Jazz Comping for Beginners – C Major

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 improvisation 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.

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 in C Major 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.

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.


Exercise 1:

We will be starting of with a very basic way of playing a ii-V-I-(Vi) progression in C Major. The ii-V-I turnaround is a widely used progression throughout jazz music, often followed by a Vi chord (hence why it is between parenthesis).

In a diatonic chord sequence, the Vi chord is usually played as a minor, but this lets of the feel that the composition has come to an end. Instead, you can substitute the Vi chord with a Dominant to add some tension and allow the progression to pick up once more!





Exercise 2:


This progression is the same as the above, but has an extra interval to the first 3 chords and replaced the A7 with an A7(♭9).

Jazz comping in C Major - 2-1




These beginning 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.


Example 3:

The chords in this next exercise are a bit more challenging and will require you to squeeze your fingers tightly together. 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.


Example 4:

Okay so this is a much longer example covering 20 bars of different ways to play our 2-5-1-(6) progression in C Major, without even changing the chord extension!


Jazz comping in C Major - 3 - ii-V-I-Vi across 20 bars-1.png


Example 5:

So, we kinda threw you in the deep end with the last exercise, but assuming you pulled it off you should be much more comfortable learning further jazz comping!

Let’s have a quick bit of fun here by mixing 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.


Example 6:

A relatively simple progression to play overall, built on common intervals and typical jazz chord extensions. This progression produces the typical warm, smooth jazz comp soundscape and is also an easy progression to improvise over.




Example 7:

This exercise is more of a challenging offering more creative chord changes and chord extensions. Although some of the chord changes can bare a challenge at first, the chords themselves are actually easier then one would first believe. This practice will help you in establishing swift chord changes for more obscure and creative chord voicings/shapes.





Example 8:

This lovely little chord melody that we wrote is great for anyone new to jazz comping, showing you how just a handful of chords can create such a short, yet impacting progression.




Example 9:

The sound behind a great presence, created using many chord substitutions over some classic and original jazz comping chord intervals.

With this one we are going to go through some of the theory behind it.

let’s start with bar 2, substituting our I chord from a Major variant to a Dominant. This is a typical substitution and at often times, a dominant is also used to substitute a minor variant.

When used appropriately, dominants are good substitutes for any interval, diatonic or chromatic.

in Bar 3 we replaced a min7(5) with a Major 7th, making our Vii chord a resolution instead of a tension chord.

Bar 4 ends with a dominant Vi instead of a minor, causing some tension which leads into bar 5, in which we substitute a min ii chord with a Major 13th! This substitution leads to less tension then one would expect, primarily due to the substituted chord used before.

the substitution theory follows a similar pattern up until bar 9, in which we revert the progression back to diatonic and keep the chords voiced in the appropriate fashion based upon our current scale.




Example 10:

last but not least, our final challenge to end the lesson 🙂

unlike the last example, this one stays diatonic apart from the A♭+ and keeps the chord voicings appropriate to the scale other then a few common substitutions, such as the G9 and G6. Since these are both Dominant extensions, they replace our V chord perfectly both times and cause little stress to the soundscape.




Just to say, the + next to the A♭ symbolizes that the chord has an augmented 5th interval.

Also, omit 5 states that you take the 5th interval out of the chord.


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!  🙂

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