A vast majority of the time a band is interested in hiring a jazz guitar player, it is not for their ability to play lead lines and take solos. instead, they are chosen for their ability to groove and play chord voicings. In other words, this is your ability to comp, and is ultimately to help make the leader sound good.
In his course, Jazz Comping Survival Guide: Minor, Fareed Haque delves into the best practices for becoming an invaluable part of the band. But in this Minor edition, you’ll turn your focus specifically toward minor blues, minor turnarounds, and minor jazz standards.
Here are 10 video jazz guitar comping lessons from the course. For the full course, check out Fareed Haque’s Jazz Comping Survival Guide: Minor on TrueFire!
Jazz Comping Guitar Lesson – Granddaddy Chord Progression – Demo – Overview
The “Granddaddy” chord progression is just the notes/chords of the scale organized in 4ths instead of steps. So instead of 1-2-3-4-5-6-7 and back to 1 (that’s the scale in “steps”), organized in 4ths we’d go: 1-4-7-3-6-2-5-1 . Written in Roman numerals this looks more familiar : I-IV-VII-III-VI-II-V-I .
So you can see that Vi-II-V-I (6-2-5-1) is right in there! This is probably the most common progression in jazz. A typical chord progression in Cm (natural or Aeolian minor, mostly using b6 and b7) would be Cm7-Fm7-Bb7-Ebmaj7-Abmaj7-D 1/2dim7-G7-Cm. This is very much like the first few bars of “All the Things You Are”.
Jazz Comping Guitar Lesson – The Core: Guide Tones – Demo
Patience young Padawan, patience! Most young players don’t have the patience to learn how to really use guide tones. Play through blues, and a bunch of standards using ONLY guide tones. You’ll notice that they tend to move in certain patterns. Once you start to see – AND HEAR – those patterns, many chord progressions will become automatic and simple voice leading moves with just the guide-tones. So no leaping from chord to chord, just a few finger slides and you are through the tune smooth and tasty, like biscuits n gravy.
A simple study is to play through the “Granddaddy” (or “Grandmammy”!!) chord progression using guide-tones (GT) only.
Jazz Comping Guitar Lesson – “One Chord” Voicing Options – Demo
As you get further into this, start listening to the greats comp. Yes, yes we all listen to their solos, but try now to listen to their comping. Especially the long and short notes, where they accent and where they don’t. It’s not about fancy voicings! It’s about simple voicings that groove.
Jazz Comping Guitar Lesson – “One Chord” Voicing Application – Playalong
Remember that the long and short notes come from the left and the right hand. When I stop a chord please pay attention to whether I’m stopping the chord with my fretting hand, by releasing the pressure on the strings, or with my right hand fingers, or pick, by actually dampening or stopping the strings.
Jazz Comping Guitar Lesson – Any Chord Becomes a Dominant – Demo
When subbing a dominant for a regular “diatonic” chord (diatonic meaning “from the key”) notice that dominant chords tend to want to resolve up a 4th, just like our grand chord progression. So for example, we all know that in the key of C, G7 wants to move to C, and in the key of G, D7 wants to move to G. But what happens if we borrow “D7”. Now, D7 replaces our usual D 1/2 diminished and wants to move even more strongly to G7 than our diatonic D 1/2 diminished ever did. Just try it and listen – you’ll find the dominant pulls more strongly than the diatonic, sounds sharper and bluesier. BUT BEWARE!!!! Now that you’re off on your own exploring dominant chord substitutions, make sure your extensions still sound good and melodic and lead back to Gm. In general, the safer choices are those notes that are closest to the home key.
Jazz Comping Guitar Lesson – The Tritone Sub – Principle 4
I like to say that the tritone sub concept is simply the result of bored tuba and bass players. Imagine, back in the day, a tuba player oompa oompa-ing all day, frustrated and exhausted tuba plays D, A, D, A, on D7 then on down to G, D, G, D on Gmin. Bored and losing her little brass mind, she finally leads down from A to Ab to G instead of A to D to G – and REVOLUTIONIZES JAZZ! Most of the hip chord substitutions in Wes Montgomery and Charlie Parker tunes are examples of this principle. Check out Wes Montgomery’s “4 on 6” or the Jimmy Van Heusen ballad “Darn That Dream”, or even Horace SIlver’s “Nica’s Dream” for some beautiful examples.
Jazz Comping Guitar Lesson – Medium Up Minor Blues C – Overview
It sounds goofy, but playing jazz is definitely the art of wearing many hats and multi tasking. So, stay loose and juggle those hats, or chord changes, gracefully and groovily.
Jazz Comping Guitar Lesson – Medium Up Minor Blues C – Performance
In order to make a smooth melody, always sing along, out loud, even! (But eventually, in your head…) When you leave space, just so long as you keep that melody note going in your head, and keep that melody line going when you come in again, all will be well. The melody line is as important as the chords, and will keep the soloist and band feeling the music. You’ll notice I often play octaves instead of chords, just to keep the melody going. I like the octaves as it sounds sort of like a ‘big band’ style accompaniment. Keep that melody going and all will be well.
Jazz Comping Guitar Lesson – Medium Up Minor Blues C – Breakdown
We should take a moment a talk about diminished chords – very confusing to explain, very easy to use. Here’s the principle: A diminished chord is a chord built using only m3rd intervals. It turns out that the 3, 5, b7 and b9 of a dominant 7b9 chord are all m3 intervals apart and spell out a diminished chord too! So, if C7b9 is C, E, G, Bb and Db then E, G, Bb and Db spell out a diminished chord. Since they’re all m3 intervals, then any one of those notes can be the root…SO, you can play Eo7, Go7, Bbo7 and Dbo7 as nice voicings of C7b9 (since the bass player is probably playing the root, you really don’t need it).
This is a very quick trick for harmonizing a jazz melody line, used by MANY, MANY of the greatest arrangers and composers in jazz history, including the great Duke Ellington, Sammy Nestico and many others. It was common in swing band arrangements to harmonize ANY note that wasn’t a chord tone with a diminished chord. Sounds great, less filling, easy to digest, easy to play. For example: If you wanted to play a scalar melody line (Let’s say F-G-Ab-Bb-C and back down) with chords you could play Fm7-Eo7-Fm7-Go7-Fm7 and back down. Basically, you’re just playing Fm-C7b9-Fm-C7b9-Fm-C7b9…with cooler voicings. And, easy to play since all the diminished chord fingerings are the same!
Jazz Comping Guitar Lesson – Jazz Ballad G – Performance
A good way to think about the rhythm of a jazz ballad is to feel it in double time. This a common way to embrace the eighth note “bounce” while still maintaining a gentle ballad feel. In the second chorus of this playing example, I played a more stabbing, rhythmic sound using mostly just guide tones and more sharper pick attack, and more short notes in left hand, too. This is the kind of implied double time feel one might play under a soloist, after the singer has his or her go, and before she/he comes back in with the melody.
Digging these free video jazz guitar comping lessons? Check out Fareed Haque’s full course, Jazz Comping Survival Guide: Minor.