Comping, or also known as filling in the harmony, is a commonly-heard and
important integration of jazz music. It requires skill and knowledge of advanced chord structures and added
voicings to it.
The accompanist, usually a pianist, guitarist, organ, or other instruments, have this complicated job of
supporting the soloist while he or she does the more complicated work of improvising the melody.
Other things to think about are the number of comping instruments or accompanists in a jazz band. While one type
of instrument could use one type of comping, the other instrument could use another. Sometimes, you could have
situations where the instruments clash with one another.
For instance, the piano could use a dominant seventh with a natural 13th, where the guitarist would use a
sharpened 13th, causing a clash in harmony. Or the soloist could have an idea of what he wants to achieve with the
melody, but the accompanist could have another plan.
Comping chords are often defined as spicing UP chords to support the improvised jazz melody.
This is often done by adding notes to the basic piano chord structure.
Notes like the 3d, 7th, 9th and 13th are commonly heard.
On the piano you would for instance start on G, then playing B, F, A and E above it.
However, it is difficult to play the chords in such a wide spectrum. So what the usual jazz pianist does, is
just to fit in the 13th and 9th notes in between or to leave out some.
This would look as follows:
G, B, E, F, and A.
But, unfortunately, it isn’t as easy as or simplistic as this in most cases.
Jazz musicians also like to alter these notes. What I mean is that they often
sharpen or flatten certain notes. Usually the fifth, ninth, and thirteenths.
For example: in the key of C Major, the dominant seventh of C Major, on G, they would use the following
A flat, A sharp, E flat, C sharp, and others as well.
This, of course could form endless possibilities of establishing various types of chord structures and
differently sounding harmonies. It all depends on the feel or mood of the soloist. If the melody is more dense and
complex, one would use more 9ths and 13ths in one’s comping.
Needless to say, there must be a constant communication between the soloist and comper. For one, the soloist may
use different types of rhythms in his melody or improvisation. The accompanist must keep the whole band together,
ensuring that everyone stays at the same energy level as the soloist.
Comping doesn’t only include chords, but also includes supportive and backing melodies for the tune of the
Therefore, the accompanist doing the comping must listen with a fine ear to the soloist, to hear whether the
melody and improvisation might change. In which case, he must use another type of rhythm or melody to lead the
other instruments to follow the soloist.
In drum solos, the piano comper uses what they call hits to rhythmically support the drums in a smart way,
thereby, forming two types of rhythms, complementing one another.
For good exercises to learn jazz
piano comping, listen to well-known jazz pianist compers like Wynton Kelly, Herbie Hancock, Oscar Peterson, and
Count Basie to hear the different types of comping.
Some comp sparsely, while others like to go wild. Try the different types of chords with the added notes. Put on
a recording of your favorite jazz song, and try your comping skills together with the famous!
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