Learn how to comp your chords to fill out your improvisation.
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Willie Myette, creator of jazz edge and I want to welcome you to episode number eight of the confident improviser podcast. Alright, so today’s topic we’re going to be talking about comping chords. And you’re going to learn how to comp your chords to fill out your improvisation right. comping chords, super important skill to learn about and a lot of students always have questions about comping chords. So we’re going to cover all of that today. As a reminder, this podcast is a great companion to my confident improviser program found the jazz edge, and you can go back to the confident improviser.com for more information and also to be able to get replays of this podcast. Alright, so comping chords. The first thing to understand about comping chords, is what is comping chords, basically, you’re adding rhythm To the chords, right? That’s, that’s really, if we were to boil it down, that’s basically what’s going on. So rather than just playing, you know, if I take my exercise number eight, have my 1625, C, to a minor to D minor, to g7. And remember, here, I’m just playing by root three, root seven on a three on D, seven on G. So simple chords. For right now, we’re just going to use these simple chords today, we don’t have to do anything more fancy chord wise than this. So I could put on let me go ahead and put on my whoops, let me go ahead and put on my I real pro track here. And you’re going to hear, so I could simply just do this.
Right, so there’s nothing
wrong with that, right? Just playing, you know, those chords is half notes. But the problem is, it’s gonna get boring after a while, right? So when we comp our chords, all we’re doing is we’re adding some rhythm To the chord. So it sounds more like something like this.
And you’ll see and hear that I’ll play some of the chords on the beat, I might do some off the beat. I’m going to mix my down beats and up beats to create more of a syncopated rhythm, right? We’ll talk about that as we go. I The other thing is, comping chords is a great way to fill space. So when you’re improvising, you don’t like a lot of times, we think all we can just gonna keep playing the right hand, right, we’re just gonna keep playing making up stuff in the right hand. But the reality is that a lot of times students don’t use comping enough to fill in that space, and they end up playing way more than the right hand and they need to, they could really just fill some of that space by comping in the left hand. Third thing is it is a super important accompaniment skill, tool and skill to master. So when you listen to great pianist comp behind other instrumentalists, or vocalist, you’ll hear that they are really listening and actively engaged, and listening to what the vocalist or the other instrumentalist is doing, and then responding back to that. So it’s very much a dynamic, almost call and response in a way sometimes, but it’s a very dynamic relationship between you and the soloist. Now, as a pianist, we might be both accompanist and soloist, all at the same time. So like, I’m playing my chords in the left hand here, right? Well, I’m accompany myself, why
while I solo in the right hand, so I am accompanying my right hand, so I need to be a good my left hand needs to be a good accompanist to my right hand, who is improvising, it’s kind of weird to think of your left hand and right hand as two separate people. But in a way, it’s kind of helpful to think of it that way. So the left hand is accompanying the right hand, which means that that left hand has to support that right hand, if the left hand is doing too much or too little, it’s not going to be supportive. And then finally, you want to remember, keep the rhythms simple when you comp, the number one, you know, problem that students have, and the number one mistake they make, is that they try playing too complicated of rhythms when they start to cop. Alright, so now let’s talk about how to practice comping number one, pick your progression in your chord voicings, so we’re going to do the C major seven to a minor seven to D minor, seven to G seven. If you are not at the piano, you can’t see what I’m playing here. This is C and E in the left hand that’s the root and three, I’m playing the root seven for a which is A and G, root and three for D which is D and F, and root and seven for G which is G and F. Okay? Number two, start with a simple rhythm, right? This could be quarter notes, it could be even half notes, right? It could be a dotted quarter, eighth note, it could be two eighth notes. But the point is, keep the rhythm simple. And number three, leave space, you want to make sure that you do not overplay. So you don’t want to let me give me an example here of what it’s like. Sounds like to overplay.
Me mean, do you hear how it just sounds like like madness here, right, the left hand is playing too much, the right hand isn’t in sync with the left hand. That’s an example of bad accompaniment against that improvisation, right. So you want to make sure that the left hand is really paying attention and listening to the right hand, I’ll give you some more examples. And then finally, you want to look for holes to fill with comping. So when the right hand is really active, when the left hand doesn’t have to do that much, but when the right hand kind of has a little bit more rest, than the left hand comes in with comping. Now, let’s pause there for a second. And remember, we’ve talked about playing and resting, right, so we’ve talked about, you know, coming up with a
line that might sound like something like this. Right, so you hear on the right hand, I’m resting yet. And I hold that that note see out for, for a few beats,
well, while I’m holding out that note, see, that’s a perfect time to cut my cords. So an example of not very good copying would be something like this. Whoops.
I see how just like playing those chords just on beat one and beat three, it’s not very exciting or interesting is it? Now listen to this. know, when you listen to that, you can kind of hear how, okay, the right hand shines a little bit and then the left hand kind of takes over, the right hand takes over, then the left hand takes over. So how do we practice this? Well, first of all, I’m going to pull up my example here. So this is the exercise from, you know, exercise number eight, right? So we have this. And now the one thing that you’ll notice, if you take a look at this, or even if you’re just listening to this, right, I mean, take a listen to it, I’ll play it a couple
of times, so you can hear it. Right, there’s not a lot of space going on in the right hand, right? Like these two measures that are happening here. In this exercise,
the right hand is filling up a lot of that space. So there’s not much space for the left hand to fill. But now let’s say that I change this around. And what I’m going to do is I’m going to basically x out this box, this second measure, okay, so I’m not going to play anything in the second measure. And I’m just going to leave my chords for the second measure. So the second measure, the D minor into the G is just going to be chords. So basically, it’s going to sound like this. And then D minor, G, D minor. So I suggest that you do the same thing. So just simply take out one measure in the right hand, it could be the first measure, so rather than going to do chord and then do the lick in the measure number two, right, so we have C major seven, a minor seven in first measure, then D minor seven g7. In the second measure, is a to measure exercise, what I’m saying is take off either the first measure in the right hand or the second measure the right hand. For this example, I’m going to take off the second measure in the right hand. Alright, so I’m going to have and then now it’s D minor, G. So now what do I do over that D minor, g This is where I’m going to count my chords. Now what’s written is just playing a half notes. So start by doing something simple like changing that g7 rather than it being a half note changing into two quarter notes.
Two quarter notes.
That adds a
little bit of motion there. But still, since it’s quarter note, it’s on the beat. It doesn’t sound very jazzy. Right. So what we need to do instead is we need to bring in some of those syncopated rhythms. What is a syncopated rhythm, a syncopated rhythm or the definition of syncopation? The most basic definition I’ve heard of syncopation, that I really love is the alternation between on the beat and off the beat, okay? So if we have some rhythms that are on the beat, and some rhythms that are off the beat, which basically means the ends or the upbeats. Okay, when we have that alternation, then we greet, we create syncopation. Now, it kind of falls into line with the a great definition, I heard of rhythm. And the definition of rhythm is the alternation between sound and silence. So rhythm is the alternation between their sound and then their silence. So if we have sat, down, down, down downtown town, town town, right, you can hear that creates a rhythm, what the rhythm is, it doesn’t matter. But the point is, we’re going from sound, we’re making sound and then we have silence. That’s rhythm. Well, syncopation is altering that sound so that the sound is not always coming in on the downbeats. Not always 123412341234123. Right. So it’s like, that seems very predictable. Right? So now we’re going to create some syncopation. And how we do that is how some upbeats, right, so like, if I just play on a note, see here, just a rhythm, to the board.
Bada, Bada here,
those are my upbeats right there. So I’m playing some on the upbeat and I’m playing some of the downbeat. Now, if I play everything on the upbeat, that’s not syncopation. If I play everything on the downbeat, that’s not syncopation, I need to have the combination of the two. So what I would suggest you try doing to start with your syncopation at first is just tried doing it over this D minor seven g7 measure, right, so I’ll put my real pro track back on here.
One, and two, and three, and four. So you hear how I’m like Hindi I every time I’m saying that, those are my up beats there. I can even come in with that C chord a little bit before the beginning of the measure. So listen to as I do that,
there we go. So listen for that. See. See, right here how I came in just before the resolution of the big
1234 and 1234123. And one, two, so I can play that C chord before the measure starts. Now typically, when I’m starting the exercise, I’m going to start on the downbeat. But every repeat after that is where I can come in and do some of those anticipations. Right. So how you get started with this is just have some fun, you don’t have to have anything specific written out. Okay, just play around and see what kind of rhythms you come up with then that D minor, and then g seven. So again, take a listen. Play the lick. Now I can come All right. So the best way of approaching comping at the beginning phase is to understand some of those rules that we talked about. Right. So the first thing is, remember, you’re just adding rhythm To the chords. It could be whatever rhythm you want. It’s a great way to fill space. It’s an important and complement tool. And you want to make sure that you keep your rhythms simple, the practicing, pick your progression and your chord voicings, that way, you’re not hunting around and trying to figure out what what progression Am I doing, what chord voicings Nana have it already set, because then you could really focus on the rhythm. And we want to start with a simple rhythm. Hey, I know I was doing some syncopation. If that’s too difficult for you, then start with some even more simple rhythms, like I said, just to beat three and four, you know, try doing all quarter notes. Can you do that? Just playing the left hand and quarter notes rather than half notes. Start there, you know, I try playing on beats two and four.
See, I did 12341234, right. But I’m the very first on the See I did one, two, I played on beats One, two, so I can create a very interesting pattern there. Remember, leave space, do not overplay and look for holes to fill with comping. So that means that you’re going to play in the right hand, you’re going to do your improv, but then add some space in the right hand. And while you add that space in the right hand, that’s where you fill in with the left hand. And again, that sounds like this.
space in the right hand, fill what a copy. Okay, and of course, the last thing is, have fun when you’re copying your chords, right? If it’s stiff, and it’s very, like rigid, it’s not gonna sound good, right? So for comping to sound good, you need it to be relaxed. So you need to make sure that you’re having fun right. Now, if you have any questions, feel free to join me on Thursdays for my q&a session that’s at 1pm Eastern, go back to the competent improviser.com. If you’re not a member of jazz edge, you can learn more back at that site or a jazz hedge calm. Thanks for joining me guys. I’ll see in the next podcast episode.