Did you know that around 90% of a jazz guitarists play time is spent comping behind the band, making it one of, if not the most important part of our jazz guitar learning. Learning the chords, intervals and rhythms will also help you understand how music theory works overall, making both song writing and improv much easier.
Jazz Comping has many complexities and will take many hours of practice before you even begin to comprehend how it all fits together. In order to help, our lessons will be breaking down the theory behind these chord progressions, teaching you new chords and different inversions along the way.
For this lesson we will be breaking down a common jazz comping chord progression known as the ii-V-I progression. Often this progression ends with a vi chord so we can also refer to it as a ii-V-I-vi progression.
When learning to comp, you need to build a “chord vocabulary” in different keys, and so, each of our lessons will stick to 1 key at a time (this one being in C Major) and learn them each as though they were seperate alphabets.
In C Major our notes are: C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C
our ii-V-I-Vi chords being D minor – G Major – C Major -A minor
Jazz chords are almost always extensions such as 7ths, 9ths, 11ths, etc.
The above table shows the diatonic 7th chords for the Major scale. Using this, our 2-5-1-6 progression would be dmin7- G7 – CMaj7 – Amin7.
When extending chords for jazz, group your diatonic chords into families like so:
- Major, Maj7, Maj9, etc
- minor, min7, min9 etc
- Dominant 7, dominant 9 etc
We tend to replace the chords in our diatonic sequence with other chords in the same family.
Dominant chords are also extremely common for jazz and classical music; and is normally notated as a 7th, for example; G7. Dominant chords fit great as substitutes for your IV – V chords of your diatonic sequence.
If your competent with modulation as well, you will find dominant chords to be a fine substitute for nearly any chord within your progressions. I personally like to utilize dominant 7ths and diminished 7ths to go between keys (will demonstrate in a later lesson).
Putting the theory aside for a moment, give our exercise below a practice for 5 minutes before continuing.
Quick Tip: To get the smooth tone out of your comping chords, it is best to play without a guitar pick. instead, gently pluck the strings with the soft pads at your finger tips. Our example below would delegate your thumb to the A string, index finger to your D string, middle finger to your G string and your ring finger to your b string; but expect to use your pinky to finger pick in other practices.
This is an ascending progression of the diatonic 7th chords in C Major on an A string root. The B minor is played as a B minor7(♭5); also known as a half diminished, which is used to replace your standard diminished chord as the 7th diatonic chord in your sequence.
The above progression is an easier way of playing the progression below which has an extra interval to the first 3 chords and replaced the A7 with an A7(♭9).
These shapes are essential, so if you are not able to comfortably shift between them then you need to focus on these before adding further extensions to your chord dictionary.
The chords in the next exercise are a bit more challenging and will require you to squeeze your fingers together more tightly. Make sure your fingers are pointed so each finger covers just one string and not interfering with the tone from the other strings.
With the amount of octaves a guitar covers; and the amount of inversions for each chord, their are many different ways we could play our ii-V-I-vi in C Major alone. I have split the following into 5 different examples as you should practice every 4 bars until fluency before moving on, but you can play them all one after each other as a descending progression.
We could even mix up the order of our 2-5-1-6 turnaround like this:
This progression follows an I-vi-ii-V progression, using a few new chord extensions. Take note of how we kept each chord voicing (Major/minor) the same; replacing the C Major 7 with a Major 9; the D minor 7 with a minor 9; and utilizing a dominant 13th chord as a tension chord, resolving to the dominant 7 in our last bar.
Another way we could arrange them is in the order; vi-ii-V-I, demonstrated below:
Keep practicing these progressions, memorizing the chord shapes and the voicing of each chord (whether it is Major, minor, etc). Our next lessons will cover this progression and others across different keys.
I hope you enjoy all my different comping practices in C Major! 🙂
To see all of our other currently available Jazz Comping lessons, Click Here!