Tag Archives: jazz guitar comping

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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5 Levels of Walking Bass And Chords – A Great Comping Approach

Ever since I heard Joe Pass play walking bass and chords behind Ella Fitzgerald, I was completely sold and found that to be the ultimate way to comp in a duo. Something that I then also spent a lot of time practicing and later putting to use on gigs.

Comping like that with several layers happening at the same time can be a bit tricky, so in this video, I am going to show you how to develop it, what to pay attention to and how to practice this type of playing and even take it one step further.

Level 1 – Walking Bass Fundamentals

The best place to start is by first constructing a bassline and then add chords under it.

The way I learned this was by transcribing walking bass off albums, but you can actually construct them pretty easily using a few guidelines.

Keep in mind that working on this is actually also very useful for your soloing, because like a great solo line, then a strong walking bass is moving forward and has momentum towards the next chord.

When you play walking lines on the guitar then you are only using the two lowest strings, E and A, which is also going to make it easier to add chords later since that is where you generally place bass notes when you play Shell voicings, Drop2 or Drop3 voicings, and you have plenty of string to add the chord while you play the bassline.

For this video I am going to use a basic progression, just to have a few different things to work with so I am using: Cmaj7 Em7 A7 Dm7 G7 Cmaj7

It is just a slightly embellished I VI II V so Cmaj7 A7 Dm7 G7 C

Learn To Compose Basslines

Before you start just improvising basslines then it is useful to know how to compose them, and that is pretty easy to do.

For now, you can focus on having a walking bass that moves from root note to root note, so let’s add those and then use that to construct the rest:

For the bass line to really connect with the chords and be clear then I have the root note on the first beat and for the chords that last one bar I have also already put a chord tone on beat 3, for Cmaj7 G, Dm7: A and G7: D. That is an easy way to get a bass line that really sounds like the chords. You can also use the 3rd on beat 3, it just has to be a strong basic chord tone.

For now, I am only using chord tones and diatonic notes to go from one chord to the next, and mostly I will use chord tones, again this is because you want a bassline that really sounds like the chord.

For the Cmaj7 bar, here I can easily go from C to G by adding the E in between, and to go from G to E on Em7 then F is an obvious diatonic passing note, just walking down the scale.

On Em7 then B is a great option for a chord tone to take us to A on A7. You could have used G as well, but B is closer and easier to play. In a similar way the 3rd, C#, works to takes us from A to Dm7.

With Dm7, I need to move down to A, and the 7th, C is a good option there. Moving to G is done by just going down the arpeggio to the low 3rd: F.

The G7 is using the triad, and here you can reuse the 3rd, B, as a leading note to C

Example Level 1

Level 2 – Adding Chords

Adding chords to a bass line like this is pretty simple. I am going to start with some easy shell-voicings and just add them around each chord change:

Example Level 2

Before we start adding chromatic passing notes and chromatic chords, then let’s just have a look at what is going on: All I do here is to add the rest of the chord whenever the chord changes, so

On the G7 you have a delayed chord which adds some more syncopation and energy to what is going on and this is something you want to explore as well and that you will see a lot more of later in the video.

Learn Shell-voicings (and be a Happy Jazz Guitarist)

As you will see then most of the chords in this video are either directly shell-voicings or derived from shell-voicings, and if you want to see how much you can create starting from this easy and basic structure then check out this video.

Level 3 – Chromatic Passing Notes

Until now the bassline was using either chord tones or diatonic notes, but since the point of a walking bass is to keep the music moving then adding some tension with chromatic passing notes is a great thing to do as well. So let’s add that and also some variation in the rhythm:

Example Level 3

So this is roughly the same bassline, but now, there are a few chromatic notes in there as well:

I have added a D# as an 8th note to lead to E on Em7 so that is both an extra leading note and a more active rhythm. In the next bar, you also have the Bb and the Eb leading notes.

As you can see then I add the leading notes before the chord change to add some extra forward motion, that extra tension that is then resolved when you get the root of the next chord.

On the Dm7 then the Ab is now taking us to G which is actually easier to play than the F. The G7 bassline has a Db on beat 4, and here this is also harmonized with a chromatic passing chord: Db7 which then resolves to Cmaj7.

As you can hear then you can also add complete chords as ways of making things move more or be more exciting. Let’s add a lot more of those and also add some more color to the chords.

Level 4 – Chromatic Chords

Example Level 4

(highlight dom7th chords with extensions in sheet music)

Here I am adding notes to most of the chords, giving the dominants 9ths and 13ths, and really just adding color to the sound.

I also harmonize some of the leading notes. Since the point of a leading note is to create tension that is resolved then harmonizing it with a dominant chord is often a very good idea as you can see on the Cmaj7 bar where I am harmonizing the F bass note with an F7 that then resolves to Em7, or turning the Ab bass noted turning into an Ab7 that resolves to G7.

The basic principle is really just to harmonize the bass notes, and you can take it even further and then put a chord under all the bass notes, which gives you a harmonized bassline.

Level 5 – Harmonized Bassline

Example Level 5

Here you are harmonizing every bass note with a chord and using inversions and other voicings to connect the whole thing. Most of the time I simplified the chords a little because it gets a bit busy if they are all 4-note chords with a lot of notes and complicated sounds.

You can find some great examples of Jim Hall playing like this, and Joe Pass also does this in some places when he is playing with Ella. Often when you do this you also use more chromatic passing chords simply because that is practical instead of changing voicings all the time, but that also depends on the tempo.

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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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Minor II V I – 3 Levels You Want To Know

When you learn chords, and especially jazz chords where there are so many variations and options, it is important that you check them out in the right order and use a strong foundation to explore all the great sounds in there. In this video, I am going to take a basic minor II V, that you probably already know, I and show you how you, step by step, can open that up and turn it into a flexible set of chords that you can use for comping and even chord soloing.

This video is going to get you beyond just playing grips, it is time that we end that once and for all, the campfire era is over.

Level 1 – The Basic Chords

If you know your basic Jazz chords then you probably know this way of playing a minor II V I with it’s somewhat awkward II chord:

The great thing about playing chords like this is that you get to hear what the harmony sounds like and that is very useful for learning a song and getting it into your ear.

This is of course very important if you want to improvise over the progression, so using these chords to become familiar with the sound, the movement of the harmony and the bass line is really useful.

If you are getting into these then make sure to also checking out how to treat them as 2 layers in comping, a bass note, and a chord. This is great for duo playing.

You can think of how you play as accents played on the drums with bass and snare which is mostly how drummers comp in a swing groove, and also what you want to lock in with when you play.

Level 2 – Rootless Chords

The basic chords are great for getting the harmony into your ears, but if you are playing in a band then it is better to leave the bass notes alone and not be exposed to angry bass players

Dave Holland 16:04 + text – Stupid Guitar Voicings with bass notes (busy two-layer comping)

Dave Holland 17:34 + text – Finally some rootless voicings!

While I may be using Dave Holland to joke around, this is an amazing band and one of my all-time favorites you can check out this concert with the link in the description: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uvG8B39_Alc

This is really easy because you can just think about the voicings from example 1 but only play the top part like this:

When you play the chords like this then you have quite a few more options to change the notes and create some more interesting melodies and voice-movements. You are not stuck with a fairly static chord that is “just a grip”

An example of how you can add melody would be something like this:

And of course, when you really use this it will be with a bit more rhythm, something like this:

Where there is a lot more happening than “Example 2”

and we can take this even further by adding more color to the chords

Level 3 – Bigger Chords and More Color

Since we started with 4-note chords and turned them into 3-note chords then it is worth exploring what happens if we add notes on top of these. To me, this was always about being practical so looking at what is there but only use what is easy to play and then be creative with that.

This is btw something I think is very efficient in most aspects of practicing and playing, but that is another discussion

If we take a look at what is available for the Bø you get something like this:

And for E7

and finally Am6

The way I use this is that I check out what is there and I try to get an overview of what is easy to play and then that is what I will use. You can try to expand options, but watch out that you don’t get lost in trying to check out too many chord voicings, which  is often taking up a lot of time without helping you play better.

Using these voicings to comp the minor II V I could be something like this

 

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Add Beautiful Colors And Fills To Your Comping

When you are comping Jazz songs then it is good to also change the textures you play, not always full chords but also fills and small polyphonic ideas. In this lesson, I am going to show you how to use intervals and counterpoint as a way of comping and as a way to add a new sound to the way you play chords. It will help you when you are comping but will also be great in a solo or in a chord melody arrangement.

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Content

00:00 Intro 

00:50 From Real Jazz Comping to Improvised Chords 

01:25 Reducing the Voicings – Example #1 

02:12 Reducing the Voicings – Example #2 

03:03 Intervals for fills and Block Harmony 

05:05 How to practice and explore the neck for this type of playing 

07:29 6th intervals and a Pentatonic trick 

09:14 Harmonized Arpeggios and more Pentatonic Chord Patterns 

10:44 Polyphonic Call-Response 

11:20 3-Note Voicings 

11:38 Like the video? Check out my Patreon page!

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How To Sound Great On A Static Chord – Modal Comping

You need strategies for Jazz Comping in modal or static chord sections of songs. When you start learning Jazz comping on the guitar then you learn to play progressions, focusing on how to connect the chords play through the changes and get that to sound good and natural.

But the skills you develop with this won’t help you when there is a long stretch of one chord, like modal jazz, and there is no chord progression that automatically makes your jazz chords sound interesting.

In this video, I am going to go over some examples of how to comp jazz guitar on a static chord, develop some phrases, add extra chords, chromatic sounds and other things to make your jazz guitar comping more interesting.

Other great lessons on Modal comping and Jazz Comping

Beautiful Jazz Chords from Allan Holdsworth – Modal chords

The 3 Most Important Things For Solid Jazz Comping

Comping Rhythms – 10 Examples You Need To Know

Jazz Chord Voicings – The 9 Different types you should know

Content:

0:00 Intro – Comping on Static/Modal Chords

0:39 Two Basic Strategies – Allan Holdsworth vs Wynton Kelly

1:29 Example 1 Basic simple riff around chords you already know. Clear melody

2:55 Example 2 Diatonic voicings and a little voice-leading

4:17 Example 3 Pedal Point melody

5:19 Example 4 Quartal Voicings – Borrowing from McCoy Tyner

6:22 Example 5 Two Layers and Call-Response

7:20 Example 6 Chromatic Passing Chords

8:11 Example 7 More Chromaticism

8:47 Like the video? Check out my Patreon Page!

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The 3 Most Important Things For Solid Jazz Comping

Think about how you would feel soloing over your own comping.

That is probably the best way to evaluate how you comp. There are some things that you need to get right if you want to be effective in comping. You don’t want to just play jazz chords while the music is happening. You want to be part of the music. That is what this Jazz Guitar Lesson is all about and if you can comp then you get asked to play at sessions and gigs.

Related Guitar Lessons on Comping

10 important comping rhythms

Video on being your own teacher

Great examples of comping:

Wynton Kelly behind Miles Davis: So What Live https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Amyp4v-I84

Herbie Hancock behind Wayne Shorter: 502 Blues https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1aTwWZweGSw

Content:

0:00 Intro

0:50 #1 It is Clear

1:34 Beat One is your friend

1:59 Don’t be afraid of repetition

2:38 #2 Don’t Get In The Way

3:31 Not just the soloist, there are more people in the band

3:39 A Great Strategy

4:08 Great Examples: Wynton Kelly and Herbie Hancock

4:38 Understand what fits the soloist

4:49 #3 Are You Playing Music?

5:42 Listen, Listen, Listen, Listen!

6:14 How Do You Practice comping?

6:30 Like the video? Check out my Patreon Page!

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If you have any questions, comments or suggestions for topics then please let me know. Leave a comment on the video or  send me an e-mail. That is the best way for me to improve my lessons and make them fit what you are searching for.

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Comping Rhythms – 10 Examples You Need To Know

Rhythm is everything in Jazz and especially comping. Building a solid vocabulary of great Jazz Comping Rhythms is difficult. In this video, I am going to go over 10 examples of comping rhythms to check out.

I play each example 3 times, so you can either use it as inspiration for your own practice or even use the video as a play along and comp together with me.

For each of the rhythms, I have an illustration of how the basic pattern is and a version that is written out with chord voicings to play on guitar.

All the examples are using a turnaround in C major.

Rhythm #1 – Charleston

This first example is the “Charleston rhythm” and is very useful also as a repeating riff.

It has the clarity of the changes with the chord on beat 1 and the syncopation with the chord on the 2&

Rhythm #2 – Shifted Charleston

A variation of the Charleston is this 1 bar pattern where the whole rhythm is shifted an 8th note.

Rhythm #3 – Forward motion with Syncopation

This rhythm uses the tension of the sustained note on the 3& to move the progression forward towards the next chord stated on beat one.

Rhythm #4 – Red Garland

Red Garland is often associated with this way of mostly comping on the anticipated heavy beats: 2& and 4&.

Rhythm #5 – Basic Syncopation

This rhythm is a great way of turning the basic syncopation rhythm into a riff that sits well on top of a swing groove.

Rhythm #6 – Quarter Note Rhythms

Often the focus in comping is too much on all the 8th note upbeats and we forget that you can do a lot with quarter notes as well.

Rhythm #7 – Dotted Quarter notes

Using the dotted quarter note rhythms in jazz comping is very common and very worth incorporating into your vocabulary.

Rhythm #8 – Shifting motif

Another great way to work with rhythm is to shift a motif around. This example is a very basic version of this.

Rhythm #9 – Call-Response phrases

Besides motifs you can also use call-response as a way of generating phrases in your comping.

Rhythm #10 – Anticipated Beat 4

This rhythm is often left out but is very common in a lot of themes (and pretty much all of Salsa), so it is very worthwhile to know and feel comfortable with.

Take the Comping Rhythms Further

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You can also download the PDF of my examples here:

If you have any questions, comments or suggestions for topics then please let me know. Leave a comment on the video or send me an e-mail. That is the best way for me to improve my lessons and make them fit what you are searching for.

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