Comping

Hey Jazz Guy,

I’ve got my chords down pretty well, but how can be more rhythmic in my accompanying? –Square in Sacramento

Dear Square,

The most important thing about accompaniment or “comping”, is to make whatever it is you are accompanying sound better. A large rhythmic vocabulary is crucial to making you sound great behind a soloist. The first example [Ex 1] shows a typical jazz rhythm over our favorite reoccurring progression. This example brings accent to the CMaj7 by placing a downbeat before it, and playing that chord on an upbeat. Anytime an upbeat is played after several downbeats it sounds very dramatic and very stylistic. Notice the articulation marks simulate one way a horn section would play the figure. Big band horn sections are great examples of comping rhythms. Also, by playing a four note voicing on the accented chord you create contrast from the three note voicings that came earlier.
In [Ex 2] we have some one and two-note comping. This can be an effective technique to add variance in the texture of your accompaniment. We build drama by using a strong downbeat first and ultimately resolving to the upbeat on Dmin7. The last example [Ex3] is an extended progression combining a little of everything. There is a strong contrast between the downbeats in bars one and three and the upbeats in bars two and four, creating motion. Note the voice leading only leaps for dramatic effect. By far best way to expand your knowledge of jazz comping rhythms is by listening to great accompanists. Wynton Kelly, Wes Montgomery, Joe Pass, Bill Evans and scores of others are the best sources of comping examples. Listen hard, shed hard, and your square rhythms will be swingin’ in no time.

Comping In-Depth

There are two ways to get more proficient at comping: By listening, and by playing. I must invoke a saying from one of my favorite teachers here. “You gotta play to play”. It simply means that you learn this one by experience alone. Now without lots of other cats around, I recommend listening to the below list of famous musicians for their exquisite comping abilities:


Wynton Kelly
Tommy Flanagan
Bud Powell
Bill Evans
Jim Hall
Joe Pass
Wes Montgomery
Kenny Burrell
Pat Metheny
Gary Burton
Chick Corea
John Scofield

That’s not everyone of course, but its a good place to start with a variety of styles. Just keep listening and playing with other people. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Ask cats what kinds of things they like to hear behind them while they are playing. Playing duo with singers is one of the best ways to improve your accompaniment skills, because in a duo, there’s nothing to hide behind.

Comp hard. Jazz Hard.
Good luck jazz guy!

Link to PDF Example: HJG – COMPING

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Categories: Chords, Harmony, Rhythm

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