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Your goal is not to learn a million chords

Easy Jazz Guitar Comping in 3 steps

I recently had a conversation with a frustrated guitarist looking for an easy way to learn jazz chords on guitar. He’d tried several books and even some lessons from reputable teachers, but it didn’t help. “To be honest,” he said, “I am totally bewildered and fed up with it.”

“Oh dear,” I said, trying to think of something positive to say.

Let’s face it. Jazz comping is a tough thing to learn. It’s not helped by the fact that many standard texts on the topic are totally bewildering and scant help to newcomers.

So where do you start if you want to learn to play ‘Summertime’ or ‘Autumn Leaves’ on guitar? You don’t need ridiculously long fingers or extraordinary dexterity. You definitely don’t need hundreds of advanced chord shapes – most players rely heavily on the same few shapes.

So this is what I said to the frustrated guitarist: “Your goal is not to learn a million chords, but to know a few voicings, and their inversions, and know how to use them effectively in two or three standard progressions or songs.”*

I went on, “Once you have the voicings and inversions under your fingers, the next step is to introduce a handful of simple jazz rhythms. Again, your aim is not to learn every possible jazz rhythm, but to know a few commonly played patterns and how to vary them.”

I recommended Mike DeLiddo’s new play along Easy Jazz Guitar Voicings and Comping – A Guitarists Primer to Jamey Aebersold’s Play Along Volume 54 ‘Maiden Voyage’ . He bought it, still a little sceptical.

Guess what. A few weeks later the frustrated guitarist called again happy to report that he could now play several standards. He thanked me for the tip off and promptly ordered Mike De Liddo’s sequel book Vol. 54 Maiden Voyage Guitar Voicings.

* In fact, this gem of advice originates from Ted Greene’s Chord Chemistry – one of those classic texts containing thousands of chord shapes you probably won’t need to know.

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