Jazz Guitar Comping – Multi-Use Voicings
One of the keys to comping easily and effectively on guitar is being able to use the same chord voicing for many different chord types. This helps to facilitate playing chords in the same area of the neck, and provides more options for voice leading through chord progressions.
The concept of multi-use voicings is in contrast to what guitarists typically learn first—that one combination of strings, fingers and frets equals one chord type or voicing. For CMaj we play “X” and for A-7 we play “XX”, when in fact, many voicings for these chords are interchangeable.
Multi-use voicings have three distinct advantages: 1) it is easier to learn one voicing than twenty; 2) it makes relationships between chord types evident; and 3) it takes advantage of the ease with which guitarists can play parallel chord voicings.
With multi-use voicings, various elements of basic chord sound will not be present in some voicings, which can be advantageous when striving for a more modern sound. This facilitates a broader concept of chord construction—very useful given the limited number of voices available to the guitarist. Strong voice leading and the harmonic context usually resolve any ambiguity resulting from “missing” chord tones.
This section illustrates five chord voicings that can be played for many different chord types, and are easy to grab, move and remember. This concept can then be applied to other voicings as well.
This voicing is one of the most frequently heard sounds in jazz. Used as a three-note or four-note voicing (see below), it is an easy shape to visualize and grab. It is often played on the D—B strings or the A—G strings, with optional notes added to the top or bottom of the basic voicing. It is also played on the G—E strings but with no added notes on top.
The most common use of this voicing is as a Dominant7(13) chord. The 9th (A) on top is optional. This voicing works well in ii-7 V7 progressions and for Dominant chords of long duration. When playing with a bass player, the root can be left out.
The “13th Chord” voicing can be altered to provide more resolution possibilities by adding Ab to the top, yielding a G13b9 chord. There is more discussion of this concept in “Voicing Variations”.
The “13th Chord” voicing can be used as FMa7+4. Here, the root is on the bottom, and adding the A on top (the 3rd) adds basic chord sound.
Another function for this voicing is D minor6/9. This works best on tonic minors, non-functional progressions, modal situations or any time a minor chord of long duration is played. It doesn’t work as well in ii-7 V7 progressions, since it sounds like the V7 chord. The root (D) can be added.
This voicing can also be used as B-7b5. Even though the minor 3rd (D) is not present, it still sounds and functions as intended:
Over E, this voicing can be used as E7b9 and G# (the 3rd) is an option on top of the chord. This voicing allows for color and tension on a Dominant chord when the root is in the melody. Most often used when resolving around the cycle: