Jamie Holroyd Guitar

Jamie Holroyd Guitar

Master Four To A Bar Comping

Master Four To A Bar Comping

So far in this series mainly different chords and inversions have been looked at but a study of rhythm and the different stylistic comping styles is also an important part of gaining good comping skills, so this section will focus on the classic four to a bar comping style.

Four to a bar simply means that the rhythm of the chords played is four quarter or crotchet notes in every beat of the bar and its a style every jazz guitarist should check when learning jazz guitar.

This style of comping is often associated with the great guitarist Freddie Green and also used extensively in the gypsy jazz guitar style.

Although four to a bar comping works great in swing and gypsy jazz, it can be used in almost any jazz style, and its sure way of giving someone solid accompaniment in a duo situation if you’re not comfortable with walking bass lines for example.



Getting the Right Sound


An archtop or an acoustic guitar is best suited to for this percussive style of comping, but you can use any electric or acoustic guitar.

Holding the plectrum at a 90 degree angle gives a more percussive sound against the strings, but you can also use the thumb for a more subtle affect, but you do loose some of the percussive affect you get with the plectrum.

Due to the percussive element this style brings it works great with no drummer, but be warned it will probably sound clunky if you’re playing in a  small combo setting, especially with a pianist comping at the same time.



What Chords Should I Use?


When using the four to a bar comping style it’s important to note that some chords will work much better than others. The three note voicing’s or shell chords as they are work very well.

These chords are sometimes referred to as ‘meat and potato’ chords because they often have the bare guide tones and tell the soloist the basic information they need to know about the chord type and don’t have any extensions.

The formula for this chord type is root, seventh, third and fifth. The following diagram shows this formula applied to the four main jazz chord types.


Drop 2 inversions on the middle strings also work well for this style


The following example shows how these chord voicings and this comping technique can be applied to a basic jazz/blues chord progression in the key of C.


four to a bar comping


This comping style lends itself well to the use of passing chords and inversions which can be used to create counter melodies behind a soloist.

The next etude shows how this can be applied to the blues progression. This type of four to a bar comping will work better in a situation with a bassist; if you’re backing up a singer or another guitarist it’s probably a better idea to stick closer to the first example.


four to a bar comping


Things to Notice About Four to a Bar Comping Etude:


  • Use of the movable diminished shape in bar 5
  • Chromatic voice leading in bars 4, 7, 8 11 and 12
  • Quartal voicings in bar 9
  • Two beats on each chord in bars to provide stability to the structure in bar 8


Purchase the “30 Days to Better Jazz Guitar Comping Ebook” with 20 pages of extra material, lessons and audio examples!

Return to the 30 Days to Better Jazz Guitar Comping Homepage

Do you like to use the four to a bar comping style or do you prefer other comping styles? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

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Jamie Holroyd

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