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How To Actually Practice​ Comping, Part 1



JGT contributor Zakk Jones shares his thoughts on understanding the sensitivity, patience, and collaboration involved in comping.

Think about how much time you spend practicing. Now, compare the amount of time you spend practicing soloing vs. comping. Let me guess, it’s pretty disproportionately skewed towards soloing right? Now think about how much time you actually spend on the bandstand soloing vs. comping. Probably a lot more comping right? Herein lies the funny disparity between these two concepts, and how much practice time we give to one or the other. 

If you are in any way interested in playing jazz with other people, whether it be professionally, at jam sessions, or just for fun with friends, you need to make sure you actually practice comping and understand its importance. Comping, or accompanying, isn’t just playing some basic grips behind a soloist, biding time until it’s your 2 minutes to shine. Think of your favorite jazz guitarists. You don’t get to that kind of level without having spent serious time understanding the sensitivity, patience and collaboration involved in comping. 

In this video I talk about some of the basic things that should be present in your comping, and how to practice them. Here are some of those concepts! 

  • Rhythm above all else!
    • Don’t overuse one type of rhythm, use a mixture of long/short and on the beat/off the beat 
    • Use simple rhythmic and melodic motives that can be repeated and altered
    • Comping on the guitar sometimes can be compared to a mini-big band or horn section, really in the pocket with varying tensions and resolutions of harmony and voice leading
  • Space!!! 
    • The concept of leaving space applies just as much to your comping as it does to your soloing
  • Transcribe someones comping rhythms
    • Peter Bernstein
    • Wynton Kelly
    • Ed Bickert
    • Red Garland
  • Incorporating melodies as background figures
    • Use simple blues melodies
    • Think about how horn sections use background lines/figures and stabs in a big band or larger ensemble, translate that to the guitar in a small group
  • You don’t always have to respond or react to a soloist
    • Make sure you don’t get in the way by forcing your own favorite rhythms or harmonies
    • Know when to use dense vs. thin harmonies
    • Understand different types of voicings. Use a mix of larger and smaller voicings, simple vs. complex harmonies
Guitarist Zakk Jones Photo credit Tessann Brewster

More Zakk Jones JGT Lessons HERE

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