Jamie Holroyd Guitar

Jamie Holroyd Guitar

4 Ways to Comp with Another Chordal Instrument

4 Ways to Comp with Another Chordal Instrument

One question that comes up from jazz guitarists all the time is how to comp jazz guitar with another guitarist or a pianist?

While each situation is different and presents its own circumstances, there are a few tips I’ve picked up over the years that have helped me when it comes to these situations.

While most lessons in the 30 Days to Better Jazz Guitar Comping series so far have been focusing on what to play, it’s very important to we also know how to play and apply the concepts we learn in real life situations to better our jazz guitar playing.

When you start jamming with other people and playing gigs you will occasionally find yourself in a situation with another chordal instrument such as piano or a guitarist, so what do you do?

The best way to know what to do so you don’t get in each other’s way is to simply chat with the other pianist or guitarist about who is going to comp when, but if you are playing at a jam session or an unrehearsed gig there usually isn’t another time to discuss comping so these tips will be useful for those situations.


how to comp jazz guitar



Play Nothing


There’s nothing worse than two chordal instruments playing big heavy chords at the same time with extensions that clash which can result in out weighing the soloist.

Almost every time I find myself playing with a pianist I let them take care of the comping for the majority of the time so the issue is instantly resolved.

As much as I enjoy comping for other instruments sometimes it’s nice to listen to the other members of the group properly while still being part of the ensemble.

When taking this approach remember to glance over at the pianist every couple of choruses, you never know when it might be your turn to comp.


Create a Walking Bass Line


More and more these days I tend to find myself working in smaller jazz groups, often without a bassist.

The walking bass line is a key characteristic of jazz and when there’s no bass player, bass lines are missed, but luckily we can play them on guitar.

Usually this will have to be discussed before a performance because bass lines need to smooth, so switching rolls doesn’t often work too well.



Counter Melodies


Just because we can play chords doesn’t mean we have to. Counter melodies behind a soloist, or even playomg counter melodies with our chords can sound great.

This idea works great with other comping instruments but will also work well when there is only you comping to mix things up a little.

Instead of thinking of chords try to think of a little counter melodies you can play behind a soloist.

Melodies on the bass slower strings in octaves often work great.

For ideas listen to big band recordings where a horn section will occasionally play backing figures behind a soloist to create interest.

Often these counter lines are simply little phrases, but they can add some nice contrast for a soloist.

Just make sure that you don’t get in the range too much. Remember you’re there to make the soloist sound good.



Small Voicings


Two guitars or guitar and piano comping at the same time can sound great when they are really listening to each other and working togther.

If I feel the need to add chords when a pianist is comping, I like to use small shell voicings that I sometimes play with my thumb so I don’t clash with a piano player.

Sticking to smaller voicings means there is less chance of notes clashing because we are just playing the essential notes of the chord.

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Do you have any tips for playing with other chordal instruments? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

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Eric Beaty

I might add that playing higher chords up the fretboard -- thus resulting in higher frequencies of notes -- is also a great way to accompany other guitarists, as most guitarists stick to the lower areas of the fretboard.

Much needed info for people today. Thanks, Jamie, for the great topic!

Jamie Holroyd

Great point, and thanks!

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