Comping in a trio setting is a critical skill for the jazz guitarist. Chord selection, locking in with the rhythm section, playing in different meters, establishing the harmonic texture and character of the tune — these are all crucial responsibilities.

Play your way through these 6 free jazz guitar comping lessons from Mimi Fox’s Jazz Trio Comping course and you’ll be well-equipped to hold up your end of the bargain in any rhythm section, on any jazz bandstand.

Completely Blues – Overview

I strongly recommend that you listen to different versions of this piece. There are different versions of Miles Davis and his group performing it at various tempos and other artists have recorded it as well. I recorded a solo guitar version of this piece on my album Standards that has a very different feel/groove than the original. The song only has 4 basic chords so there is a lot of opportunity for embellishment and rhythmic variety. Try playing the song at different tempos to see how that affects what you play. Also, it’s a good idea to play the song in different keys because you may be called upon to play the piece with a jazz vocalist who needs to have the song transposed in order to sing it comfortably. It’s great practice to be able to play songs in different keys and this is an easy place to start!

Completely Blues – Performance

Download the tab, notation and jam track for this jazz comping lesson on TrueFire.

One of the things you should notice immediately when listening to this performance is how often I’m sliding into a given chord from a half step below. For example, many times I’m playing a Gb7 chord before I play the G7 chord. This approach adds color and is stylistically very important. Plus, it’s fun and sounds hip! I strongly recommend that you play along with me and get a strong sense of how this sliding technique propels the comping forward and fits logically with the bass/drums.

What you play does not have to be complicated to greatly enhance the over all sound. Sometimes I am simply adding a 9th or an 11th to the chord and it creates added color very elegantly. The jazz rhythm section is essentially a kind of altruistic democracy where everyone contributes for the greater good of the group sound and cohesion. Your fellow musicians expect you to contribute richly and abundantly to make this happen! Practice these ideas at home by yourself and then you will be ready to apply them at the next rehearsal/jam session.

Completely Blues – Analysis & Application

Two important concepts that I demonstrate in this lesson concern double stops (intervals) and voice leading. Both of these concepts can lead you to some very cool and rich harmonic ideas! As with all of this material, everything should be practiced at a turtle clip. Practicing slowly is important for the hand/eye/ear coordination, but it also helps you to reinforce what you are learning and hence to remember the cool ideas you are working out.

For double stops, practice harmonizing a scales up-and-down the neck of the guitar. You should start with thirds and then try other intervals as well. You should practice playing your intervals on all string sets.

For voice leading, practice playing a chord with every note in a given scale. For this piece, start with the G Mixolydian scale. This is also the same scale as C major. Integrating intervals and voice leading into your comping will give you a more sophisticated sound and greatly enhance your musical palette.

No Greater Changes – Overview

It’s super important to find as many versions of a tune as possible to listen to when you are first learning a new piece. There are so many great recordings available and it’s easy to access through YouTube, iTunes, etc. There really is no better “teacher” than all the great musicians and all the wonderful music that is out there! I try to always stay open and absorb all the cool versions of different songs. This helps me to feel fresh when I’m playing. You never know where inspiration will come from so please keep an open mind!

No Greater Changes – Performance

Download the tab, notation and jam track for this jazz comping lesson on TrueFire.

Try to figure out what I’m doing in this performance to build the intensity and generate excitement as the piece unfolds. What do you notice? Use of double-stops (intervals), more complex rhythms which highlight the more dense voice leading? Dynamics? Some bluesy fills? You’d be correct if you noticed any/all of this! Practice playing all of this at a very slow tempo and then gradually increasing the tempo as you are more comfortable with the chord changes and rhythmic hits.

No Greater Changes – Analysis & Application

To be sure you are locking in with what I’m playing (and the bass/drums as well), try playing four to the bar along with my more intricate rhythms. This is fun and will help you hear/feel out what I’m doing. Sometimes I slide into a given chord from a half-step below and sometimes from a half-step above. Notice how this variant is another pillar of a solid comping vocabulary.

Dig these free jazz guitar comping lessons? Check out Mimi Fox’s full course, Jazz Trio Comping, for more including tab, notation, and jam tracks!