Tag Archives: jazz comping lesson

The 5 Mistakes Beginners Make Learning Jazz Chords

The best thing about Jazz Guitar is probably the chords! The feeling of taking a progression and then turning it into beautiful music with melody and all these interesting colors and fills.

But when you start learning Jazz chords, there are a few things that work against you and slow down that process, so that maybe you never really get there even though you dream about sounding like Joe Pass and Ted Greene.

Let me show you what to watch out for and how to fix it, there might be a few hard-to-swallow pills in there, so sorry about that….

#1 Diagrams Become A Limitation

These first mistakes are bad but get worse as we move through the list. One of the things that I get asked to add most often and that many students like to use is chord diagrams.

At first glance, diagrams make a lot of sense because it is easy to look at a chord diagram and then see how to put down your fingers in your mind. That also often fits with the first way we learned chords on the guitar like a basic C major chord:

 

In the beginning that was a C major chord, and you knew what it was but had no idea what notes were in there or even why it was a C major chord.

That is also the problem you run into when working with diagrams, you don’t learn what notes are in the chord, and there is another very bad side-effect to this that I will return to later.

Luckily, you can fix this by actually learning what notes are in the chords and making sure to understand how the chord is constructed.

Then it isn’t a mystery where the 9th is on this Cmaj7 chord

 

or why this is a Cmaj7     and so is this,    even though they are very different-looking chord diagrams.

In the long run, it really pays off to not be superficial, something that comes up quite a few times in this video and I will also talk about how you should practice, not only the mistakes.

Inversions Are Sometimes A Waste Of Time

Not all inversions are created equal some of them are not important enough to spend a lot of time on, especially not in the beginning. A few months ago I was giving an online masterclass on OpenStudio,

and afterward in the Q&A which was cohosted by Adam Maness,  one of the students asked about working on Drop3 voicing inversions and playing songs and progressions only using that. I said that I had done that with Drop2 but not with Drop3 voicings but it occurred to me that maybe Piano players did that differently so I asked Adam if he had ever worked like that. Turns out that this is also not common on piano.

Why do I tell you that story? It is very common for me to see students both on Patreon or in the Roadmap course talk about how they are working on learning all inversions of a set of chords,

and often that also means that they are not working on using those inversions, just working on the exercises, and that is not useful at all. This is true for drop3 voicings but also for drop2: some are more versatile and useful than others, and you don’t want to waste too much time on less common inversions when you could instead focus on getting better at playing music with the practical ones.

Instead of focusing on inversions as a way to learn chords then there is a much more practical approach and I have a video on that approach which I will link to in the video description, but maybe first check out this next tip because that is also an important part of that puzzle.

Think Scales Not Chords

Think Scales, Not chords! This is probably one of students’ biggest roadblocks when trying to learn to play chords in Jazz: The Curse of the Static Grips.

For most Jazz one of the essential parts of harmony and chords is that it is about how they move, and that means that you don’t really just look at a chord symbol and then translate that to a specific grip.

Instead, it would be best if you learned to see the chord symbol in the context of the song and then understand all the options you have available and use that as a way to create a flow through the harmony with melody and rhythm.

For me, this means that I often don’t really think of chords in terms of specific extensions, instead I use the sound of the chord in the song, and I think of the entire scale, from that I can add and leave out extensions to create the sound that I want to play at that moment.

Check out this short example and how I am playing lots of different extensions,

and try to imagine just how complicated the chord symbol would need to be when it is in fact just a blues in C.

So as you can see here it is just a basic Blues in C but if you have to think about each chord I play as a separate thing with different extensions instead of thinking of it as a C7 with a melody then you need an overview of 3-4 times as many chords,

and you still don’t notice the melody which is really what makes it all work.

So don’t think chords, think scales, and hear melodies in and over the harmony! Zoom out a bit!

I have a feeling you can guess what the last two mistakes are because they are the two things that make Jazz into a style of music!

Chords Are Nothing Without This

  1. Strong Rhythm and Vocabulary
  2. Think of it like a melody

I think you will agree that In Jazz, the rhythm is more important than the chord, so it is a bit ironic that we spend so much time on extensions and voice-leading. When you are playing chords, the rhythm is what makes your comping sound melodic, makes it sound like music, that glues the whole thing together. Two things that are very important about this:

The first one is obvious, but the second one is maybe even more important when you are learning. First, You want to have strong rhythm and a good vocabulary of rhythms, so make sure to also practice chords with rhythm and in time, not just exercises with long chords and not just listening to the harmony and the extensions, even if it sounds incredible!

Second, Think of the rhythm as a melody. The reason this is important is that you can easily end up knowing a lot of rhythms but you are not able to put them together in a way that sounds good or even makes any sense. Thinking of the shorter rhythms as part of phrases in a melody and using melodic techniques like Call-response and Motivic development is the way to get that to work for you and will make learning rhythm 100x easier. I’ll link to a video on important rhythms and how to think like this in the video description.

Let’s move on to what I think is the worst mistake when it comes to learning chords!

The Place Where The Chords Go: Music!

B-roll: exercises

This is the most important part of working on Jazz chords, and I say this in a lot of videos, but I still have to say it as feedback and in comments all the time: If you only practice exercises, so voicings and inversions and never practice playing music then you are NOT learning anything. It really is that simple. I’ll outline how you start working on playing songs in a bit, but I want to make this clear first, because it is very important!  It is fine if you do a lot of exercises but if you never play music then it is a dead end. We don’t put on an album to hear Bill Evans or Joe Pass play drop2 inversions, we put it on to hear them make music, and there are so many things that you don’t work on if you are not working on that.

A step-by-step guide to start practicing a song could be something like this:

  1. Take the lead sheet and go through the song so that you can find a way to play the chords, just one way for now, it can expand later.
  2. Put on a metronome and play through the song just play long notes, get used to the sound of the chords.
  3. Add some rhythm to it and play it some more!
  4. Once this is comfortable and doesn’t feel like hard work then you can start adding variations or other chord voicings here and there.
  5. Keep doing this so that you know the song and find out where you have room to do stuff plus what you can do in those spots.

Building a Rhythm Vocabulary

Let me know what you think, and also if there is something I should have mentioned that I didn’t We all want to get better at this, and there is so many great things to explore about Jazz chords!

I always found it very difficult to find good methods, exercises and frameworks for learning comping rhythms, and there is not a lot of material that is really good out there. The things that worked the best for me and really helped me put together the pieces and develop my comping are what I cover in this video which uses really simple building blocks but also solid techniques for combining them. Check it out, because in some ways we are approaching rhythm the wrong way.

Learn Jazz Make Music

Jazz Chords – The 7 Comping Rhythms That Really Matter

 

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Jazz Chords – The 7 Comping Rhythms That Really Matter

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

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

Rhythm #1 – Charleston

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

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

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

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

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

The Chords You Should Start With

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

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

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

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

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

Rhythm #2 – Shifted Charleston

First, we had a very grounded and clear Charleston rhythm

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

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

 

The Real Power: Combinations

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

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

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

Rhythm #3 Mirrored Charleston

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

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

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

Rhythm #4 – Longer Words

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

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

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

Building Your Rhythm Vocabulary

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

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

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

Rhythm #5 Just Like Red Garland

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

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

Rhythm #6 – A Few More Notes

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

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

And check out how great that sounds on Satin Doll:

Rhythm #7 Anticipate Getting Fired

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

Bringing It All Together

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

Learn Jazz Make Music.

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

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Intros – The BEST place to explore Jazz Chords

As you know, It is a lot of fun to play Jazz chords and check out beautiful progressions, and the best place to put those chords to work is in intros for a songs! I am going to show you 7 common intro types with variations, but I will also show you some concepts that help you take them further and make them your own!

And, I’ll add some stories about how intros and beautiful harmony can get you in a lot of trouble with the singer! Let’s get nerdy with some harmony!

#1 Turnaround – It’s better than you think

The first one is the trusted old I VI II V, I am going to start by not using the VI from the key but use a secondary dominant instead because we want an intro to move forward and create energy that takes us to the song. Check out how I am relying on the top-note melody here.

As you probably noticed, the melody on top of the chords is what makes it work, and I use a motif to keep it moving along. I play the turnaround twice because a 4- or 8-bar intro feels more natural. 2 bars feel a little short, unless it’s a ballad.

Turnarounds are great intros, they set up the tonality, the time, and the mood, and as you will see, you can do a lot with them. They even work when you just use shell-voicings, like this next example where  I am also adding a passing chord. Passing chords can be simple: Just think about them as chords sliding to the target chord,

that is often easier than trying to explain them with a lot of complicated music theory, it’s about how it sounds in the end:

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The trick is to make it surprising enough without getting too vague, I still screw that up when I make intros now and again, but I have to admit that I also like taking risks it comes with the territory.

Let me show you two ways to make the turnaround a little more catchy, I’ll add some passing chords and notice how the Cmaj7 in the 2nd turnaround is reharmonized with a chord that really wants to move on and resolve. After this, I’ll show you a beautiful suspension idea that works well with turnaround intros:

Let me start with the substitution warning: Explaining everything with substitutions is not very helpful. if you substitute chords then there is supposed to be a link between the two chords, and that is not always the case. Here, the Bb7 that I use in the place of a Cmaj7 is a good example,

It does not make sense to call Bb7 a substitution of a Cmaj7, it is just a different way of letting the harmony flow, and trying to force some sort of relationship between the two gets silly. In the first turnaround,

I am also adding the Bb7 as a passing chord.

That is also a good trick to know, moving from I to VI, that works very often and sounds beautiful!

Here’s a great trick: To avoid boring repeats you can resolve after one turnaround but then suspend the resolution and the tonic chord. That is an incredibly beautiful sound. I am using a bVI and a bII or Neapolitan minor subdominant in this example, but there are other options. These two chords are something you want to remember because they are practical for a lot of things:

I love that Cmaj7(13) sound! (EX) and also this way of arpeggiating chords with a sort of string skipped arpeggiation.

`

Minor subdominants are amazing and I will put them to use as a part of a modulation in a very surprising and elegant example later, but the bVI sound is already in the next example, and let’s just admit it, intros are just an excuse to mess around with some great sounding harmony!

#2 Creative Turnaround Reharmonization

You can also have turnarounds that start pretending to modulate. Here’s one that I love to use. It is sometimes referred to as the Ladybird or Tadd Dameron turnaround, but people say that referring to the “all maj7” version,

which I find a lot less appealing. This one takes a trip to the bVI which is a beautiful very Giant Steps-sounding progression:

Check out this extended version of that concept leaning heavily on Giant steps combined with minor subdominant chords. This one moves around so much that I think it works better when combined with a more standard turnaround, otherwise, it gets a bit too vague, but of course, it is a lose still a nice way to show off your skills with harmony…

But instead of adding more chords then you can also create other vamps with fewer chords that you can repeat as an intro, let’s look at some common examples of that.

#3 Fewer Chords More Color

The named turnaround already suggests movement, and if you reduce what is going on then the turnarounds you have seen until now have really just been ways to embellish a I-V progression.

But instead of having a lot of movement and a lot of different chords then you can also use fewer chords, But here, the repeated I V gets too boring, you need to make sure that the chords are interesting enough.

An obvious option is using I and a tritone substitution of V, so in this case, Db7 instead of G7. Notice that I am approaching it as a riff or groove here:

I tend to think of these as setting up a groove until the melody begins, and I also mostly use them when the first part of the melody fits over that groove, like “I’ll Remember” or “Invitation”. Not using something that is a dominant resolution often works better and avoids becoming boring, so a good option is another minor subdominant: the backdoor dominant:

`

An option that is a bit more adventurous is using the Neapolitan subdominant:

Both of these are fairly common with bossanovas. But even using all this amazing harmony it quickly sounds very similar to how the song sounds, and maybe you want a different effect or sound, so that is where pedals become useful!

#4 Using Pedals in Jazz

The type of pedals that I am talking about is not the reverb, delay and overdrive kind, it is of course a pedal point. They are great for setting up tempo and tonality while also wanting the resolve which makes us want to hear the song begin. It is so strong that it really got me in trouble one time, I’ll get to that in a bit Check out this example:

Most of the time you use the dominant as a pedal note, and in this example, I was also using the dominant chord and a suspended version of that to create movement over the pedal.

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But there are a few other great options to explore. You can shift the pedal point like this which I call the TV-game show pedal, which may be a term I invented:

Borrowing from Minor is also a great sound, and when you do then you can just stick to the sus chord which is then a pedal point of a Phrygian chord:

To me, the resolution to a maj7 chord when the whole thing sounded dark and minor is satisfying, I like using that one. On a cafe gig with a singer, while I was studying, I once managed to make a mess of a song by using a pedal point intro. It was a regular gig and it was pretty long so I felt confident trying something new. Without thinking too much about it I decided to set the song up with a pedal point on the Backdoor dominant, so Bb but then for a song in C. Without any preparation and that really didn’t work, so we ended up adding a 2nd intro which was a 4-bar turnaround so the singer could find the right key and get over the shock of the first chord.

There is another way to use a pedal that is also really useful, let’s look at that:

#5 The Other Pedal

This type of intro combines Turnarounds and Pedal points. You play the 5th as a pedal note and then play a turnaround over it. Best of both worlds! Here’s a basic example:

And there are not that many variations of this but you could do a Ladybird Turnaround version as well which has a nice dark sound. After this one, I’ll talk about a different type of progression that is sort of unique and very common as an intro and a reharmonization!

ex 14 (not in the video?)

Let me know what your favorite intro or progression is in the comments, maybe I can learn some new stuff!

Before we go to a different type of progression, then leave a comment if you know a type of intro that I didn’t talk about!

#6 The #IV subdominant intro

This is a great progression to know, it is almost a complete overview of all the chord categories of tonal harmony and it is great for intros and outros, but also reharmonizing standards. First try and listen:

So you have a #IVø, a IVm, then a III, a #IVdim inversion, a subdominant and then Dbmaj7 as another minor subdominant before getting to the Cmaj7. It sort of covers the whole spectrum except the dominant.

Sometimes you will also see a variation that is turning the chords into a chain of II V’s but when you do that then you can’t really put the root in the melody which is a big part of the original.

After this then I’ll show a great harmonic trick that works on most songs, sounds great but can get you fired.

#7 Use The Song (with a twist?)

One of the most common intros is to use the ending of the song, either the last 4 or 8 bars to set up the song. It’s very safe but you also immediately really set up everything and there is a way to make it very very surprising, in fact getting into the “you’re fired” surprising territory, but first the original

That’s a great way to set it up and you don’t have to be as clear with the melody as I am here, but check out how you can use a bVI to have a great modulation in the intro, though again one that I have had to explain to “surprised” soloists on gigs sometimes because it is difficult to hear if you don’t get a warning.

The concept is surprisingly simple: you play your intro using the song but in the key where the key you want to end in is the bVI, at the end you go to bVI and continue to the song.

Even if it does get you fired then it is a great sound, and as you can tell I enjoy going into details and trying out a lot of things with chords. It is a great way to explore and learn about harmony on the guitar. You want to learn what you can do with chords by adding interesting melodies, inner voices, and suspensions and that is what I talk about in this video which is a great exercise for digging deep into chords and harmony. Check it out! Learn Jazz, Make Music!

One Of The Best Exercises For Jazz Chords (and most fun)

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

When you think about Jazz Chord Exercises then it is probably about learning new chords, but it is more important is that you have exercises that help you use those chords and get them to sound great. That is what these 3 exercises will help you do. The first one is also, by far, the most fun way to practice chords, and the other two will help you use the chords better and add some better rhythms to your comping. In all 3 exercises, you can see how it pays off to work on simple things not making it more complicated.

The Exercise Nobody Does!

If you are nerdy enough with Jazz chords, like I am,  then maybe you can enjoy just listening to interesting chord voicings,

but of course, there is more to it than just the notes, even if they do sound beautiful.

The last few weeks I sort of re-discovered this exercise. As you may know, I was in Taiwan to play at the Taichung Jazz Festival with Nick Javier.

I had an amazing time there, but since it is quite far away then I had to deal with some jetlag when I got back which had me waking up at 3:00 in the morning since that is 10:00 am in Taiwan. While I was re-adjusting, I realized that I really liked getting up before everyone else and then spending some time practicing and getting started before sending the kids to school, one of the exercises I started to do in my routine was to take a song and practice comping it with the metronome on 2&4

There are many reasons to practice like this! The most important one is that it is fun and you are giving yourself a chance to be creative with the chords and the harmony of the song. I’ll show you how you might get started in a bit.

When I work on this then I am working on timing, and rhythm but also how all the chords should sound as a piece of music together and it is a great way to start getting new chords or concepts into your playing.

Working on:

  • Timing
  • Rhythm
  • Making The Chords Music
  • Adding New Material

And, of course, if you want to be good at comping then you should practice comping. Nobody ever spent all their time doing pushups and running to win Tennis tournaments, and if you do then you might get frustrated in the match.

So while practicing chord inversions and diatonic chords is useful then that should not be the only thing you are doing, also just because when you are doing that then it doesn’t matter if you screw up stuff.

Getting Started: Turn The Chords Into Music

If you have never practiced like this then here are a few steps to get you started and also a few simple tricks that immediately will level up how you sound!

Start with a song or chord progression that you know really well, for example, a 12-bar Blues like this one in C.

The first level:  is to just play the song, so turn on your metronome and just lay down the basic chords, don’t use complicated rhythms or voicings but if you can then get the groove across with a simple Charleston rhythm or something like that:

as you can tell I am mostly just using Shell-voicings.

A few easy ways to get this to move a bit more and sound more interesting is to use chromatic passing chords, simply try to use a chord a fret above or under to approach the next chord:

But you can also use this to create some movement on a chord, which sounds amazing on a blues like this:

From here you can start to expand and see if you get new ideas for rhythms or melodies, and if it doesn’t work then you can try it again in the next chords without the soloist wanting to fire you

When you use your chords like this then you might find this next approach to thinking about chords useful, and better than what you are doing now!

A Better Way To Think About Chords And Chord Voicings

You are not thinking about your chord voicings in a way that helps you use them. I am guilty of this as well in my videos: The way that we teach chords and think about chords are in separate categories like Shell-voicings, drop2, upper-structure triads, and stuff like that.

This means that we end up practicing diatonic chords or inversions only using one type of chord, but that doesn’t fit with what you do when you play music at all, so you want to change that!

Chords Across not along the neck

The important thing to remember is that when you are comping then you don’t have to think about a C7 as “Eø Drop2 inversion with the 7th as the last note and a 11th instead of a 3rd” That is much much too complicated, does anybody think like that?

This is more a question of exploring and then using what you discover but it is a great more practical way to connect chords and level up your comping.

Try this out: Most of us navigate the neck by thinking of the root of the chord and finding that on the two lowest strings E and A,

so if you are looking for a C7 then you have a shell voicing here

and here

Notice how adding the G on the B string makes it a Drop3 voicing,

and you also have the C7(13) Drop3 within reach

You can add one more string, and then you are playing Drop2 voicing with a bass note,

and there are variations of this as well:

And it is very practical to sometimes leave out the root to first get this 2-note Shell:

and add notes to have triad voicings

and drop 2 voicings as a part of what is available

Mixing Full and Rootless Voicings

When you think of C7 then you should see all these options and not just be stuck with a single grip.

That way you can add moving voices, melody, and rhythm to your comping and you don’t have to think about inversions that move to another place on the neck where you might not know the next chord. Thinking like this you are still connecting back to the chords you know and you are expanding what you can play without getting lost on the neck.

A great way to use this to open up how you comp or how you use this in chord melody is first to state the basic Shell

or an easy variation of this to be more free before changing to the next chord. For the blues that could give you something like this:

Music is Like A Language

Playing more interesting rhythms in your comping is also not necessarily about learning a lot of short rhythms, in fact zooming out and focusing on a few rhythms is probably the easiest way to improve on that.

And this is a lot easier than you might think. If you start thinking in call-response then a very easy but also very natural way to play something that really makes sense is to repeat a rhythm and then finish the sentence with something different as a conclusion:

When you are playing the same thing several times as a riff then you are giving the soloist something predictable to play against and you are giving the rest of the band something to interact with.

Then you can practice doing that on a song but coming up with different conclusions, so that you train yourself to hear how the different rhythms work together.

Maybe the next 4 bars could have this in the 4th bar

Like this, you are using the rhythms you know to come up with more. And you get a more natural flow if you work with this as a type of call response.

You can also do that every other bar:

This is almost always true; If you try to learn things in the context where you want to use them, then it is both easier and you learn it a lot faster because you can throw away a lot of useless theoretical rhythms or arpeggios inversions or whatever might waste your time.

Just Play Simple Chords!

One guitarist who understood how important it was to make things simple was Joe Pass, and while his playing was sometimes amazingly complex then his approach to Jazz chords was all about simplicity, and that is really the way you want to do this. You can check that out in this video, where it is about both the chords and the progressions being made easier to handle, and he certainly has a point!

The Biggest Misunderstanding About Jazz Chords And How To Quickly Fix 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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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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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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