The Jazz Guitar Chord Dictionary
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  1. #1

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    Hi all, I'm new to this forum and relatively new to jazz guitar (trying to get into it for the past year). Though I have played guitar at a functional level for 20 years, and I've been listening to jazz guitar for about the same length of time. I'm wondering if I can get some general advice regarding my plan to play with a singer.

    Eventually I'd like to get into all the aspects of jazz, but as an initial goal it is just more likely that I will be able to play some standards with singers, and less likely that I will be jamming with other jazz instrumentalists. To this end, I have focused on trying to learn chord voicings. I've spent many hours with Mickey Baker's "Complete Course in Jazz Guitar, Book 1," Arnie Berle's "Chords & Progressions for Jazz & Popular Guitar" and Charlton Johnson's "Swing and Big Band Guitar." The chords are coming along - accuracy for multiple twisted chords in a row isn't great but getting better.

    But what I'd really like to be able to do is play a chord-melody section between vocal parts, perhaps to feel more balanced with the singer. Chord melody arrangements are challenging - I can spend weeks trying to get my hands and fingers to move accurately, just for a 2 or 3 page arrangement. And I'm still undecided if I want to use fingerstyle or flatpicking primarily, so I practice both, which slows me down as well. I've tried hybrid, but I think that's in third place right now.

    None of the chord melody arrangements in my books seem to be in good keys for female singers. So if I spend weeks on learning a chord melody arrangement of Misty in E-flat, it's either too high or too low and therefore I can't use it as-is for an instrumental section. It kind of makes sense to me - a good chord melody arrangement with the melody on the 1st string might be positioned to hit high notes around Ds and Es, whereas female singers tend not to go that high for jazz tunes. I've dabbled in making my own chord melody arrangements in better keys, but it is not easy. Some of the chords in the Hal Leonard arrangements deviate from the Real Book chords a bit, seemingly to fit better on the guitar. It will be a while before I can figure out how to do that.

    At this point, I'm wondering if I should focus on making those arrangements in different keys, or if I should try something drastic like buying a baritone guitar. If I tune the baritone in C standard, most of my existing chord melody tunes will instantly be in a good key for female singers. But I just don't see other jazz guitar players doing this. I see a number of 7-string players, but that seems like learning a whole new system. Even learning about baritones is a new world - I am not knowledgeable about pickups and amps for a good jazz sound.

    Sorry for the long post - if anyone has been down this path and can give advice, even if it's to change paths altogether, I'm all ears. Thank you!

  2.  

    The Jazz Guitar Chord Dictionary
     
  3. #2

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    The Real Vocal Books are available in low voice and high voice versions. Having high voice versions will give you a good start toward learning tunes in the keys women singers tend to use.

    But you will still be frequently asked to transpose up or down a half step or more, and to learn tunes you don't know and/or may not be crazy about.

    It's a big challenge. My approach was to learn to sing myself :-)

  4. #3

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    Start putting together your own arrangements instead of learning others...knowing HOW will make the process of learning faster...

    But also...the singer's going to sing the melody...so maybe you don't want to just repeat it? At least not on every tune.

    Nobody was better at playing with. singer than Joe Pass. His stuff is incredibly next level, but listening to a bunch of the stuff he did with Ella can at least give you an idea of some of the many devices he used to break up a tune instrumentally and keep it interesting.

  5. #4

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    I worked with a singer for many years on a regular basis. It changed the way I played and it was initially one of the greatest challenges.
    I learned by really getting to know root movement of a small number of pieces in many keys. It taught me to play by ear and that was the single most liberating aspect that now informs anything I play.
    Personally, I learned to hear and identify a piece without a chart, but by identifying common progressions:
    The II- I (any key)
    The I IV Maj
    The VI- I (and VI- to I of course)
    The II V (in every key)
    V7 to I and later on, tasty variations of this all important road back home.

    If you take any chart, you'll see these root movements in abundance. Learn them by fingerboard location and by ear. Put on a recording of a vocalist and see if you can play simply but in time with him or her...not even necessarily chords but roots, like a bass player.

    For me, this instilled an aural sense of the sound scape, get me to anticipate changes and change my hand positions to follow changes.

    Working this way, I came to sense from the singer's humming the first phrase of a tune the key, the best place to start, where all the DO's were and then the guitar was there to follow the sound.

    Strong recommendation: Learn to get OFF BOOK as soon as you can with any piece. Don't work off a chart. The more you sense and know a piece by ear, the more you can find the music the singer is trying to convey and the better you can make them sound better. That'll make you most appreciated.
    Hear the singer not the chart.

  6. #5

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    The 7-string doesn't involve a new system at all if the 7th is tuned to low A, as most jazzers do, you just need to move bass notes from the 5th to the 7th string; finger style is the best way to go. As far as making it easier goes, using a looper could be a real timesaver: play an intro, and at the start of the tune when the singer comes in, hit the looper switch, and hit it again at the end of the song, then play over your own accompaniment. Works like a charm, and with the right looper, you can save a good track for future use. This takes some practice, of course, but I have done this on probably 2000 gigs with singers or horn players, and it's a lot of fun and gives your partner a nice, big sound with a real bass line. I love the Joe Pass-Ella recordings, but I miss the bass of the 7th string (just a little, mind you).

  7. #6

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    Quote Originally Posted by PjzzaPie
    Hi all, I'm new to this forum and relatively new to jazz guitar (trying to get into it for the past year). Though I have played guitar at a functional level for 20 years, and I've been listening to jazz guitar for about the same length of time. I'm wondering if I can get some general advice regarding my plan to play with a singer.

    Eventually I'd like to get into all the aspects of jazz, but as an initial goal it is just more likely that I will be able to play some standards with singers, and less likely that I will be jamming with other jazz instrumentalists. To this end, I have focused on trying to learn chord voicings. I've spent many hours with Mickey Baker's "Complete Course in Jazz Guitar, Book 1," Arnie Berle's "Chords & Progressions for Jazz & Popular Guitar" and Charlton Johnson's "Swing and Big Band Guitar." The chords are coming along - accuracy for multiple twisted chords in a row isn't great but getting better.

    But what I'd really like to be able to do is play a chord-melody section between vocal parts, perhaps to feel more balanced with the singer. Chord melody arrangements are challenging - I can spend weeks trying to get my hands and fingers to move accurately, just for a 2 or 3 page arrangement. And I'm still undecided if I want to use fingerstyle or flatpicking primarily, so I practice both, which slows me down as well. I've tried hybrid, but I think that's in third place right now.

    None of the chord melody arrangements in my books seem to be in good keys for female singers. So if I spend weeks on learning a chord melody arrangement of Misty in E-flat, it's either too high or too low and therefore I can't use it as-is for an instrumental section. It kind of makes sense to me - a good chord melody arrangement with the melody on the 1st string might be positioned to hit high notes around Ds and Es, whereas female singers tend not to go that high for jazz tunes. I've dabbled in making my own chord melody arrangements in better keys, but it is not easy. Some of the chords in the Hal Leonard arrangements deviate from the Real Book chords a bit, seemingly to fit better on the guitar. It will be a while before I can figure out how to do that.

    At this point, I'm wondering if I should focus on making those arrangements in different keys, or if I should try something drastic like buying a baritone guitar. If I tune the baritone in C standard, most of my existing chord melody tunes will instantly be in a good key for female singers. But I just don't see other jazz guitar players doing this. I see a number of 7-string players, but that seems like learning a whole new system. Even learning about baritones is a new world - I am not knowledgeable about pickups and amps for a good jazz sound.

    Sorry for the long post - if anyone has been down this path and can give advice, even if it's to change paths altogether, I'm all ears. Thank you!
    The advice the others on this post is all great and I would follow their suggestions. I regularly gig with a female singer and here are my additional suggestions:
    -If you will work with the same singer, then find the singer before you spend time on the key. Sometimes the same singer will need to change keys and you will need to support their needs.
    -Remember the audience is usually there to hear the singer and your role will be to make them sound good. So play softer than them.
    -While working on a chord melody for each song is good practice, try to improvise around the melody with your chords and don't just restate the melody.
    -Good learning techniques for improvising a chord melody would be to work out the chords with the melody note on the first string e.g. an F-7 with the F on the first string and stretch with your 3rd finger or pinkie for the G note w/o lifting other fingers). Then move the F-7 to the third position to get the Ab on the first string and stretch for the Bb, do the same moving up the neck for the F-7 with C and the Eb on the first string. By getting comfortable with this method you can support a melody with the chords underneath and fool with it (improvise) to provide some variety
    -Next do the same as above, but with a note on the 6th string to do a simple walking bass. e.g. F-7 with low F on the 6th string and then stretch with your 3rd and 4th fingers for the low G and Ab
    -Combining the two ideas above can help you create an interesting moving background for the singer w/o just relying on strumming.
    -Avoid single note soloing during your break as it will be very hard for the audience to follow you.
    - George Van Eps Original Guitar Solos is a good book to use to learn how to create full chordal backgrounds with moving notes.

    Good luck with this and be patient.

    --Charley

  8. #7

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    Quote Originally Posted by charleyrich99
    Remember the audience is usually there to hear the singer and your role will be to make them sound good.
    That is the foundation for everything when you play with a singer; the answer to all questions about whether to do this or that, what to learn to do, how to approach comping, soloing, etc. It is all right there; make it your center of focus (this is the same as when you play with other soloing instruments - do what makes them sound good).

    Of course, to do this you need to get to know them or develop a strong intuition from experience (both is best).

    Part of working with a singer is learning to detect distress and resolving it. They may experience musical distress (a problem with what or how you and/or others are playing) or vocal distress (something temporarily not quite right with their voice). Fixing the first kind comes from experience, learning the body language singers adopt to signal what they want, and learning how to adjust things in real time performance. For the second kind, keep a little package of salty potato chips in your stuff. Almost all temporary vocal anomalies are resolved by eating just 2-3 salty potato chips; it fixes dry mouth, wet mouth, sticky mouth, etc., basically resets the mouth and throat chemistry back to normal.

    When playing with a female singer, be sure not to position yourself too close behind her. Sometimes they like to move around and a 60kg singer in heels can destroy a guitar chord that a 150kg bass player in Dr. Marten boots can't.

  9. #8

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jimmy blue note
    Hear the singer not the chart...Learn to get OFF BOOK as soon as you can with any piece. Don't work off a chart. The more you sense and know a piece by ear, the more you can find the music the singer is trying to convey and the better you can make them sound better.
    Jimmy states the essence of sensitive, effective accompaniment! You can't expect singers with whom you don't work regularly and communicate well to bend to "your" arrangements - you have to support and enhance each singer's unique style and strengths while countering weaknesses. Trying to force a vocalist into your concept of a tune is a recipe for disaster!

    You can't assume that even a great vocalist will know exactly where to come in on pitch and on beat. Far more seasoned pros than I ever expected to do so require a "bell tone" to cue them to their first note. So you can't play a gorgeous intro that resolves from a 7b5b9 into the first note for them unless their first note is that b9 - and it helps many of them if you accent their note within the chord. Pickups are also problematic for many, so you have to give them a rhythmic cue (and not infrequently a nod of the head, pointed finger, or mouthed "now!"). This means placing yourself so the two of you can see each other's faces with little head movement needed. I frequently make the singer's first note the highest and loudest note of the last chord(s) in the intro and often repeat that chord (which should be a simple diad or triad), highlighting the bell note, on the last 2 or 3 beats before the vocal starts.

    Be careful with sophisticated voicings behind singers you don't know well. What you think is an innovative and exciting 7#9 will sound off if the singer expects and sings a 9th over it. If unintended, a clash of half a tone could throw a singer off. And rhythms that can be really cool are tripwires if they're unexpected by the vocalist. Your triplet behind his or her 8th notes may just muddy up the flow.

    Here's an example of the above. Maci Miller is one of my favorite singers with whom to work. All of my standard guitars have been 7s since the '90s, ronjazz. But that 7th is a potential disaster with a bass player, so it takes great care and restraint (and the ability to stay away from it if the bass player can't get in synch with you. I couldn't find a video or well recorded track of me as her solo accompanist, but here's a tune with solo intro from a concert we played with my trio behind her (George Livanos on bass and Mike O'Rourke on drums):



    PS: I love the sound of a good flat top for this kind of work. This is my Ibanez AEL207E.

  10. #9

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    Quote Originally Posted by pauln
    keep a little package of salty potato chips in your stuff. Almost all temporary vocal anomalies are resolved by eating just 2-3 salty potato chips; it fixes dry mouth, wet mouth, sticky mouth, etc., basically resets the mouth and throat chemistry back to normal.
    So if I eat a few potato chips, the vocalist will get better? I gotta try that! New to jazz guitar, would like to work towards playing with a singer-laughing_smiley-gif

  11. #10
    Quote Originally Posted by Tim Clark
    The Real Vocal Books are available in low voice and high voice versions. Having high voice versions will give you a good start toward learning tunes in the keys women singers tend to use.

    But you will still be frequently asked to transpose up or down a half step or more, and to learn tunes you don't know and/or may not be crazy about.

    It's a big challenge. My approach was to learn to sing myself :-)
    Yes thank you - interestingly, the low voice versions seem better for female singers, and the high voice keys seem better for tenors / high baritones. For example 'All of Me' is in C for high voice and G for low voice. My female singers would much rather top out at B than the high E, at least for jazz. And Ella sings it in G. I'm kind of an untrained bass, so developing some jazz vocal chops would be a whole other adventure!

    Quote Originally Posted by mr. beaumont
    Start putting together your own arrangements instead of learning others...knowing HOW will make the process of learning faster...

    But also...the singer's going to sing the melody...so maybe you don't want to just repeat it? At least not on every tune.

    Nobody was better at playing with. singer than Joe Pass. His stuff is incredibly next level, but listening to a bunch of the stuff he did with Ella can at least give you an idea of some of the many devices he used to break up a tune instrumentally and keep it interesting.
    That is a good point about not repeating the melody verbatim. I have listened to all of the Pass / Fitzgerald albums - Ella's voice is a little rough at this point in her career but it's the remarkably sensitive and expressive guitar playing that keeps me coming back. I would love to commit to pursuing that kind of sound - the fingerstyle playing, the solos that have their own melody, the single note runs, etc. I just don't see a particularly clear way to start going to that place from where I am now, at least not with my current lifestyle.

    I figured I would learn several Hal Leonard chord melody arrangements and figure out the logic behind them, but I get stuck easily and often. For example, in the Real Book, 'Here's That Rainy Day' has these chords:

    | Gmaj7 | Bb7 | Ebmaj7 | Abmaj7 |
    | Am7 | D7 | Gmaj7 | Dm7 G7 |

    The Hal Leonard chord melody that I spent weeks learning is arranged as such:

    | Gmaj7 Bm7 | Bb7 Bb9 Bb7b9 | Ebmaj7 Eb6 | Abmaj7 Ab6 |
    | Bm7 Bb7 | Am11 D7 D9sus4 D7b9 | Gmaj7 G6 | Dm13 G7 |

    Now I can generally follow what the arranger did. Sometimes the extensions are due to the melody, sometimes it's some other form of jazz chromatic creativity that I can appreciate when someone else uses it. But to go from A to B on my own? Deciding when a melody note needs more stuff under it and when it doesn't, and feeling remotely confident about those decisions? That seems like it takes experience. It's not that I want to sound amazing right away, though coming from classical piano world, there was a lot of repertoire at all levels that made me feel like I accomplished something beautiful, from beginner to advanced. Right now jazz guitar seems like it's all advanced, and before that it's just many stages of incomprehensible attempts at being advanced.

  12. #11
    Quote Originally Posted by Jimmy blue note
    I worked with a singer for many years on a regular basis. It changed the way I played and it was initially one of the greatest challenges.
    I learned by really getting to know root movement of a small number of pieces in many keys. It taught me to play by ear and that was the single most liberating aspect that now informs anything I play.
    Personally, I learned to hear and identify a piece without a chart, but by identifying common progressions:
    The II- I (any key)
    The I IV Maj
    The VI- I (and VI- to I of course)
    The II V (in every key)
    V7 to I and later on, tasty variations of this all important road back home.

    If you take any chart, you'll see these root movements in abundance. Learn them by fingerboard location and by ear. Put on a recording of a vocalist and see if you can play simply but in time with him or her...not even necessarily chords but roots, like a bass player.

    For me, this instilled an aural sense of the sound scape, get me to anticipate changes and change my hand positions to follow changes.

    Working this way, I came to sense from the singer's humming the first phrase of a tune the key, the best place to start, where all the DO's were and then the guitar was there to follow the sound.

    Strong recommendation: Learn to get OFF BOOK as soon as you can with any piece. Don't work off a chart. The more you sense and know a piece by ear, the more you can find the music the singer is trying to convey and the better you can make them sound better. That'll make you most appreciated.
    Hear the singer not the chart.
    I appreciate this advice. I'm totally with you in concept. When I tackle popular music, I rely on decades of ear training to hear the chord qualities, the root movements you mention, inversions, and even the non-diatonic chords through mixture, secondary dominants, etc. Feed me pop songs and I can do this all day.

    On the other hand, give me a jazz recording with pianists and guitarists using jazz chromaticism, rootless voicings with no bass player, etc. and I will get lost quickly. Even with charts, once a jazzer starts jazzing, my mind starts running after things that it will never catch. Is there easy jazz out there? Is that an oxymoron?

  13. #12
    Quote Originally Posted by ronjazz
    The 7-string doesn't involve a new system at all if the 7th is tuned to low A, as most jazzers do, you just need to move bass notes from the 5th to the 7th string; finger style is the best way to go. As far as making it easier goes, using a looper could be a real timesaver: play an intro, and at the start of the tune when the singer comes in, hit the looper switch, and hit it again at the end of the song, then play over your own accompaniment. Works like a charm, and with the right looper, you can save a good track for future use. This takes some practice, of course, but I have done this on probably 2000 gigs with singers or horn players, and it's a lot of fun and gives your partner a nice, big sound with a real bass line. I love the Joe Pass-Ella recordings, but I miss the bass of the 7th string (just a little, mind you).
    Ah I had no idea. I thought the 7th string was tuned to B. I love the albums with George Van Eps and Howard Alden playing together - there's always a 7-string in the mix, sometimes two. John Pizzarelli's album of Pat Metheny tunes on nylon 7-string is incredible as well. It looks like no one liked my baritone idea - maybe the 7-string is the solution!

  14. #13

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    Quote Originally Posted by PjzzaPie
    Ah I had no idea. I thought the 7th string was tuned to B.
    It's a choice. I tune to low B because I play melodic in the bass lines and it's nice to think of the guitar at the 5th with an imaginary capo as a baritone guitar with extra range on top. I'm always throwing a melody line to the bass and it doubles the 2nd string so voicings rooted on the 2nd string have the growl of the bass you're not used to hearing.
    To each their own. Sounds cool either way.

  15. #14

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    Quote Originally Posted by PjzzaPie
    On the other hand, give me a jazz recording with pianists and guitarists using jazz chromaticism, rootless voicings with no bass player, etc. and I will get lost quickly. Even with charts, once a jazzer starts jazzing, my mind starts running after things that it will never catch. Is there easy jazz out there? Is that an oxymoron?
    As you grow as a guitarist, if you continue to expand your own vocabulary and tool set, those "weird chords" will be as familiar as an open G chord. They're only confusing because they're not part of your chord vocabulary for now. It takes time, but it's SO worth the effort.
    When you learn new chords, they have a harmonic context; they have a function. Here's the secret: Seasoned players can hear the function and not the notes. If the piece moves in a sound way, you don't get lost or hung up on voicings.

  16. #15

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    Quote Originally Posted by PjzzaPie
    maybe the 7-string is the solution!
    I think you’re getting far ahead of yourself. What do you want to be able to do - casually play a few tunes with other hobbyists for pleasure or be able to get gigs accompanying professional singers? A pro will tell you his or her key. And if you play often enough and long enough, you’ll eventually have the same tune called in all 12 keys. Not singing in a comfortable key can cause laryngeal problems for a vocalist, so they won’t sing with you if you can’t play in their keys.

    If you want to be able to back multiple vocalists at a professional level, you’ll have to be able to play their selections in their keys with no hesitation. You don’t need a 7 for this - you need knowledge, skill, and experience. A 6 was fine for Joe Pass behind Ella, Mundell Lowe behind Sarah Vaughan, Jack Marshall behind Nancy Wilson, Tony Mottola behind Perry Como, Al Viola behind Sinatra, etc etc etc. But it takes practice, perseverance and versatility.

    If as you say, you have trouble following jazz changes, the last thing you need is to throw learning to play a 7 into the mix. Learn a few tunes well and keep it simple. Minimize extensions and outside harmonies until you really know a tune well and can play it in at least a few keys. You seem to be overcomplicating things you should keep simple. Learning the tunes is hard enough for a start.

  17. #16

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    If your learning to comp you could get Robert Contis comping expo and one of his chord melody dvds or arrangement books if you have tried jazz chords before.

    His products really helped me progress and it might be easier than reading advice then trying to apply it (depending on where you are) even though the advice on these posts are helpful.

  18. #17

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    I once worked with a singer, and one time I couldn’t do a gig she got this other player who was way more advanced than me, the sort who puts everything into everything. I thought I would be replaced, but she called me and said she preferred me, and I asked why: “Because you listen”. Period. It doesn’t so much matter what you do as how you do it. You’d do well to keep that in mind.

  19. #18
    Quote Originally Posted by charleyrich99
    The advice the others on this post is all great and I would follow their suggestions. I regularly gig with a female singer and here are my additional suggestions:
    -If you will work with the same singer, then find the singer before you spend time on the key. Sometimes the same singer will need to change keys and you will need to support their needs.
    -Remember the audience is usually there to hear the singer and your role will be to make them sound good. So play softer than them.
    -While working on a chord melody for each song is good practice, try to improvise around the melody with your chords and don't just restate the melody.
    -Good learning techniques for improvising a chord melody would be to work out the chords with the melody note on the first string e.g. an F-7 with the F on the first string and stretch with your 3rd finger or pinkie for the G note w/o lifting other fingers). Then move the F-7 to the third position to get the Ab on the first string and stretch for the Bb, do the same moving up the neck for the F-7 with C and the Eb on the first string. By getting comfortable with this method you can support a melody with the chords underneath and fool with it (improvise) to provide some variety
    -Next do the same as above, but with a note on the 6th string to do a simple walking bass. e.g. F-7 with low F on the 6th string and then stretch with your 3rd and 4th fingers for the low G and Ab
    -Combining the two ideas above can help you create an interesting moving background for the singer w/o just relying on strumming.
    -Avoid single note soloing during your break as it will be very hard for the audience to follow you.
    - George Van Eps Original Guitar Solos is a good book to use to learn how to create full chordal backgrounds with moving notes.

    Good luck with this and be patient.

    --Charley
    Thank you for the advice and encouragement. The singer I'm hoping to play with is somewhat similar to me - pretty experienced with other kinds of music that may have quasi-jazz elements (pop, broadway, etc.) and an interest in tackling some known jazz tunes from the Great American Songbook. She can mix registers well enough to transition smoothly up to those high Es and Fs, but the resulting 'classical soprano' quality is not one that she likes for jazz. And she can do Broadway belting up there, but also doesn't find that appropriate for jazz. I trust her completely to be aware of good vocal health and to communicate her needs to me.

    I have some experience playing non-jazz guitar behind singers. Well, I learned the folk / pop standards early and for the past few decades I've tried to increase my sensitivity as an accompanist. There is always more to learn. I just love the sound of 'catching' a melody note on a cadence with an unexpected color chord, and I feel it's another nuance I can add - the ability to paint with new colors, in a tasteful and always supportive way.

    Thanks for the ideas about making my own chord melody parts. I'm going to need to spend some more time with the specific suggestions to see if I can make sense of them. I like the idea of moving bass lines, and if I develop Joe Pass skills I might throw in a few single note runs but as of now I can't pull that off. I will look for the George Van Eps book, if it is not 7-string focused - he is definitely one of my favorites.

  20. #19

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    My advice - learn the songs

    i know it sounds stupid, but the more you understand how the melodies and chords go together, the better you can accompany.

  21. #20

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    Quote Originally Posted by nevershouldhavesoldit
    Jimmy states the essence of sensitive, effective accompaniment! You can't expect singers with whom you don't work regularly and communicate well to bend to "your" arrangements - you have to support and enhance each singer's unique style and strengths while countering weaknesses. Trying to force a vocalist into your concept of a tune is a recipe for disaster!

    You can't assume that even a great vocalist will know exactly where to come in on pitch and on beat. Far more seasoned pros than I ever expected to do so require a "bell tone" to cue them to their first note. So you can't play a gorgeous intro that resolves from a 7b5b9 into the first note for them unless their first note is that b9 - and it helps many of them if you accent their note within the chord. Pickups are also problematic for many, so you have to give them a rhythmic cue (and not infrequently a nod of the head, pointed finger, or mouthed "now!"). This means placing yourself so the two of you can see each other's faces with little head movement needed. I frequently make the singer's first note the highest and loudest note of the last chord(s) in the intro and often repeat that chord (which should be a simple diad or triad), highlighting the bell note, on the last 2 or 3 beats before the vocal start.



    Be careful with sophisticated voicings behind singers you don't know well. What you think is an innovative and exciting 7#9 will sound off if the singer expects and sings a 9th over it. If unintended, a clash of half a tone could throw a singer off. And rhythms that can be really cool are tripwires if they're unexpected by the vocalist. Your triplet behind his or her 8th notes may just muddy up the flow.

    Here's an example of the above. Maci Miller is one of my favorite singers with whom to work. All of my standard guitars have been 7s since the '90s, ronjazz. But that 7th is a potential disaster with a bass player, so it takes great care and restraint (and the ability to stay away from it if the bass player can't get in synch with you. I couldn't find a video or well recorded track of me as her solo accompanist, but here's a tune with solo intro from a concert we played with my trio behind her (George Livanos on bass and Mike O'Rourke on drums):



    PS: I love the sound of a good flat top for this kind of work. This is my Ibanez AEL207E.


    Hi, N, . . . 10 Stars!!!!!
    You have a wonderful sense of comping/improvisation and perfectly compliment the vocalist. Also, I am quite surprised at how well the flattop worked in the ensemble. Great job!
    Marinero

  22. #21

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    There's one thing that hasn't been mentioned: if your accompaniment is a cold gig or if you have time to rehearse before the gig. The first is reserved for pros; the second may be possible for an above-average guitarist with ample time. . . otherwise, it's the old garage band technique of practice, practice, practice which is where most "aficionado" guitarists probably fall...
    Marinero

  23. #22

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    Quote Originally Posted by Marinero
    Hi, N, . . . 10 Stars!!!!! You have a wonderful sense of comping/improvisation and perfectly compliment the vocalist. Also, I am quite surprised at how well the flattop worked in the ensemble. Great job! Marinero
    Thanks so much!! I've spent the better part of 60+ years studying and practicing the art of accompaniment because I truly love to do it. I fear that the OP is grossly understimating what it takes to provide good solo backing for a vocalist and how long it takes to become halfway decent at it. The last thing in the world to worry about is "accuracy for multiple twisted chords in a row". Ya gotta know the tunes and be able to back a vocalist without getting in the way. Unless you work with a vocalist regularly so that he / she knows and likes your style and where you're going with both harmony and rhythm, the stuff that sounds so fine in solo instrumental playing usually gets in the way and is often confusing to the vocalist.

    Unless you're Joe Pass, the vocalist is the focus of attention and it's our job to make that person sound and feel as great as possible. Accompanists like Ralph Sharon (with Tony Bennett for many years, for those of you who don't know him), Bucky P, Tommy Flanagan etc are stellar musicians who play amazingly beautiful music. The spotlight's on them when they solo, but they're otherwise part of a team. When hiring musicians for a band or a one-off gig, most of us want people who care more about the song than their solos. If you're even perceived as trying to upstage a vocalist, you won't be asked to play for him or her again. And word travels fast & far, so those who do that won't need an unlimited phone and data plan.

    The three cardinal rules for backing a vocalist are simple:

    1. Don't overplay.
    2. Don't overplay.
    3. Don't overplay.

  24. #23

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    Lots of great advice already. I can offer a case study. Got approached to back a singer for a funeral. The song was a Monica Zetterlund jazz version of Bachianas Brasilleiras, recorded as “Sov”.

    I listened to the recording many times and lifted a couple signature fills. It’s a bossa so I had to carry that feel with bassline fragments, rhythmic strums etc. The preferred key turned out to be completely different from the recording.

    Examining the chords, there were playable in a high and low position on the neck. I found a way to connect them in both positions and messing with the rhythms provided lots of variations.

    This together with the lifted fills was very effective, I got lots of compliments afterwards without feeling that I overextended myself. It wasn’t close to any Joe Pass or chord melody book level but it was my stuff.

    My point is that maybe you just go find a singer, pick a song, listen to some good recording and see what you can do.

  25. #24

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    As many already mentioned it's a good idea to do more basic chords in the beginning. Then later try adding inversions, chords with extentions, substitutions and other things to make it more interesting. But only when you feel you can handle the basic chords really well first. Also try using various rhythms in your comping.


    There's a good video on Mymusicmasterclass that has guitarist Larry Koonse showing how he comps for a singer. She also comments on how she likes guitarists to play. Maybe that is worth checking out?

    Here's an excerpt from that video:


  26. #25

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    Quote Originally Posted by PatrickWD
    Then later try adding inversions, chords with extentions, substitutions and other things to make it more interesting. But only when you feel you can handle the basic chords really well first. Also try using various rhythms in your comping.
    My advice is to avoid that unless you discuss and practice it with the vocalist first and know that he or she is OK with what you want to do. It may be more interesting for you, but it's often just a distraction for the vocalist and the audience. That's probably the major difference between being a solo instrumentalist and being an accompanist. The vocalist in the video I posted as an example (The Nearness of You) has done many gigs with me. She knows how I like to play, and I know how she likes to sing. But even so, I followed the advice I've been giving in this thread. For example, I ended my intro with a sustained chord in which the highest note is the note on which she starts, even though we've played that tune more than once before.

    It's very tempting to throw in a tight inside inversion or a substitution neither of which contains the root or the first note of the melody to follow. This may sound cool for solo guitar, but it risks putting the vocalist in the wrong key. This occasionally happens even with seasoned pros, if they don't know you're going to play that way.