Guitar Comping
Last Updated: April 5, 2011 at 1:30 pm

Comping, aka Accompanying someone, is one of the most important skills you can possess. If you comp well, other players will gravitate toward you, and musicians will enjoy playing with you.

It is so common to play too much, a bit overzealously or aggressively, when chording. It is equally common to play timidly, conveying no sense of time or feel. Remember-your job is to support the soloist, to lay down a harmonic progression with exquisite skill, with big listening ears, and sensitivity to the soloist.

The salient quality of any great player is the ability to exude the groove, regardless of what role they’re assuming…soloing, comping, adding texture, playing counterpoint, whatever. The groove is the thing. Regardless of genre. Our goal is to exude the groove. It’s always there, unassailable, rock-steady, inviolate. Toward that end, work on strumming 4-to-the-bar. One strum for each quartet note. All down strokes with the pick. Ask yourself what beat are you accenting. Where is the pulse? Work at “pulse-less” comping. Can you play even quarter notes without a pulse? Use a metronome beating on 2 & 4. This can be extremely telling, and beneficial. It can transform your playing. Use a metronome as much as you can. Hang in there, because it is vexing initially. Then add a slight pulse on beats 1 & 3. Eventually add a bass note on the and of 2. *These attacks are all down strokes. Accenting beats 2 & 4 results in a Django, or Hot Club, gypsy-like feel. It is profoundly different than accenting 1 & 3. You should be able to play both ways with equal mastery.

Expand your chord vocabulary. Learn the inversions on any given set of strings: Top 4 strings-(generally drop 2 voicings) Inner 4 strings-(generally drop 2 voicings) Low E,D,G,B strings-(generally drop 3 voicings) Start with any voicing containing four chord tones-the root, 3rd, 5th, & 7th. Follow the arpeggio order on each string as you move the chord up the neck to the next inversion or position. Regarding the chord tones, 1 always moves to 3. 3 always moves to 5. 5 always moves to 7. and 7 always moves to 1.

(Root position chords have the root in the bass. First inversion has the 3rd in the bass. Second inversion has the 5th in the bass. Third inversion has the 7th in the bass) Master these chord voicings before adding tensions (9, 11, 13), and moving toward modern chord voicings. More about adding tensions and modern chord voicings in future posts.


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