Effectively accompanying other musicians, or ‘comping’ as it’s known is a key skill that any Jazz guitarist needs to master.
Comping is used to effectively accompany the soloist (either another instrument or voice) – historically, in the world of jazz, this has often been the piano player – however with it’s rhythmic qualities the guitar makes for a wonderful accompanying instrument and if you want to play jazz – comping is definitely a skill you need to master.
Chordal use is often very different to those employed in other musical genres and comping is as much about chord voicings (and chord extensions) as anything – while comping is all about supporting the other instrument – the highest note in your chord voicing provides a natural melody – and a well chosen chord extension can provide necessary color. However – choose carefully – 3 or 4 note chords work best – 6 string voiced chords can drown out your soloist.
Comping is also heavily reliant on rhythm. Here there’s no substitute other than practice (and listening to a rich diet of Joe Pass and Wes Montgomery!)- Comping rhythms are often improvised but due thought needs to go into them to ensure that it doesn’t just come off as random chord stabbings that make no rhythmic sense focus on swinging the beat and building rhythmic ideas that add texture to your track – and remember to leave plenty of space to let the music breath.
Common Problems with Comping
What makes comping difficult? Perhaps is that it looks relatively easy can often fool novices – commonly the usual problems of bad timing, poor style and poor chord selection are often glaring (its really difficult to accompany subtly allowing the soloing instrument to take the lead – guitarists often dont like playing 2nd fiddle!
Comping is all about “owning” that secondary role – leaving as much space as needed while providing harmony and sufficient interest – it’s not about merely repeating yourself over and over following your chord pattern religiously (remember comping can be improvisation too!)
CHeck out these great Youtube Comping vids