Jazz Guitar Comping Basics
What is comping? Comping is short for accompanying. This is the improvised chordal accompaniment behind a jazz soloist, singer or melody. When playing in a small group, you will likely spend 75% of your time comping — behind the melody, the horn soloist, the bass solo, and yourself. This means comping is the most important thing you do in the group.
In jazz, most of the time you don’t have a specific part to play. You instead have a function to fulfill. As the only chordal instrument in the group, you have a large part in determining what the harmonic nature of the group will be, taking into account the melody or solo.
Comping should be a musical statement every bit as much as soloing. Much like backgrounds in a big band or orchestra, where the parts are not random chord voicings that happen to correspond to the underlying harmony. They are logical and musical expressions of the harmony crafted into complete ideas.
If Jazz accompaniment is new to you, the first thing to do is become familiar with the different chord types as found on the basic chords page. Keep in mind that when playing in a group context, you may want to leave out the roots of the chords if they are in the lower register. The bass player will usually have these notes covered, and if you play in a similar range it can sound muddy.
The next thing to do is choose voicings that will allow you to play through a progression in the same area of the neck. This is the beginning of voice leading, the movement of notes in one chord to notes in the next chord in a logical and musical way. There are some examples of this on the Jazz Guitar Comping page.