Tag Archives: jazz comping guitar

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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3 Things That Make You Sound Better Comping A Jazz Blues

When comping sounds great then it is actually not because of the chords you are playing. It is more about all the other things that you do with them that makes it work. Things like rhythm, chord movement, and melodies. This video will l help you get started developing your comping so that you don’t get stuck just playing chords and wondering why it doesn’t really work.

#1 The Easy Guitar Trick for Chords

One of the main things that you need to include in anything you play is tension and release. That is the way you make things interesting to listen to and keep people listening.

In this case, this is something that you can add to your comping in a very easy way on guitar, and it sounds both natural and pretty hip. But

 

at the beginning of this example, I am just using the basic 3rd and 7th voicings on the chord but as you can see this works just as well with chords with more extensions.

The principle is really simple; you create tension by moving the chord up or down a half step and then resolve the tension by moving back.

And this works great for the 3rd and 7th shells but is equally useful for larger chord voicings.

Let’s have a look at how you can use tension and release in a different way to make things flow a lot better

Comping in a band

One of the things that I learned a lot from with comping was focusing on being together with the drummer, so really trying to play clear ideas and react to what was happening especially on the snare so that it really becomes like a single instrument backing up the soloist! Of course, this doesn’t really work with a backing track as I use in this video.

#2 Give It Direction and Energy

One of the things that I love about Bebop is how the solo lines flow through the changes and are always moving towards the next chord.

And this is actually built into the harmony, so the chord progressions are really pushing forward which is not always what we focus on when playing the chords.

But it is really useful to always think ahead and try to work on ways to move to the next chord. There are 3 things you can use to get that forward motion.

In the first bar, I am using a melody that is ending clearly on the Eb7 which is helping things to move along.

The next two bars are setting up a rhythm and then in bar 4 playing the 3& really creates tension that wants to resolve on the next downbeat which pulls us to the Eb7

Bar 6 is first a bit of movement with the Edim chord and then a chromatic passing chord on beat 4 that resolves back into Bb7 and in that way adds energy and tension.

So I am using:

  • Melody
  • Rhythm
  • Chromatic Passing Chords

to create a comp that is moving forward, and working on these things with the forward motion in mind can help you get that into your playing.

#3 The Most Important Rhythm To Learn

Jazz is about rhythm, and If you think about it you probably already know that the rhythms that are important are the syncopated rhythms, the off-beats.

One way of really using this in your comping is to work on playing anticipated chords, something often associated with Red Garland, the piano player in the 1st Miles Davis Quintet

Practicing to use this in your comping is something you can do by only focusing on that by setting a metronome to 2&4 and play a vamp, like this:

And once you are familiar with this exercise then you can start to work on using it on the Blues like this

Rhythm is probably the strongest ingredient in comping, or in Jazz in general, and this last exercise is also the one that will improve your comping the most.

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Comping – How To Add Movement To Static Chords

Often you come across songs where you are comping a static chord for a few bars, and it can get a little boring with just one voicing, not adding energy and movement to the music. This video will give you some tricks to make places like that more interesting and show you how to add some beautiful chords and reharmonizations to your jazz guitar playing.

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Content:

00:00 Intro

00:33 Example 1 – Diatonic Passing Chords on You Stepped Out Of A Dream

01:05 Diatonic Passing Chords – Easy, Solid and Effective

01:38 Example 2 – Secondary Dominants on How High The Moon

02:04 Dominants and Tritones – The Strongest Pull

04:18 Example 3 – Ladybird With Secret Dim Chords

04:37 #IV Diminished – Overlooked

06:06 Voice-leading And Chords You Can’t Analyze

08:25 Example 6 – Take The A train with some voice-leading

08:39 Make Your Chord Progressions More Interesting

08:55 Like the video? Check out my Patreon page!

 

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Comping A Jazz Standard – This Is How To Get Started

Just learning the chords is not enough to really play something that sounds like real Jazz Comping, and you need to develop more than just finding some chord voicings.

In this video, I am going to take an easy Jazz Standard, and then show you how you can start with basic chords and step by step develop your comping, improvise with the chords, and lay down the harmony so that it sounds beautiful and interesting.

Level 1 – Basic Chords

Perdido is a great and very easy Jazz Standard to work on if you are new to playing Jazz, and as you will see, it is a good chord progression to develop some very solid comping skills.

If you play through an A part with a basic set of chords then you only need these basic chord voicings

And making this a little more interesting is pretty simple.

Splitting The Voicings In Two

What I am doing here is just adding some rhythms and splitting up the chord voicings in a bass part and a chord part.

Thinking of the chords as two layers like this is actually a really essential way of thinking of grooves, even if it is not that clear in Jazz.

This is of course also what happens with a walking bass and chords where there are clearly two active layers

Let’s have a look at what you can do the chord voicings to start comping with them

Level 2 – Rootless chords and melodies

The first thing to do is to take the basic voicings from example 1 and then turn them into rootless voicings by leaving out the bass note, like this:

And you can take the 3-note voicings in example 4 and try some different melody notes here as well:

You can also start adding melody notes on the top string:

In this way, you also have some small melodic exercises for the chords and that is going to be really useful for the next section when this has to be turned into comping.

Level 3 – Comping

With this material, you can now start to make short melodies and riffs and comp through an A-part. First I’ll show you how that sounds and then talk about how you practice playing like this

As you can see these are small melodies with a few notes on each chord, so you want to keep it really simple so it doesn’t get in the way.

Notice how I am not writing any extensions here because we are improvising with the chords and they are changing all the time, so it is better to just write the basic chord.

Develop Your Comping Rhythms

If you want to develop your own vocabulary then you could start with a single chord and just play simple two note melodies.

You can then take this to the song and start developing your comping.

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How To Make Your Comping Rhythms More Interesting

In this video, I am going to take a simple comping rhythm that you probably already know and show you some different ways that you can develop that and get some new material so that you don’t always play the same rhythms and can start developing your own playing.

Remember: If You Can Comp – You Can Work!

The Most Important Jazz Rhythm Known To Man

Throughout this video I am going to show you how you can mess around with this rhythm and everything is really simple, just playing a II V, but sometimes the rhythm suggests some extra things you can try so there are a few other tricks as well.

As you have probably guessed the first rhythm is just the basic Charleston, if you know only one rhythm, then make it that one.

So this you already know and you should be able to play it on all songs. Actually taking these rhythms through songs is a really good exercise and that goes for all the rhythms in this video.

Adding an Extra note

The first thing we can try is to add an extra note to the charleston

Notice that this rhythm is easier to play but it still sounds great! What you are doing here is adding a note before the 2nd note in the Charleston, but that is of course not the only option.

Syncopated rhythm

and of course, you can also add a note after one of the two notes to get a rhythm like this, which is a basic syncopation.

The way I am going through these examples and coming up with them is really just doing simple things like adding a note here and there or shifting the rhythm as you will see in the next example.

Don’t play on beat 1

The next thing you can try is shifting the entire rhythm.

Here I am moving it an 8th note, so instead of 1 and 2& it becomes 1& and 3. Of course, this works better with really simple rhythms like the one I am using here with only two notes. After this one, I’ll show you a great place to add a chromatic passing chord.

How Do You Practice The Rhythms

The way you get rhythms like this into your playing is probably by repeating them similar to what I do hear and then try to take them through some chord progressions you know like a blues or a standard you are really familiar with.

When you play it like that you really start to hear it and then it will start to pop up in your own comping.

Syncopated Upbeat

This rhythm adds an extra note to the previous shifted rhythm, which makes the first two notes sort of resolve on beat 3. I make that a little more clear by also using a chromatic passing chord to resolve to 3

Using chromatic passing chords on the guitar is often really just about sliding into the chord you want to end on.

The Boogaloo Rhythm

This rhythm is really useful for boogaloo and soul-jazz grooves like Sidewinder and Alligator Boogaloo. It is the original pattern but now shifted an entire quarter note so that it starts on beat 2.

It is the accent pattern that Barry Harris plays on sidewinder and it is a part of what Dr. Lonnie Smith plays on Alligator Boogaloo. These are both songs you want to know by the way.

Chromatic Boogaloo

Here you can add a note as well to have a rhythm like this:

Again I am using the chromatic passing chord on the G7 bar which just slides in place. It can be a little heavy if you make this a groove and have that chromatic note on the 3, but as a comping rhythm among other rhythms, it is fine.

 

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