Jazz Piano Comping Techniques for Advanced Players

In this article we’ll cover a couple advanced jazz piano comping techniques. These are the jazz comping techniques employed by the pros that help them achieve those sophisticated, classic jazz sounds you’ve probably heard on recordings. Oftentimes these “advanced” jazz comping techniques are not very difficult to play. So why, you might ask, are they considered advanced and seem challenging to less experienced players? The answer is that these jazz comping techniques are fairly easy to play but a little difficult to understand. And if players don’t really understand why or how the technique works, they are less likely to get better at employing the technique. So we’re also going to spend some time here getting into the nitty-gritty, music theory-related explanation to solidify your understanding. Let’s get started!

From our Stella By Starlight lesson.

Video from our Stella By Starlight lesson.

Jazz Piano Comping Techniques #1: Side-Stepping

“Side-stepping” is a technique that has many names. It’s sometimes called “planing” and also “chromatic resolution,” which is probably the name that says the most about what this jazz comping technique is really all about. Side-stepping is advanced not because of how difficult it is to play, but because of how cool it sounds. Have you ever heard professional jazz players play a chord that sounds so perfectly wrong that it sounds really cool, and then resolve to the intended “normal sounding” chord? Or have you ever tried to master that advanced “inside-outside” playing of the pros? Well, this is pretty much what side-stepping is all about.

Let’s break this down by starting with a quartal voicing (a chord constructed by stacking perfect and augmented 4ths) using an F7 chord.

As you can see above, the notes Eb, A, D, G, C, and F represent the flat-7th, 3rd, 13th, 9th, 5th, and root. This is a great voicing to use for jazz comping.

“Side-stepping” refers to the idea of sliding into the intended chord from either a half-step above or below. So from a theory perspective, side-stepping is a matter of approach – the intended chord remains the target, but the chord that we use to get to the target is a half-step away. This allows all of the notes of the chord to resolve, either up or down, by half-step – and half-step resolution is what makes for very strong harmonic progressions in jazz. Using some side-stepping techniques gives us a completely different (more advanced-sounding) jazz flavor:

Jazz Piano Comping Techniques #2: Major Bebop Scale Comping

The major bebop scale is simply a major scale with a half-step inserted between the 5th and 6th scale degrees. Consider the C major bebop scale:

From this scale we can extract two alternating chords – the C major 6 chord (and all of its inversions) and the D diminished 7th chord (and all of its inversions).

What if you had a C major chord that lasted for 4 measures? What would you play? The same chord over and over throughout the 4 measures? That would eventually start to sound somewhat boring and uninspired. This power major bebop scale jazz comping technique allows you to fill those four measures of C major with some variety, creativity, and harmonic motion.

Practice these two advanced jazz comping techniques in various keys and on specific tunes in your repertoire in order to use them effectively!

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Willie President
Willie Myette is a pianist, serial entrepreneur and author of over a dozen books on piano and music education. He received a scholarship to Berklee College of Music and graduated in under 4 years. Willie is the creator and president of online piano instruction sites Jazzedge® Academy, Jazz Piano Lessons and HomeSchool Piano.

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