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Improvised comping. How to develop the skills.

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(@marqis)
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In my town there is a club where (advanced) jazz musicians go to develop their improvisation skills. It's an open stage (anyone with sufficient level of playing can join in). One musician plays a melody or chord progression, and without any practise or written music the other musicians join in (they have to figure out the key on the spot).

This is all very well for monophonic instruments; once you've found the key you're relatively free to play, but us guitarists (or keyboard players for that matter), are expected to comp.

My question: How does one go about to developing the skills to do this: Instantly improvising a cord progression fitting a melody/theme that is played? Some of the pianists there do a great job at it, though I've never seen any guitar players there. When asked, these pianists are unable to explain how they do it or how they learned...


   
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(@kingpatzer)
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Joined: 19 years ago
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In my town there is a club where (advanced) jazz musicians go to develop their improvisation skills. It's an open stage (anyone with sufficient level of playing can join in). One musician plays a melody or chord progression, and without any practise or written music the other musicians join in (they have to figure out the key on the spot).

This is all very well for monophonic instruments; once you've found the key you're relatively free to play,

Not quite. You have to be able to anticipate chord changes, and you have to not step on "avoid" notes to clash with the guys doing the comping. It's not as easy as you imply.
but us guitarists (or keyboard players for that matter), are expected to comp.

Yup.
My question: How does one go about to developing the skills to do this: Instantly improvising a cord progression fitting a melody/theme that is played? Some of the pianists there do a great job at it, though I've never seen any guitar players there. When asked, these pianists are unable to explain how they do it or how they learned...

There are lots of conventions in Jazz. When you hear a ii7 chord, for example, you know the next chord will likely be a V7 and then you're going for a IMaj7.

They are playing standard forms, much like the 12 bar blues is a standard form.

In fact, many Jazz guys learn the 12 bar blues as the first form to play around with. In Jazz-Blues you get a lot of freedom to do chord substitutions and reharminzations in a 12 bar format.

The first step, for example, might be to figure out that you can replace the second measure of the first line from the standard I chord to the IV chord to add some color.

A bit later, you might figure out that you can add mini turnarounds at the end of the 1st line going to the IV.

Maybe you'll learn to toss in a half diminished chord or tri-tone substitution . . .

In the meantime, you'll be learning other forms -- standard 32 measure A, A', B, A sheets and A B A' B', and a few others.

After a number of years, you have learned, through long exposure, perhaps a dozen common chord progressions in 5 or 6 different forms.

It's not hard, it's just learning the language, and that just takes exposure and practice.

"The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side." -- HST


   
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(@marqis)
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Joined: 17 years ago
Posts: 3
Topic starter  

This is all very well for monophonic instruments; once you've found the key you're relatively free to play,

Not quite. You have to be able to anticipate chord changes, and you have to not step on "avoid" notes to clash with the guys doing the comping. It's not as easy as you imply.

No, but this is what most of my effort in learning to improvise went into: Improvising over complex (but familiar) chord changes, and improvising over simple but unknown chord changes. Now I'm confronted with having to improvise the comping itself, with only a melody to start with. It's like on the spot songwriting; I never knew this could be done...
There are lots of conventions in Jazz.
After a number of years, you have learned, through long exposure, perhaps a dozen common chord progressions in 5 or 6 different forms.

It's not hard, it's just learning the language, and that just takes exposure and practice.
I suppose that might be the way that it works... Simply knowing these many commonly known chord changes, and recognizing which might best fit the given melody. The soloist may then be forced to adapt his melody a bit, to fit. This makes it a bit less mysterious, thanks.


   
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(@noteboat)
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The soloist may then be forced to adapt his melody a bit, to fit.

That's the essence of jazz - everybody listens to each other, and reacts accordingly. It's a musical conversation.

Say you're doing a blues in Ab, and you get to the V chord - Eb. You do a tritone sub and play A7 instead (the C#/G in the Ab7 is the same tension as the G/Db in the 'expected' Eb7 chord). You're giving the soloist the tension/release outline that the form demands, but you're also saying "hey, it'd be cool to play a few A and E notes here".

Guitar teacher offering lessons in Plainfield IL


   
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(@marqis)
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That's the essence of jazz - everybody listens to each other, and reacts accordingly. It's a musical conversation.

Ok, is this true for comping as well? I.e. do you come up with a chord progression and stick to it (the soloists need to be able to anticipate, after all), or are you allowed to vary at will (maybe while staying in the same key to not make it impossible), or listening to the solo and anticipating where it's going, and playing chords to match? The latter option would seem to be impossible for me to do in real time...

Can anyone recommend some improvised music to listen to, where there was no predetermined chord progression?

Also is there any way of practising this without other musicians? I once tried randomly selecting a "band-in-a-box" song, and disabling the chords (so just drums, base and soloist would sound). I then proceeded to play some chords. I ended up playing more or less the same chord progression from the song, without ever having seen or heard it. There is no way I would be able to do this in real time though... It was more like solving a puzzle than like making music...


   
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(@kingpatzer)
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That's the essence of jazz - everybody listens to each other, and reacts accordingly. It's a musical conversation.

Ok, is this true for comping as well?

Absolutely. No one on the stage in a good improv jazz group is just doing their own thing. You have to use your ears first!
I.e. do you come up with a chord progression and stick to it (the soloists need to be able to anticipate, after all), or are you allowed to vary at will (maybe while staying in the same key to not make it impossible),

Neither!

You listen to the soloist, the soloist listens to you.
or listening to the solo and anticipating where it's going, and playing chords to match? The latter option would seem to be impossible for me to do in real time...

Music is a language. You can have a conversation with someone else and the conversation goes wherever the two of you take it. No one person needs to be in charge of the event. THe same is true of Jazz.
Can anyone recommend some improvised music to listen to, where there was no predetermined chord progression?

Understand that there's a big difference between improvising over a song structure (like improv comping over a 12 bar blues) and doing completely free jazz.

But yes, that exists out there . .. try Ornette Coleman.
Also is there any way of practising this without other musicians? I once tried randomly selecting a "band-in-a-box" song, and disabling the chords (so just drums, base and soloist would sound). I then proceeded to play some chords. I ended up playing more or less the same chord progression from the song, without ever having seen or heard it. There is no way I would be able to do this in real time though... It was more like solving a puzzle than like making music...

To get good at jazz you have to play with other people. Honestly, most jazz players are limited in their growth directly in relationship to how good the people they can play with are.

"The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side." -- HST


   
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