New to comping and jazz guitar chords? By the end of this lesson, you’ll have the knowledge to comp through jazz standards with cool-sounding chords and comping patterns. Using Fly me to the Moon as a conduit for learning, you’ll work the material required to successfully comp through this tune, and many others.
Knowing comping patterns is a requirement for any Jazz guitarist. However, what’s often overlooked is when and why a given comping pattern is appropriate in any particular musical situation. That’s why, for each comping pattern you learn in this lesson, you’ll also learn when to use it and why it works.
Table of Contents
Getting started – The Chords
Before you begin comping through jazz standards, it’s important to scan through the lead sheet in order to make sure you have the right chords for the job under your fingers.
- To play Fly me to the Moon, you’ll need to know m7, 7, maj7, min7b5, and 6 chord qualities.
- When comping, moving economically from chord to chord is a must, which is called voice leading.
- To ensure that you don’t leap the length of the guitar to find the next chord voicing, you’ll learn chords with the root on both the E and A-string, using Drop 3 chord voicings.
Minor 7 Chords (m7)
Minor 7 chords contain 4 notes:
In order to play all 4 notes in the m7 chord, you’ll reorder them on the guitar to fit the Drop 3 voicing style. In a Drop 3 m7 chord, the notes are voiced from lowest to highest as:
|Drop 3 m7 chord||1||b7||b3||5|
The reason you reorder the notes in the m7 chord from Root, b3, 5, b7 to Root, b7, b3, 5 (in the Drop 3 chord) is to make the chord easier to play on the fretboard.
As you’ll be using Drop 3 chords for the entire lesson, the maj7, 7, 6, and m7b5 chords will be reordered in the same way.
m7 chords are featured heavily in Fly me to the Moon, as they can function as iim7, iiim7 and vim7 chords, all of which you’ll see in this tune.
The example below is the first chord in Fly me to the Moon, Am7.
As you progress through to the full tune, you’ll play through a number of examples that require shifting m7 chord shapes to new root notes, so work on this skill if it’s new to you at this point.
Dominant 7 Chords (7)
Dominant 7th chords create dissonance that propels the harmony of a tune forward.
When you read through the complete changes to Fly me to the Moon below, you’ll notice that after every 7 chord there is either a m7 or maj7 chord.
Jazz harmony often creates moments of tension with harmony and melody, which are followed by a consonant sounding release. The reason for the tension is because of how the 7th chord is constructed.
The dominant 7th chord contains the notes:
|Dominant 7th chord||1||3||5||b7|
The b7 in the 7 chord forms a tritone with the 3rd, which produces a very dissonant sound.
In Fly me to the Moon, the 7th chords create tension and are always resolved by more stable sounding maj7, 6, or m7 chords.
However, tension in jazz isn’t always necessarily resolved in this fashion. In the 12 bar blues form for example, tension is maintained with a continuous flow of 7 chords.
Check out the chart for the D7 Drop 3 voicings below.
Major 7 Chords (Maj7)
As mentioned earlier, major 7 chords can provide the consonant and stable sounds that follow tense moments in jazz music. In Fly me to the Moon, the maj7 chord appears only after a 7th chord is played (tension and release).
The maj7 chord is constructed from the unaltered tones:
The two voicings for maj7 chords that you’ll work on in this lesson are shown below, using Cmaj7 Drop 3 chords as examples.
Half Diminished Chords (m7b5)
When playing min7b5 chords, you’ll immediately hear a darker quality that isn’t present in any of the previous chords.
The notes in the min7b5 chord are:
The min7b5 chord sounds darker because the first 3 notes in the chord create the dissonant sounding diminished triad (root, b3, b5).
Min7b5 chords almost always appear as a ii in a minor II V progression in jazz.
Here are two voicings of the Drop 3 Bmin7b5 chord from the E and A strings to get started with in the practice room.
6 Chords (6)
6 chords are some of the most consonant sounding chords available to a jazz guitarist.
The 6 chord contains the interval structure:
Because the 6 chord is so consonant, it’s most often found at the very end of a tune as the final resolution to the tonic chord.
In Fly me to the Moon, the 6 chord is found just before the end of the first ending, and again at the very end of the second ending.
Two Drop 3 6 chord voicings are included here to help you to get started with these shapes in your studies.
Chord Rhythm Patterns
After reviewing the appropriate chord voicings needed for this lesson, the next step is to learn a few comping patterns to go along with those chord shapes. Comping patterns allow you to play the necessary supporting role for a soloist or ensemble in a Jazz situation. Without a consistent and thoughtful comping method, the rhythm will sound out of place very quickly.
Here are three extremely versatile comping patterns that you can use in a number of different situations.
Freddie Green Rhythm
The Freddie Green rhythm is strong quarter note rhythm that was popularized by one of the greatest rhythm section guitarists of all time, Freddie Green.
Use a single chord to first familiarize yourself with the rhythm before moving on to longer progressions.
Listen & Play Along
Now, see if you can comp through the first 8 bars of Fly me to the Moon using the Freddie Green rhythm.
The toughest part about this exercise is making the chord transitions. If you find it difficult to switch between two particular chords, isolate the problem chords and practice playing them back-to-back until they are comfortable.
When Can You Use the Freddie Green Rhythm?
Duo Playing – Without a drummer, it creates a nice percussive effect and helps maintain time.
Small Ensemble – Will again help maintain time. However, if you’re playing with another accompanist such as a pianist, you’ll need to consider a few factors.
- If the pianist is comping rhythmically and consistently, then you can play less rhythmically, maybe even play some arpeggios. In this situation, the Freddie Green rhythm is less appropriate.
- If the pianist isn’t playing rhythmically, then you need to fill that role, which would make the Freddie Green rhythm a perfect fit for the job.
Big Band/Large Ensemble – If you don’t have a bandleader to defer to, it’s a good choice to default to the Freddie Green rhythm. Freddie Green was the greatest big band jazz guitar accompanist of all time!
Another essential comping pattern is the Charleston rhythm. The Charleston rhythm features two strums per bar played on beat one and the ‘&’ of two.
- The chord played on beat one is held until the chord played on the ’and’ of beat two.
- The second strum on the ‘&’ of two is always a short strum.
Once you feel comfortable with playing the Charleston rhythm over the single Am7 chord, play this rhythm over the first 8 bars of Fly Me to the Moon.
When Can You Use the Charleston rhythm?
The Charleston rhythm works in virtually the same situations as the Freddie Green rhythm.
If you ever find yourself playing in a small ensemble and you notice the time is off, it’s a good idea to switch to the Freddie Green rhythm to get things back on track.
Lastly, if you ever find yourself playing without a bass player and would like to recreate the feel of a bass player, you can play this bass-chord rhythm.
Separating the root note, in this case the bass note, from the chord creates the illusion that a bass player is present.
Start by playing the bass-chord rhythm over a single chord. In this example, you’ll play the Am7 chord in combination with the bass-chord rhythm.
Next, play through the first 8 bars of Fly Me to the Moon using the same bass-chord rhythm as in the example above.
When Can You Use the Bass-Chord comping rhythm?
Solo – This rhythm works great as a soloist as it creates the illusion that two instruments are playing at once.
Duo – You can play the bass-chord rhythm so long as there’s no bass player.
Small Ensemble – If you’re playing in a small ensemble without a bass player, you may choose to play the bass-chord rhythm.
As long as there’s no bassist, or piano player playing bass lines, the bass-chord rhythm will fit nicely.
Fly Me to the Moon Chord Changes
After covering chord voicings and a few very useful comping rhythms, you’re ready to take on the full tune.
Once you’re comfortable playing the chords using whole notes, work on playing each of the three comping patterns previously covered in the lesson over the entire tune.
- Freddie Green Rhythm
- Charleston Rhythm
- Bass-chord Rhythm
The tune is relatively long, so make it a part of daily practice to memorize the complete chord changes.
Here are a few tips for memorizing the chord changes to a tune:
- Take it 4 Bars at a Time – You’ll memorize the tune a lot faster if you don’t try to learn it all in one go.
- In Writing – Practice rewriting the chord changes on paper.
- Singing the Bass Notes – Singing the lowest note in the chord, for example A for Am7, will help you to memorize the changes using the musical part of your brain.
- Use all 3 Comping Patterns – Varying the way you play through the tune will allow your hands to memorize the location of the chords faster.
As a review, and to reiterate some of the harmonic tendencies mentioned earlier in this lesson, here’s a follow-up analysis of the harmony in Fly me to the Moon:
The C6 Chord Appears in Both Endings – 6 chords often appear at the very end of a jazz tune because of their consonant sound.
Maj7 Chords Often Appear After 7th Chords – Maj7 chords often show up after a 7 chord to provide the release created by the tension in the 7th chord. Maj7 chords are often the I in the ii V I progression.
m7 Chords Are Often Found Before 7th Chords – m7 chords are commonly used as the II in a II V I progression, which results in them being positioned before 7 chords. m7 chords are consonant, stable sounding chords and provide a contrasting flavor to the 7 chord.
7th Chords Create Tension – 7th chords are often used as the V in a II V I progression, conveniently sandwiched between two consonant chords, the iim7, and the Imaj7.
Min7b5 Chords are the ii in a Minor ii V Progression – in jazz music, min7b5 chords are almost always the iim7b5 in a minor II V progression. This means that they’ll almost always be followed by a 7th chords acting as a V7 in a progression.
About the Author
Terence Wright is a jazz guitarist and music educator based in Canada. He is a regular performer at festivals and jazz venues, and teaches jazz guitar students both locally and through Skype. He maintains and operates Terence Wright Guitar, a website for free jazz guitar resources.