"Inside" 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" voicings.

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 looking for!

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!


Play Example



2000, Bob Russell