Voicings: Life between the E's
Comping (accompaniment) is a tough thing to learn. For
starters, you can't really comp unless there's a solo or melody line going
on to react to. In other words, you can't truly practice comping by yourself,
which is how we spend most of our time practicing!
But we can work on the many aspects of comping in solitude (how artists
suffer!), then be ready to put what we've learned to use when we get a
chance to play with others. To that end, I offer this lesson on "inside"
In this case, "inside" refers to the fact that the voicings are all fingered
on strings 2 through 5; they're between (inside) the E strings. While
using these voicings, as long as we stay pretty much near the middle of
the neck, we'll tend to stay out of the way of both soloist and bass player.
[Here I post my usual disclaimer: There is never only one way to do anything!
For "straightahead" jazz, this approach has its place, though. Don't make
it the only way you know; just add it to your ever-increasing (right?)
store of knowledge!]
Notice that some of these voicings could be used as substitutes for other
chords. For example, the F13 which opens the piece could also be used
as a B7(#9,#11). The next voicing, Bb9, could also be used as E+7(b9).
The more complex voicings will also involve leaving out some chord tones.
After all, we're doing this on four strings! Usual candidates for omission
include the root and the fifth (unless you're using an altered fifth in
your voicing), but be willing to experiment. Contrary to conventional
wisdom, it is not absolutely necessary to have a 3rd or 7th in a voicing.
(It's usually a good idea, but it just depends on what else is going on
in the music.)
Voice leading is pretty smooth in this blues chorus, especially the top
line, which features a lot of common-tone usage and stepwise motion. There
are a couple of places where an inner voice jumps around (bars 7/8, for
example), but that's not too distracting. I generally like to keep the
voice leading smooth when I comp; I don't want to compete for attention
with the soloist or distract the soloist - unless that's what they're
Have fun! A couple of last-minute thoughts:
These voicings are usable in all kinds of music. Within these twelve
bars, you have examples of unaltered dominant voicings, altered dominant
voicings, minor seventh voicings and diminished voicings, all movable.
A person could make a lot of music with that!
Analyze the voicings; see how they could be changed to make other types
of voicings. For example, raising the 7th of an unaltered dominant voicing
should give you some kind of major-family chord, even if it's rootless.
For some fresh comping ideas, try listening to how piano players comp
while they're soloing. I've learned a lot from hearing Wynton Kelly,
Bud Powell, Bill Evans, Eddie Costa, Tommy Flanagan - all players with
different self-comping approaches. Since they're using one hand, most
of the voicings are doable on guitar. You'll also learn a lot about
using space - when not to play!