Comping with Guide Tones

What is Comping And What Are Guide Tones?

“Comping” is a term used by jazz musicians.
It is short for “accompanying”.
The term “guide tones” refers to the 3rds and 7ths of chords.

These are the most important notes in a chord.
The 3rd is the note that gives a chord it’s major or minor chord quality.
The 7th further defines the chord sound as it adds the “spice” to the chord.

If you were to leave the root and 5th out of a chord, and only keep the 3rd and 7th, it would still sound like that chord.
The root and the 5th in other words: don’t contribute as much to the overall sound of the chord.
The reason for this is tied in to the study of intervals.

The chord’s root, has the same sonic character akin to the unison or octave (as described in the study of intervals).
Unisons and octaves are called perfect intervals in the study of harmony.
The 5th, is a perfect interval as well.

If one were to describe the sound and character of perfect intervals (unison, 4th, 5th, octave), one would use words like: hollow, transparent, colorless or even descriptions like “lacking personality”.

3rds and 7ths however, have a lot of personality.
3rds sound sweet, pleasant, like honey, also called “consonant”
7ths sound like vinegar, pepper, spicy, also called “dissonant”.

If you are interested to learn more about the theory behind this, I recommend this following blog.

The Harmonic Series and Its Implications on Composition

In case you want to learn more about intervals on guitar, this following blog gives you access to all the urls explaining intervals in great detail:

The Study of Intervals: The Octave

Comping with 3rds and 7ths.

So to get back on topic: when you comp with guide tones, you are basically playing rhythm guitar only using the 3rds and 7ths of chords.

A couple of traits of this rhythm playing style:

  1. You get an uncluttered, more open sound.
  2. You leave more space for the improviser, who has more improvisational freedom soloing over chords that are stripped down to their most basic form.
  3. You’re not stepping on the bass player’s toes with your roots.
  4. The parts you play sit better in the overall band mix.
  5. This comping style leans itself really well to larger ensemble with lots of musicians.
  6. It’s easy to voice lead the chords. (“Voice leading” refers to a way of connecting the chords with least amount of motion between chord tones. This technique makes it sound like you’re composing on the spot, creating a tapestry of connected chords. )

Comping With Guide Tones in Blues

There is fun way, you can comp with guide tones in blues.
This is a common rhythm technique in larger blues band settings.

Check out following examples of a major blues with guide tones in the key of G.

Comping with Guide tones in G Blues

Now here’s something fun…
When you move the above fingerings up 6 frets, you get exactly the same notes like in the above example, just flipped around.
So there are 2 locations where you could play this.

Comping with guide tones in G7 p2


The above examples, cover the guide tones in dominant 7 chords.
Later we will cover how to comp with guide tones in maj7, m7 and m7b5 chords.

Contact me anytime if you have any questions about the materials covered in past months.

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