Jamie Holroyd Guitar

Jamie Holroyd Guitar

How to Comp Rhythm Changes

How to Comp Rhythm Changes

The rhythm changes is one of mine and many other musician’s favorite forms to comp and blow over when learning jazz guitar. Today’s instalment of 30 Days to Better Jazz Guitar Comping will focus on how to comp rhythm changes using a variety of different approaches such as walking bass lines and drop 3 chords.

While many of us focus on blowing over rhythm changes, it is also important to focus on being able to comp this form accurately and an interesting way. In today’s lesson we will be looking at different approaches used by guitarists in different settings.


Drop 3 Chords


There are a variety of approaches that we can use when comping over this song form, and the one that we will be looking at first is using Drop 3 chords on the 6-4-3-2 string to set to get play a Rhythm Changes A section.

Drop 3 chords are great for comping over Rhythm Changes in a duo situation because they contain the bass notes and guide tones of the chord. The first example shows how drop 3 chords with the root on the bottom string can be applied over the first 8 bars of the progression.

Each inversion has been chosen to give the smoothest movement between the changes to avoid jumping around the neck to grab chords.



Drop 3 Etude


Walking Bass Lines


The rhythm changes is one of the most suited progressions for a good walking bass line. Due to the fast moving chord changes in the A section you don’t have to add much more notes to create a great sounding and effective bass line.

Obviously this etude, like the drop 3 example will only really work in a duo setting, but being able to comp well in a duo setting will make you a stronger accompanist in a full band because the duo is the toughest gig.



RC Walking Bass Line


Voice Leading Chromatically


Chromatically ascending or descending chord lines work great behind a soloist or in a chord solo setting over a rhythm changes.

Notice in the first two bars of the example that the top note of each chord voicing is ascending by a semi-tone or fret for each new chord and the line descends chromatically in the next two bars.

Combing different voice leading ideas always works well in conjunction with other ideas, notice that in bar 5 there is a ‘Bb’ pedal note held on the top string which provides a refreshing break from the chromatic voice leading.



Chromatically Ascending and Descending Inversions


Adding Passing Chords


While the ‘A’ section of Rhythm Changes is progression is already quite busy the bridge or ‘B’ section only has one chord every two bars.

This is a nice contrast to the ‘A’ section but most bebop musicians will usually superimpose the preceding II minor 7 chord with the dominant for further single line possibility and more chordal movement.



Superimposed II-7 Chords with Dominant 7ths

We can also switch through inversions of the same chord type to create movement in the B section instead of playing the same chord for each bar.

Notice the use of changing extensions within a shell voicing over the G7 and the use of modal chords over the F7.



Further Practice and Study


Once you have the voicings under your fingers there are a few ways that you can practice them.


  • Practice the chordal etudes using four to a bar comping
  • Apply different rhythm’s such as the Charleston rhythm to the chords
  • Use the metronome to make sure your sure you’re grabbing all the changes at the right time
  • Practice the etudes in all keys, but C, F, Eb, and Bb are the common keys for rhythm changes


Be sure to check in for tomorrow’s etude over the full progression which will include some very cool spread triad voicings as well as the concepts that we have looked at in today’s lesson.

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Do you have any types of voicings that you like to use when comping rhythm changes that are not discussed in this lesson? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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I think in the walking bass example the first A would be on beat 4 of previous measure (pickup), so the chords would be on beats 1 and 3. The way it's laid out in the measures is pretty bizarre :)

Jamie Holroyd

Hey Will, thanks for pointing this out! It has now being corrected, thanks.

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Hey Jamie,

Thanks a lot for this and your site in general. Just a question: on the "chromatically ascending and descending inversions" section, I'm confused about the Db7 voicing. As it is, it's a Bbm7b5 or a Dbm6, or as a Db dominant I guess it would have a #9 and natural 13. Is this right? (of course a half step up and it's a Dbalt).

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although when I play it, it sounds fine because of the chromatic motion. I just don't understand theoretically why it works.

Jamie Holroyd

Hi Kenny, thanks for the kind words! You are right that chord really doesn't make too much sense in terms of theory. I should have really put an Eb instead of E and made it a 4th voicing. As you say it works fine because of the chromatic line but it probably wouldn't be the first Db chord I would grab.

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John E.

"We can also switch through inversions of the same chord type to create movement in the B section instead of playing the same chord for each bar."

Another technique is to create movement by alternating between I - V inversions. For an example of this, see pg. 180, regarding piano and horn arrangements, Chapter Seven - Bebop Scales, Mark Levine's Jazz Theory Book.

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In that chromatically ascending tab I think the first chord has a typo.
xx7766 is a Bbmaj7. xx5566 is not a chord I recognize. GCFBb? That's not a Bbmaj7. And the next chord is the grip for a G#dim chord. xx6767. But you've labeled it a G7 = AbDFB? I guess with a G in the bass it will spell a G7add b2, which is pretty odd, but the grip is the standard Diminished grip. Am I missing something?

I liked the rhythm changes stuff though. thanks. It should be noted that the d-7/G7 change is a classic chord substitution. sub a minor7 chord a 5th above any dominant chord. It's textbook western swing substitution.

Jamie Holroyd

Hey, thanks for the comment. Glad you liked the lesson. To make the lessons simple and cleaner I label chords as what they are essentially acting as. The xx5566 you mentioned is actually a quartal Bb 6/9 chord but, in this example works well in the place of major 7th chord. Same thing with the G7 chord - if I was labeling it exactly, it should say G7b9. Diminished chords can fucntion as dominant 7b9 chords too. Hope this helps!

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Xtof Calis

Hi Jamie, thanks for this fine lesson. Just one question: in the Walking bass line comping, 5th bar: the chord written is F-7, but instead you play F7, right? I'm not sure if this is a typo or chosen deliberately. If chosen deliberately, what is the reason for that? Thanks. Best regards from Belgium.

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