sustained chords. Long sustained chords make it hard to feel the groove, and that works better if you are playing with somebody else who is laying down the groove, so try to avoid this:

And aim more for this:

Let’s look at the next rule which is more about HOW you play before getting to what you can do with the chords:

Be Connected

Be connected! This topic often concerns something that seems scary to most students trying to learn comping.

As you know, some people have the reputation of being magic at comping behind soloists, think of Herbie Hancock behind Miles or Wayne Shorter, or somebody like Wynton Kelly behind Wes Montgomery, but what makes them magic?

A lot of it is about having the right balance between 3 things:

  1. What is going on in the music or song
  2. What is the soloist playing
  3. What can I do with the harmony and the rhythm

The first two are about the most important part of playing Jazz chords, which is not rhythm, extensions or voice-leading. The most important part of playing Jazz chords is listening, and knowing when to play. You need to listen to the entire band and to the soloist. You can make horrible mistakes with that, for example, make sure that you don’t play a million syncopated chords

if the feel is more relaxed and open and the rest of the band sounds like this:

Another pitfall, that I see in lessons where I am teaching comping is that it turns into being about ear training and being able to, on the spot, transcribe and analyze everything being played while you are also playing the chords. That is not really how it works, of course, you want to hear and catch as much as you can, but you should also keep in mind that if the soloist is really busy and playing a lot then you don’t have to do so much, and you can even stop playing for a bit, or at least pull back to make it very basic. What is also important to keep in mind is that even if you know exactly what is being played then you are much more likely to get in the way if you also play a lot.

So you want to be connected with the song and the soloist so that what you play fits the mood and the energy and is nice to play over. But you also want to be connected to what YOU are playing.

That connection needs to be there, and it is so important to work on getting it in there so that it doesn’t sound like we are starting a new song every 4 beats. There is a great fairly simple way to start working on this: You need to learn to listen to yourself and you need to learn to think in phrases!  The best way to work on this is to start with the rhythm, and I’ll show you some tricks with the chords in the next part of the video. An easy way to train this is to repeat stuff through a song, and you will find that a lot of soloists find that very nice to play over because it is predictable and easy to both play off and get ideas from and you can rely on it.

So spend some time just taking a riff or rhythm through the song and then slowly start to develop or vary it, but keep the longer story in there as well! Once you can do that you can always open it up.

Make sure to practice with a metronome that is the fastest way to get better time and really be able to lay down a groove! If your groove sounds good with a metronome then your groove sounds good. If your groove sounds good with a backing track then maybe the backing track sounds good. I’ve said it before. Now we need top open up the chords!

Be Creative

We all want to play big beautiful chord voicings because that’s probably what we love about jazz chords: all the colors and extensions,  but at the same time it is much more important to get the rhythm right and not get in the way of the soloists or the other band members when you’re comping. If you are playing with a drummer and your rhythms don’t match that will sound horrible. When it comes to chords then If you check, you would probably be amazed at how most people you admire play very basic and simple chords most of the time. The groove and clarity is the most important!

So a good place to start is to add some forward Motion with the help of some easy and basic passing chords. As you will see, There’s no difficult theory or complicated formulas needed, I am just playing something that’s a half step, or a fret,  away from the chord that I want to go to and using that to drive the progression forward with some nice sounding energy! Something like this.

So I am going to the Eb7 from above and approaching the Bb7 from below, simple stuff just sliding the chord in place.

And of course, you can also use that if you just want to change things up while you’re on the same chord for a longer time.

Earlier in the video I showed you how to split the chord in two parts so that you have a bass note and a chord, but check out how you can take that up a few levels because that goes really really far and you can do all sorts of things!

You can probably tell that this is the same principle:  First playing the complete chord, maybe a simple version, to set up and be clear about where we are in the song. But after that then I don’t play the root anymore and instead, I am free to play a chord fill in between.

As you can see then I’m using all these other kind of voicings that are kind of coming out of the shell-voicing but also some drop2 and some triads. You can really do a lot with this and it’s a great way to create some fills. It is also great for adding some blues flavor to the whole thing.  Like this:

Getting Back To The Blues

I am essentially using the same as what I would do in a solo, so grace notes for the 3rd and making it short and simple prases that stay around the triad with the melody.

And once you clearly establish the chord, then you don’t have to play complete simple voicings on every 1 of every bar, that can be much more open, even completely rootless if that fits. I didn’t do anything with the bass yet, so let’s do that!

Bass!

Thinking like this you can also turn it around and then say well I want to have more movement in the bass and add either small parts of bass movement or walking bass like this:

or go to a complete section where you’re playing walking bass all the time, really adding that quarter-note drive which moves the whole thing forward and sounds great!

Once you start to add other chord voicings and complete chord solo fills then you also need to have a way to think about the chords that tie all those different voicings together. I go over a simple system for that important process in another video, and it is a lot easier than you might think and also sort of coming from how Joe Pass approaches chords. Check it out!

The Biggest Misunderstanding About Jazz Chords And How To Quickly Fix It

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Jazz Beginners: Grant Green Is The Most Important Guitarist To Check Out!

The Most Difficult Skill To Learn

You want to sound like Jazz. That’s the goal! You want to be able to take a song, solo over it, and play stuff that sounds right, with good phrasing and good timing. And That, is the most difficult thing about learning Jazz is not the technical things like scales and arpeggios, hitting the changes.

One of the best places to get started with this is to start learning solos by ear, and I think you should start with Grant Green solos. You might wonder why Grant Green

That is because His solos will teach you:

  • Amazing Bebop Phrasing and Vocabulary on the guitar (so it is easier to play)
  • Great Jazz Blues (In A few different variations)
  • Fairly simple with Friendly tempos

Because if you are learning solos by ear then don’t go straight to Allan Holdsworth.

I’ll show you some great Jazz Blues examples from Grant Green and in the process show you solos to check out that are fairly easy to start with.

Let’s start with a great Jazz Blues line from his solo on Solid which is both my favorite Grant Green album and a great Bb Blues:

You can hear how strong the phrasing is and how he is just sitting so nicely in the groove. The line is simple, it’s just triad stuff, major pentatonic with that 6th, the G,

in there and sliding into the 3rd:

Notice how he also has a lot of dynamics in the lines the low G at the end of the example is almost not there.

From Blues To Bop

You can probably tell that this is far from impossible to learn, and alsoa lot of fun to play! That’s the blues side of things, but there’s also some Bebop stuff to check out. Here are some triplet arpeggios, pivot arpeggios and trills:

I don’t know why, but that last phrase ending with a maj7th arpeggio that dips to the 6th and back to the maj7th reminds me of Peter Bernstein. I need to figure out why that is. This and the next example shows how Grant Green uses different sounds to keep the solo interesting.

First we get all this Bebop: You have a descending Fm7 triplet arpeggio,

some phrasing with a slide into G then an Abmaj7 pivot arpeggio,

something he uses VERY often, and which is also a great Bebop sound. And on the Eb7 you have the maj7th arpeggio from the 7th: Dbmaj7.

This is exactly the type of line and the type of vocabulary building blocks that you want to have in your fingers and in your ears as a part of your playing.

Changing Things Up

But to change things up then Grant Green really shifts to another gear, going back to some Blues phrasing:

Notice that he just really sticks to simple Bb lines and isn’t playing material that is based on the F7 chord that’s in the song.

Digging into the Blues as a contrast to the longer Bebop phrase. That is also a huge part of what makes him such a great example.

I am focusing on Jazz Blues because Grant Green is amazing at this, but there are many other things you can learn as well, as you will see.

My hot take on Grant Green’s tone not being great on all albums also makes this a good example because here he sounds quite different from some of the later examples, that might also be why this album is my favorite, though having Joe Henderson on Sax also doesn’t hurt!

Mixing Major and Minor Blues

One of the greatest parts of the Jazz Blues sound is when you mix major and minor blues and get some of that blues sound but also has some of the expensive extensions in there. That is what happens here in this simple but strong example. Later I’ll go over an example that really leans on the minor blues scale. Check out how he is using a short 3 or 4-note motif and just sitting on the root, but using that to connect the whole thing and turn it more than just running the chords. In the 4th bar goes to minor pentatonic to create a bit of tension to drive the Bb7 sound home before the progression moves to Eb7.

Often when you start to play Jazz then you only want to spell out the changes, play lines and add chromatic notes and arpeggios. That is important, but it is good to remember that all the guys we look up to also sometimes plays something really simple. It is about balance.

Grant Green – A Tale Of Two Tones

I’ll show you more examples of this Jazz Blues Mix later.

This example is from Cool Blues, another Bb Blues, and here you can also hear an example with a much thinner tone luckily not so much spring reverb as he has on the Standards album. I suspect that it is a combination of which amp settings and then which guitar he uses, possibly also what the recording engineer decided to do. In these earlier recordings like Cool Blues he is playing his ES330 which has p90s and he showed George Benson that he always sets his amp by turning down treble and bass completely and turning up the mids. I believe he was using a Fender Super Reverb. I do wonder if he wasn’t playing an amp without a mid control, I think most amps didn’t have that in 60s, but I am not sure. The tone is in any case fairly thin even compared to how he sounds in the first example from Solid, which I prefer. I tend to think it is about him not using a p90 from then on, but again I am, not sure. Let me know what you think, I know it is an unpopular opinion that I am not a fan of his early tone…

Check out how minor blues is also nice for Jazz:

Raw Minor Blues

Here’s another example from the album Grantstand which came out in 1961. When I was checking out what year this was from, because it sounded like an early album I noticed something quite mind-blowing: Grant Green Recorded 8 Albums as a leader in 1961!

That is pretty insane! And he was a sideman on 15-16 other albums.

Pretty impressive!

Check out how he starts his solo with some REAL minor blues:

This is all Box 1 Bb minor blues,

the only thing that doesn’t make it something Stevie Ray Vaughan or Clapton could have played is that he isn’t using any bends here. He stays with this sound and elegantly transitions into a solid Bebop line that I think also illustrates something that often is analyzed wrong on m7 chords, especially from this period.

It’s Not Melodic Minor

Check out how he is really just sliding into that B to go the G7 (play) and it is not just scale or arpeggio there is immediately a trill in there as well.

That Cm7 line really shines, it is simply a beautiful Bebop melody with that skip and the enclosure! (PLAY) Often you will hear people analyze that as Grant Green playing Melodic minor on Cm7, because there is no Bb in there but you do have a B.

That isn’t really what is happening, it is just an enclosure of the root with a chromatic leading note.

But as I have said in other videos: If you are trying to analyze and understand a lick or a melody then the answer is probably not a scale. That is just what notes are used and a random set of notes from the scale won’t sound that great. There is always more going on.

Let’s check out some motivic stuff with rhythm and maybe a line George Benson stole from him.

Melody and Rhythm

George Benson plays this exact turnaround in his Billie’s Bounce solo,

right t the spot where the studio lost power and the tempo gets warbly. I don’t know what you think, but I think it is a nod of gratitude to Grant Green.

Check out this pickup from his solo on Blues For Willarene:

 

I just wanted to include that. This Blues is from Grant’s First Stand which is another of his albums recorded in 61.

The main reason I am including this is this next phrase:

So again mixing the Major and minor blues sound setting up a motif (play) then he changes it a bit, mostly by moving it so the rhythm is more on offbeats.

then the next version uses a higher note and morphs into this motif which is all on one string, and he works with that going to Eb7 and back.

Another Intro To Jazz Blues: Joe Pass

The way Grant Green works with the rhythm in developing this motif is phenomenal! You can learn so much from playing these solos! Another solo that both defines great Jazz Blues and taught me a lot is the track “Joe’s Blues” from the album “Intercontinental” Check it out!

It is by far my favorite Joe Pass album to listen to and that Blues is incredible!

This Jazz Blues Solo is Perfect And Nobody Is Talking About It

 

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Jazz Comping – A Difficult Conversation With Aimee Nolte

Comping is one of the most fun parts of playing Jazz, but comping with both a piano and a guitar is incredibly difficult and the source of many frustrations!

In this video, I visit Aimee Nolte and we have a long and difficult conversion about comping, and we also play some music but most of that is on Aimee’s channel.

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This is Missing In Your Comping and Nobody Is Teaching It

When it comes to comping then you have lots of books and online lessons on learning chord voicings, and voice-leading, but when it comes to turning that into something that really works then there is really not a lot of advice available.

But there is actually a place to get some inspiration and strategies for developing your comping, which is what I want to show you here.

Probably a lot of you are now thinking that this is about rhythms, and that is sort of true but it is actually more than that, and I am 99% sure that  your solos will also benefit from looking at things from this perspective, because there are things in this that can really open up your playing in other ways as well.

A Blues with some Basic Ingredients

For this lesson, I am going to use a simple C blues as an example, and since this is not about using incredibly fancy chord voicings, the most chromatic voice-leading tricks or the hippest extensions then I am going to just use two different melody notes for each chord. Extensions and voicings are nice too, but that is not the focus right now and they will just become distractions that take away from what you should focus on, and I think you will see why.

The chords are kept pretty minimal but it is still more than enough to make some good music.

I will show you 3 types of exercises so that you can actually get your chords to sound like comping, and maybe open up how you think about phrasing and rhythm in general.

#1 Longer Phrases

When you focus on voicings and voice-leading then it is about either what notes you put together or how you get to the next chord in the song.

Of course, both of these things are important, but you can also see that when you focus on that then you are zoomed in and at most looking one bar ahead, and you are almost never playing a song with two bars, there is a whole form.

I don’t know about you, but the people in the rhythm section that I usually admire the most are actually the drummers. That is where the groove and the interaction are both clearly present and where the dynamics of the song are being created. A part of that is probably also that the musician that I really have to connect with when I am comping is the drummer, and for a drummer it is not about voice-leading or extensions, so how do they practice?

Rhythm is melody!

Where most guitar examples are one or two bar rhythms then drummers tend to do exercises that are over longer parts of the song, and working on something that is a combination of different patterns. An exercise might look like this:

Very often then the entire groove is not written out so it is assumed that the ride cymbal is being played, here the highhat is included, but what you want to focus on here is the snare drum rhythm, the rest is not important, you essentially want to read it as if it looks like this:

And this rhythm you can use as a comping pattern on guitar.

If you apply it to the first 4 bars of the Blues then you get:

The big advantage here is that you are starting to hear the rhythm as a melody, and phrases that are not just on a single chord but are a part of a longer sentence with a repeated part and a conclusion.

So phrases that contain smaller parts which fit together. That sounds like something that could be useful for other things than comping?

Thinking in 4 and 8-bar phrases

A side-note to this is that it makes a lot of sense to work on thinking of bar 4 as a conclusion, as the end of the sentence. That is also how our sense of form works, we feel things in groups of 4 or 8 bars and the more you play like that the better you feel that which will later eventually make you a lot stronger and more free.

There is an interview with Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter where they talk about how they feel the 12-bar blues as groups of bars together so that a Blues chorus is essentially a 3/4 bar. If you start feeling the form like that then you get a lot of freedom to do stuff in between which of course also describes how they often played.

Of course you want to take a 4-bar pattern like this and go through the whole blues form as well, but let’s move on to how you level this up to get some great comping rhythms going!

The method and exercises that I am showing you here was not how I learned to comp, but I sort of wish it was, because it would have made it a lot easier, and I have seen this work really well for my students. The way I learned was by being around great drummers and having the good fortune to be told about how comping worked as an interaction between drums and guitar, or drums and piano. What I am showing you here will help you listen to yourself to play something that makes sense and tells a story but it will also help you play natural phrases that a drummer can work with so that if you listen to each other then you can also connect and make music together.

#2 Making Your Own Phrases

You can of course start checking out Jazz Drumming lessons on comping to find more patterns like this, that is a great thing to do, and please leave a comment if you have some good resources like books or online lessons, but you can also start creating your own by taking the rhythms you already know, or listening to drummers that are great at this like Philly Joe Jones or Jimmy Cobb and take phrases from them and combine that with what you already know.

The important thing is that you take a step back and worry less about what extensions moving from the 9th to the b13, and instead try to play some strong melodic rhythms, some phrases that last 4 or 8 bars and make sense like that. Often listening to big band can be very useful for this, because you have the right types of simple melodies and strong rhythms in there.

If you start with the previous example but then change it up then you can get something like this for the next 4 bars of the blues, with the same format of a repeating figure and a phrase to end it all:

 

But you can also introduce more variation, for example going back to the original motif like now also changing or developing one of the repeats:

And really what you are doing making these is developing your ability to hear rhythms that make sense, and also listen to whether the rhythms you put together make sense as a melody for you.

How Wes Uses This In Solos

Another thing is that this can really open up is your soloing: Maybe take a listen to your solos and ask yourself how often they have phrases that last 4 bars with a beginning, a middle and an end? Maybe taking some time to think like this and incorporating that into your solos could be useful as well, there could be a video in that, et me know! The king of this is Wes! If you listen to how Wes improvises then you can certainly hear repeating patterns and motivic development.

Green = Call – Red = Response

You Can’t Practice Comping

Very often when I do a video on comping then I get a comment that tells me that comping is about interaction and therefore you can’t practice it. In my experience, that is not true, and the next exercise is actually about interacting but you are playing alone. Besides that, then there are so many skills involved with comping that you have plenty to work on even without interacting with a soloist and a rhythm section. Simply because you need to Play the chords, keep time, make sure that what you end up with makes sense and has the right colors, and the easier that is and the more freedom you have and it will be the easier to listen to what is going on around you. You also don’t only practice soling with a band, but there you have to interact as well, I hope you do at least…

#3 Call-response

Until now it has been about written exercises and composing, but you can also start to incorporate  improvisation so that you can work on hearing the rhythms in real time and get it to fit together while creating phrases, and this exercise can also be incredibly powerful for solos, but I will show you that in a bit.

An easy way to do that is to start with the layout from the written exercise, and in fact this is also about interacting because you play the written part and then treat that as a call which you then respond to with the next phrase which is your response. A chart using the first one-bar rhythm would look like this:

and with that you can pick a comfortable tempo and then start to fill in the empty bars and see what you come up with. You listen and then you play what fits with that.

If you get stuck then you can also stop and try to explore it out of time

As I said then this is also a very useful exercise if you are working on getting your solo phrases to go from licks next to each other and become more of a coherent story.

A simple version of that could be something like this where I repeat a first phrase and then develop material that is a response:

And your solos can also really improve from working on this:

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The 5 Skills That Make You Great At Comping

The most fun part of playing Jazz is playing with others and in the band shape the music together while you are playing. And when you are comping, that is a huge part of what you are doing, but a lot of the most important things about comping are not taught in lessons online and not in books on chords. So that is what I want to talk about in this video: Things that I learned, mostly from the people I played with or the people that hired me, and I have also found some great stories from some amazing musicians that explain it.

#1 Play The Chords

Even if it is not only about the chords, then you still need to be able to play the chords and get the harmony across, or the last thing you will hear on the gig is “Your Fired”

For any song you play, you need to know the voicings for all the chords

and have a basic understanding of what extensions are available in that song.

But it is incredibly important to remember what the overall goal is: Play the harmony in a way that fits with the music, so in this case the rest of the band.

This is what you need to focus on: build a practical and flexible chord vocabulary instead of learning complicated chords as grips that are sometimes difficult to play and that you can’t do anything with.

You want to try to not get stuck with a static chord, and focus on learning the voicings so that they are things you can improvise with. If you want a vocabulary of chords that helps you turn the symbols into music then this is the way. (b-roll)

It isn’t complicated: If you have a Bb7,

throw away the root. reduce it to the core.

Sit down and learn the other options and think of them as a small scale you can use on top of that chord

#2 Make It Into Music

If you approach chords and songs like this then the next skill gets a lot easier. Check out how Nir Felder Explains it, because he really nails it!

It is very often that I have students telling me how they are practicing chord inversions, but it is very rare that they talk about practicing comping.

And there IS a way to work towards playing music and not just feeding chords to a soloist.

When you practice, you need to play the song and make the music your priority. You are not just a robot interpreting a page in iReal.

So spend some time practicing comping a song and make that feel and sound good. You need to go beyond just playing a II V I or practicing voicings, and instead, also work towards playing entire songs.  There you can try to make melodies in your comping that work, take riffs through the progression, and make them into music.

#3 Communicate With The Band

Most comping lessons talk about how you should listen to the soloist, but actually, something else is at least as important if not more important.

Because, when you are comping then you need to get what you play to work together with the rest of the band, and think together with the rhythm section, especially the drummer.

Lewis Nash talks about it in this clip:

When you comp then you shape the music in that conversation with the drummer. I was lucky that I got the chance to play with some drummers that explained this to me early on and it is a bit strange that this is not talked about more also because it really makes playing together so much more fun.

With the rhythm section, you chose to be:

Repetitive:

Play sustained chords:

Busy:

Sparse:

loud, or soft and that is a huge part of how the music sounds. Of course, you are also listening to the soloist and the bass player, but most of this happens when you lock in with the drummer,  and I really think that is the backbone of any great rhythm section.

The way to start working on this is really with listening, I especially like the Wynton Kelly trio with Miles

or with Wes

for this, there are many great examples, and in my opinion, most of the good ones are piano, not guitar, which may be a painful truth…

Another tip is also to start checking out how drummers teach comping because I think we could really learn something from that, maybe that could be another video in fact. Let me know in the comments.

#4 Don’t Get in the Way

When I was still just getting started with Jazz then one of the first people that I really liked for the way he could comp was Russel Malone. I heard him playing behind Diana Krall and used a lot of that to figure out how to play behind singers. I also got to hear that trio live with Diana Krall, Ben Wolfe, and Russel Malone and at that concert, Russel took the solos so far out but still managed to bring us back home safely. That concert really blew my mind with harmonic things that sounded great but where I also had no idea what it was.

One of the things that is almost always a problem when you learn to comp is that you overplay. You practice all these things and then when you are in the band you want to use everything at once, and it ends up ruining the whole thing.

Comping is really like a conversation, you don’t open up a conversation by for example listing 25 Amazing and unknown facts about sheep.

This is also about getting that connection with the rest of the band that I already talked about, so it can be good to first focus on locking in with the drummer and the soloist. You can do that by leaving room with longer chords or more sparse comping in the beginning. That will give the freedom to take the music in a direction, and you can try to hear where they want to go.

#5 When To Push/ When To Support

Another aspect of comping is communicating with the soloist and figuring out when to push with more things happening in terms of density, rhythm, or harmony and when to lay back and supply a foundation for the soloist. When I have been playing as a sideman then I was often surprised by how this was very different from soloist to soloist. Some are really looking for ideas and communication and others just want something to play over without any interference. And this is really about trying to feel if the soloist is comfortable or not, it is a bit vague, but you do want to be aware.

As a soloist, I have had experiences playing a gig and when you start going to other places and reharmonizing the song then the piano player will very clearly spell out the original changes as if you are playing something wrong, or you take a solo and after playing one altered dominant then all the maj7 chords are maj#5 and the dominants are 13b9 chords because somebody practiced upper-structure triads that morning.

It is difficult to get this right but it is very important to be aware of, especially if you want to get called for another gig, and again it is something that I mostly picked up talking to people I played with and asking what they think, but you have to look out with that as well because you get great advice but sometimes you get presented with myths about how it works by someone who doesn’t know how it works or just can’t explain it.

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Jazz Chords – Easy To Advanced in 5 Levels

The most fun thing about Jazz chords and comping is that you can improvise with the chords and create your own sound in the song. But when you work on this then you need to get everything to work together:

Chords, Rhythm, and Melody!

That is what I want to show you in this video.

#1 Easy Jazz Chords To Great Jazz Chords

Let’s start with a basic set of chords that you can make a bit more interesting and then add some rhythm to. You probably know these already:

I already added some color to these chords, so the Dm7 has a 9th, and the G7 has a 13th, For now, the Cmaj7 is just a basic Cmaj7 chord

These already sound great and you can use them to play lots of songs, but we need them to be a bit more flexible, so let’s throw away the bass notes:

#2 Rhythm Is As Important

Now you have some more flexible chords to work with so the rhythm is the next thing to level up.

Here’s a solid riff you can use:

This demonstrates two important things  about comping rhythms:

First: Repeating rhythms is a very strong concept, it connects to the groove and is really comfortable for a soloist to play over, and actually it is a little bit overlooked for people wanting to play Jazz. It sounds amazing to just sit in the groove with the rest of the rhythm section

Second: When you think about rhythm then you want to think in longer periods, not just a single bar or even less. Here it is a 4-bar statement that is laying down the groove and then making a variation before the next 4-bar period starts. Comping is really about thinking like a drummer and playing the form, and in fact also locking in with the drummer when you play.

With some chords and more ideas about rhythm then you can add some melody to the progression, and you can do that in a few different ways.

#3 Melody and Fills (and more rhythm)

First. you want to just use melody in the chords and then later add fills in between the chords, and check out how this next example also uses another concept for the rhythm.

Let’s first look at the melodies. Here I am using the melodies that are the easiest to add to the chord, simply what I can reach on the top string which here is the B string:

So for Dm7 and for The G7 I have the same melody notes: – and for the Cmaj7 there are two:

The point here is that it should be easy to play, and you don’t need a ton of notes, in fact being too busy will probably just mean getting in the way.

The structure of the rhythm in this example is a mix of call-response and motivic development, so you have a call, then a response. Then I repeat the call and add a different response. When you listen to the rhythm, then try to really think of them as melodies because that is how you can make that a strong part of your playing, especially comping.

Before I start adding extra chords then let’s try adding some fills, so short melodies that are not played with the chords.

There are two ways you can use these:

#1 As melodies leading into or ending on a chord (slow b-roll)

#2 Or short melodies that just add something else in between chords (slow B-roll)

They sound like this:

The fills here have different functions in the music: The first one is a scale run, and really moving to the G7, where I am now using a 2-note version of that chord. The other is more used as a color or variation and is much more arpeggio based since it then sort of takes the place of playing a chord.

While fills often sound great they very easily get in the way of the soloist so you probably want to be a little careful with using them.

Why Don’t You Write G7(13)

I often get this question:

As you can see with fills and the melodies then the sound of the chord changes, sometimes there is a 9th sometimes there isn’t so it doesn’t really make too much sense to write extensions in sheet music unless you want to force the one playing the chords to use a specific sound. That is also why you mostly stick with symbols that demonstrate the basic version of the chord and then the rest is up to the taste and skills of the one playing chords.

Let’s look at a few ways you can change chords and add some extra chords to create a bit more movement.

#4 More Chords!

A great way to keep the chord progressions moving is to add some chords that have more tension and really pull towards a resolution.

This next example uses two ways of doing that.

You can add a chromatic passing chord. There are somewhat complicated theoretical explanations for this, but really it is just about looking at where you want to go and then take a chord that you can slide into that chord.

So if you want to go to this G7 then you can come from above like this: or you can slide up to the Cmaj7 like this.

Notice that I don’t put a name on the chords, and that is because that is not that important, they are just chords that you use to get to the main chord.

The other way that you can create tension is by altering dominants which makes them have more drive towards the resolution, like this:

And an example with chromatic passing chords and altered dominants sounds like this:

Two Ways To Think About Alterations

In this example, you see a G7(b13) on beat 4 of the 2nd bar, and here I am using the alteration as a way to play a chromatic leading note before resolving to the Cmaj7. When you do this then it doesn’t really influence the soloist to use a specific scale and force a different sound on the entire dominant, it’s really just a chromatic passing note. That’s one way to think of alterations on a dominant.

The other way you can use an altered dominant is to play it for an entire bar and really use that sound which also means that the soloist should also play a scale that fits with that. This is a different sound:

#5 Secret Melodies

Until now it has been about chords and the top-note melody, but there is another secret weapon, a beautiful way to add movement in your Jazz chords: Inner-voice movement.

Instead of having the top-note melody it can be nice to have simple melodies move inside the chord like this way of going from Dm7 to G7 with a chromatic enclosure inside the Dm7 chord:

And this also works incredibly well for a static Cmaj7 chord that otherwise can be a bit boring:

In context, that sounds like this:

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Jazz Chords – You Can Make It Simple And Unlock Amazing Sounds

A few years ago I was teaching a student and in the lesson, we were talking about Jazz Blues comping. He was frustrated with his own playing and said that he could not get it to sound right. Explaining that he wanted it to sound like my comping, but that I was using way too many chords and playing very complicated stuff.

To me, that was a bit surprising, because I was trying to demonstrate comping by keeping it simple and while we talked about it I started to realize that you could look at what I was playing as being a simple approach, but it could seem very feel complicated approach, and what really needed to change was the way you think about it.

Getting The Learning Process Right

When you are learning something new then the information can seem overwhelming but often this is also because you don’t have a way to organize what you are learning, and that means that you have to remember a lot of isolated bits of information when really this is about seeing how the pieces fit together as a whole. When it comes to Jazz Chords then, with a bit of practice, you can lean back and play and think about how it sounds instead of trying to figure out how to add a chromatic passing chord to the II chord of the secondary dominant that is added before going to II, because you are really just sliding into a chord.

So, in this video, I want to teach you that same lesson using a basic Jazz Blues, and also show you how to keep it simple and get it to sound right. I also want to show you how crazy it gets if you over-analyze because I think that is both funny and a good demonstration of how NOT to try to use music theory, something that so many get very wrong and that really gets in the way.

Start With Easy Chords

The first thing I told the student to do was to take a Blues in C and then dial all the chords back to 3rd and 7th. I had already taught him the basic shell-voicings and actually also some more complicated chords. That will give you this:

You ALWAYS want to be able to take the chords back to their most simple form and then build it up from there, as you will see this incredibly powerful.

This was close to how I was demonstrating comping the blues, but I was embellishing it a bit with some passing chords, doing things like this:

Here I am about using some approach chords and sliding into the chord, nothing that I consider too complicated. In my head, I am mostly thinking about the basic version of the chords:

But you can (over) analyze this and then it becomes this:

But that is certainly not what I am thinking, that seems way too complicated, and I think that is important to be aware of that because I am really just moving up or down a half-step and then back to the main chord. When I play I am using that to create some movement while still playing the chords in a way that you can hear the song and the harmony. You have to remember that the goal is to play the song and make that interesting in some way.

Nobody thinks complicated stuff when they play, by the time you play then it is a sound, it is something you are familiar with and it is certainly not you solving mathematical equations while trying to comp a blues. Nobody has time for that.

The Real Bonus

In this case, I am just using the 2-note chords, so I move around a bit more, and you want to explore doing that a bit, but the biggest bonus from simplifying and tying everything you play to a simple voicing is something like this, where I still just tie it all back to those original 2-note voicings:

What you see here is that I am still thinking from the basic 2-note chords, but I am using other melody notes not just moving the entire chord around.

So I showed the student how the C7 can be expanded into this:

and for the F7 you have this:

And the trick is just to think of it like a scale version of the chord, material that you can use to improvise while comping.

So a phrase like this:

Is not me thinking all these chords:

Because if you are comping and making music with the chords then it is more compact and efficient to think of it as this chord with this melody added

Because that way you can improvise with it and you are not drowning yourself with information and different chords when there is really only one chord in the song. (show C blues)

There are not 15 different chords at that point in the song, it is just a C7 or an F7.

This is also why I very often just write the basic chord quality no matter what extensions are in the chord, because That is the important information, and if I was comping the song then I am very likely to play something else in the next chorus.

How You Work Practice This

For this to work you need to have your basic shell-voicings and or 2-note voicings down and be able to play them through the song, then you want to sit down and go through the chords exploring some options for melody notes.

Keep it practical: So easy to play and easy to use, don’t worry about skipping some notes, you don’t need to play entire scales like this.

Work a bit on making melodies with each chord and then start using it while comping in a comfortable tempo.

You can even ease into it by only adding a few melody notes in the beginning, 2 or 3 options are already a lot for comping.

Let’s take a look at how to develop some melodies and what to listen for.

Where It Gets Really Great!

Like this, you have a lot of melody notes that fit on the chord, and you can probably hear the harmony in them, so if you want to get better at playing phrases with them then you can take one of the chords and then first just come up with a melody

and then add the chord under it:

Since this is comping and not a chord solo then it pays off to hold back a bit and not play too busy melodies.

Try to think about the rhythm, make sure to use repeated notes since that is a great way to lock in with the groove and even though you have a lot of options then it is good to remember that in comping less is more.

Another thing that works well for comping is to repeat things, when you do that in a solo then it is referred to as motivic development, but in comping that is often called a riff, and having a repeated pattern is also a solid way to glue the whole song together and it is often very nice for the soloist to play on a very stable background like that.

Wes and I Are Checking Out The Same Things

I often imagine some big band phrases that will get you on the right track. Recently I discovered that Wes also did this if you listen to his “shout chorus” on the blues “The Thumb”

And Wes learned this from playing and listening to big bands, so checking out some Count Basie to get some ideas on how to play great rhythms and melodies is not the worst idea ever.

All The Pieces Together

With more melodies notes you can still add all the tricks of sliding into the chord to add some chromatic movement and in that way get something that sounds like this:

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How to Make Jazz Chords Sound Great For Any Progression

I am sure you have looked at a chart with jazz chords and asked yourself, why do they play a m7(11) chord or how come that is a (b9b13) dominant? And if you ask, you get an answer which is very often a scale, like altered dominant or diminished scale, so no information that tells you that much about the choice of chord.

How do you get to that point where you can take a basic chord progression and then turn it into a piece of music with a flow of beautiful harmony? You hear it all the time but if you look at transcriptions then you are probably left wondering why is that m7(11) or how come that is dominant with a b13, and if you try to play that then it doesn’t fit together.

Instead of solving difficult music theory equations then you need to work on something else, let’s look at that process.

Get The Basic Harmony Down

For this I am going to use the beginning of All The Things You Are As An Example and built it up from the foundation.

The first thing you want to do is to just get the basic chords into your system, into your ears, and you can add a bit of rhythm to it. In the end, that is anyway more important than the notes:

I am keeping the chords sort of close to each other so it doesn’t sound like a huge jump moving from one chord to the next.

These are all pretty basic chords, and you probably know them already, so we want to start doing more to them in terms of adding color and also making the voicings fit together and tell a story.

Advanced Harmony: The First Step

Next, you want to turn them into rootless voicings. That way the voicings become a lot more flexible and you have more room to change things around, add notes and play melodies.

Melody Is More Important Than Harmony

As you will see, the secret to getting comping to sound great is not knowing the most difficult exotic voicings, it is about being able to make music with them, and already with these 3-note voicings that actually becomes a lot easier.

The big difference here is that it is not about thinking vertical chords, it is about tying the whole thing together with melody making how you play the chords into something that is a musical statement and not a bunch of notes next to another bunch of notes, because that is not how music works.

So you can practice making simple step-wise melodies like this and use different voicings to get it to work

And with this then you can hear other colors in the chords, but the whole thing works because the chords connect with a melody.

Practicing playing through chord progressions and making these simple stepwise top-note melodies is one of the best ways to explore harmony and make it into something practical that you can use because you are working on a song

I am sure you also recognize these chords as rootless versions of chords you already know:

First, you want to open up how you use the melody, and then we can go over some more advanced approaches to make the way you play chords more interesting.

Let The Melody Lead It

If you start thinking of the way you play chords as a slow chord solo or chord melody and not worry too much about extensions then it is easier to get the whole thing to sound good and you will anyway start finding the extensions but you can get them into your playing much more naturally.

For the first Fm7 chord it is already reduced to the Ab major triad, and you can add a lot of sounds and easily play melodies by just grabbing the notes around it that work with the chord, so more chord tones, and common extensions. In fact, you can just try stuff out and see what your ear tells you and then figure out what it is later.

and you can do the same for the Bbm7:

And don’t think about the Fm7 or Bbm7 variations as separate chords, you should think of them as stuff you can use when you want to use the basic Fm7 or Bbm7 voicing.

So if it says Fm7 Bbm7 you can play melodies like this:

or maybe even hint at another song:

This is about connecting material and making it flexible not about learning a bunch of chords that you can’t put together.

With this approach and an extra trick that I will get to, you can already do something like this:

You want to notice that I am using the techniques that I just covered and then there are two places where I add some extra chord voicings:

On the Eb7 the first chord is this triad voicing which is a very smooth transition coming from the Bbm7, and on the Abmaj7 I am also adding this shell voicing to transition to Dbmaj7.

So once you start to explore different ways of playing the basic chord then it is also a good idea to be aware of the chords around it, because It is all about finding practical ways to play the chords.

You also want to notice that the melodies are there to sit behind a soloist so you mostly use step-wise movement and try not to steal the attention from the soloist, unless you want to get fired, then you can just bring out your spiciest reharmonizations, and you might be gone before the 2nd set.

Start Using MORE Chords

The next steps are not nearly as important for how well you play the chords, they are more like icing on the cake where you can add some extra chords to take you to the next chord

 

In this example the chords that are added are written out as secondary tritone substitutions, so to go from Fm7 to Bbm7 I add a B7, and an E7 is helping the transition to Eb7.

This is a great thing to mess around with, but you do need to watch out that it doesn’t start clashing too much with whoever you are playing behind.

Another way you can add passing chords is using chromatic chords like this:

Here you have Am7 as an approach to Bbm7, and Amaj7 taking you to Abmaj7.

Often just thinking in chromatic passing chords on the guitar is a lot easier because it can be done visually and you don’t have to overthink what is going on.

Move The Other Voices

You can also take the chords and not only use the melody but build it with more layers which can open up for some amazing things, but it does come at a cost

The feel of this type of playing works better if you are a little less active rhythmically and it works better with sustained chords which makes it a little less useful for getting the groove across, but it is a great sound for the beginning of a song or with a soloist that leaves a lot of space.

The Fm7 moves the lowest voice down to the Ab on the Bbm7 and I am also introducing an Eb7 altered that is resolved to a single Eb on the Abmaj7. Under the sustained Eb there is room to move the chords a bit and this concept is also used on both Dbmaj7 and Cmaj7.

An Amazing Exercise For Jazz Chords (And Your Playing In General)

It is incredibly important that you work with jazz chords on a song and get better at putting them together as music. Another way to work on this skill is to also work on making chord melody arrangements of songs, so taking a melody and turning it into a harmonized piece that you can play as a solo guitar piece. If you check out this video then you can see how this will teach you a lot not only about harmony but also about melody, and open up how you think about Jazz chords and how you use them in your playing!

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Jazz Blues – How To Solo Only Using Triads And Why It Is Powerful

Why would you want to play a Jazz Blues just using triads?

When you have one triad per chord then that is only 3 notes:

  • That It is easy to remember
  • It helps you play better melodies and use more creative rhythms and
  • It is an amazing foundation for more complicated lines.

And finally, It also kind of fun to mess around with.

What is a Jazz Blues?

Let’s take a blues in C. If you take a simple 12 bar blues, the kind that would make ZZ top proud, then that would be these chords:

For a Jazz Blues then there are a few other chords in there, the II V, a dim chord, and some short II V’s:

To keep it simple let’s reduce it to one chord per bar and turn some of the quick II V’s into a single dominant>

Let’s keep it really easy:

For the C7 you can use a C major triad, like this one:

and then you can play solid phrases like this:

The next thing we need to figure out is what to play on the F7, but you probably already know this F7(9) chord:

and the top part of this F7 chord is a Cm triad, so for the F7 you can use a Cm triad.

and you already have a line on the F7, just change one note in the C7 line.

With these two triads you can cover the first two bars of the solo:

This idea of playing a C major and then a Cm phrase on the first two bars is a really great way to connect melodies and is something you’ll hear Parker do ALL THE TIME.

Triads For Altered Dominants

The next chord in the progression that you need a triad for is C7alt.

One way that you often play a chord like this is this C7(b9b13):

Here you have a Dbm triad as the top part of the chord, and that will work very well:

And because it is really close to the C major and the Cm triads then it is easy to make some strong melodies:

The Bonus of Limitation

Notice how you are really using the limitation of 3 notes to get a lot more creative with rhythm and melody. This is something I always liked about limitation exercises: Limiting yourself with one thing actually opens up more options with all the other things that you are not limiting. You will also see another nice side effect once we get to the II V in a few bars.

That Damned Diminished

Now we have the F#dim chord,

and here I will just take a triad in the chord: Eb dim, which is F#dim without the C.

And you can use that in a lick like this:

Notice that you can create the lick by moving the melody on the F7 and play the same melody on the F#dim, and again that also just ties those two phrases in a musical way.

A Scary Altered Chord

Before going on to the II V then there is one difficult-looking chord to deal with that isn’t really that difficult: A7alt.

You can use the same trick as with the C7alt. A7alt could be played like this:

So you have a Bbm triad at the top of this chord, and that triad is going to be a great fit for the chord. You can play that like this:

And then you can create lines like this:

II V Hacking with Triads

Let’s use a hack for the II V Since they are so common in Jazz then it makes sense to figure out these two chords at the same time and make sure the two triads really fit together.

One way you could play the chords would be this:

For the Dm7 that gives you an F major triad and the G7(b9) is an F diminished triad.

And these two fit together very well so they are easy to make lines with and also to create some motivic melodies. Something like this:

What you want to practice with material like this is really just being able to play more rhythmical and clear melodies. It is also a great way to really start getting those nice syncopated rhythms into your solos.

 

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3 Reasons Your Comping Sucks and How To Fix It

Usually when people talk about comping then it is about what chords to play, extensions and voicings, but that is not at all what comping is about. There are other things that you want to focus on that are a little less obvious. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t improve them. And you want to, because otherwise you are going to get fired….

You can probably split this into 3 main skills that you can develop, and these are things that you need to have some control over and you can always develop them further, and if you don’t know them then you will probably ruin the music for everyone!

The upside to this is that the things you will develop with this are also going to make you play better solos, in quite a few ways.

#1 Rhythm

When I went to jam sessions or was teaching combos then one thing that I often had to spend time on was teaching guitarists or piano players to not only think about the chords when they comp.

What Not To Do

I always found that the worst type of comping is when the one comping is only thinking about the notes and the voice-leading and is not taking responsibility for the groove or the interaction at all. Basic things like listening and having a vocabulary of rhythms and grooves is much more important than knowing a ton of fancy voicings.

No Fancy Chords! It’s a Blues

But there are great ways you can work on this. Let’s get rid of the fancy chords!

If you take a Bb Blues then you should be able to play through it with 2-note shells, so just the 3rd and 7th of each chord.

Like this:

When you don’t have more material in your chord then you are not thinking about extensions and colors or how to get to the next chord, so you have a lot more time to work on being creative with rhythm and locking in with the rhythm section.

While you are working on this then you probably start to notice how repeating patterns can be really useful, and make the whole thing strong, solidifying the groove and the chord.

Exercise 2

This is something that you also can spend some time working on, so try to take rhythms from people you like listening to and make them into riffs that you can take through a progression.

Wynton Kelly is a good choice for someone to listen to for this, but a lot of the hardbop guys are really good at laying down a groove like that, if you know a great example of someone comping on a song then leave a comment!

You need to remember that we learn this by hearing how it is supposed to sound, not by reading a book or using some sort of ruleset.

Practicing Riffs

An example of a pattern to practice through a song could be something like this:

And if you try, then you can hear how the consistency that it brings when you make it through the song and how it really helps actually keeps in interesting and also makes whatever variation you play so much more powerful.

I think this is one of the most underestimated things in comping that will make pretty much everyone sound 10 times as good.

The Golden Tip For Comping Rhythms

One thing that can change so much about how you sound when you comp and especially if it grooves is to Be aware of long and short notes, and use that creatively!

There is a big difference between:

and something like:

Essentially the rhythm is the same, and I am only changing between long and short notes.

#2 Melody

When you play chords then melody is one of the most important things to make it sound good. Something that helps you tie the whole thing together.

So, besides rhythms, you want to work on playing strong natural-sounding melodies that make sense.

Simply because this:

Does not sound as good as this:

And the difference is that the 2nd example has a melody, it is in itself a story with an interesting flow and more surprises, so you can easily hear how that works a lot better, but how do you develop that?

There are two things I think you want to work on here, and they both have some nice bonus side-effects for your playing.

Chord Melody Will Teach You

If you want to have great melodies when you are playing chords then learn to put chords under some great melodies, so harmonize great songs and make your own chord melody arrangements, like this fairly dense harmonization of There Will Never Be Another You

When you are harmonizing melodies like this then you are finding practical ways of playing melodies with chords and that is something you can take directly into your comping, and you anyway want to be able to harmonize the melodies you play with others.

Shortcut to Chord Solos

When you can improvise a melody in your comping then this is really just a less active chord solo, and you can still think in motivic development call-response. That is a great way make music with the chords

And comping like this is really just setting you up for playing complete chord solos of harmonized lines, which is one of my favorite things to do!

Let’s look at what is the core of comping, and how not to get fired!

#3 Responsibility

Almost nobody talks about this, but I do think this is the #1 reason that you will be considered a good sideman: You Need to be aware of your role in the band and try to serve the music, not your ego.

What Peter Bernstein is talking about here is the importance of making things clear, and being aware of how the music feels. Making other people feel comfortable while playing is incredibly important and not being afraid to lay down clear harmony for the rest to fly over is underestimated. You might want to show your chops and hip rhythms and chords but you need to know when to do that and when to just support.

Again with this, repeating patterns are often a good place to start because you are giving the soloist something predictable to build on and then you can start the conversation from there.

The Most Important Practice Tip

In the videos that I talk about how to learn Jazz then I often tell you to practice playing songs and make music with the things that you practice, and for me that was always how I worked on comping. You really learn so much from putting on the metronome on 2&4 and cop through a tune, think about how to get it to sound good and what kind of vibe it should have. I think that is the best way to work on this, but also something that whenever I ask students about it they look like it is a completely alien idea.

The Efficient Way To Learn Jazz Chords

There is a way to learn and look at Jazz chords that is much more efficient than just practicing drop2 or drop3 inversions and If you want to connect what you know and have more options to use the skills that you have developed with these exercises then check out this video which shows you how to think and organize that.

Comping A Jazz Standard – This Is How To Get Started

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