Piano Comping / Jazz Piano Comping

To learn how to play with a band, especially if you want to play with a jazz piano, you need to master a few concepts.

This may seem simple, but the first concept to master is RELAXING. Students often tense up when they sit down to perform with other musicians. If you’ve ever performed with others, or even performed in front of others, you already know about the myriad of thoughts that run through your brain. Try to turn that off when you perform with a band. Don’t worry about whether or not the bass player is happy with you, why the drummer is looking at you like that, or if the audience liked your last solo. This is YOUR time to lose yourself in the music and make some art with other musicians. Also, most professional musicians are more than happy to help out an eager newcomer to the bandstand.

So what does this have to do with comping chords at the piano or jazz piano comping in general? Well in order to “get the sound” of a jazz pianist, you need to learn how to add rhythm to your chords. We’re going to use the upcoming Live-to-Library lesson on This Can’t Be Love as an example.

Learn more about Live-to-Library lessons.

Watch this mini lesson on This Can’t Be Love to see these piano comping techniques put to use:

COMPING = Adding rhythm and motion to your chords.

That is a pretty simple definition of comping chords, but it works. Before we can get into piano comping, we need to learn the chord voicings for the song.

Chord Voicings

To get started with chord voicings for any jazz standard at the piano, you must first learn how to form rootless chord voicings. Look at it like this, you can’t do any piano comping without first mastering your chords.

Piano comping piano chord voicings

You’ll notice that the piano chords are presented at the beginning of the beat for each new chord change. This would result in a pretty bland arrangement of the song indeed. However, before you must start here to master your rootless chord voicings. If you can’t play the arrangement in this manner, you will not be able to add more complicated comping patterns down the road.

Once you feel comfortable playing the rootless voicings, look for space in the melody for opportunities to add chord “stabs” or holds. Again, this is demonstrated in the video.

Jazz Piano Comping

Student ChrisK asked this question during a live training “Willie, can you chat more about comping, more movement up and down the keyboard?”

This is at the heart of jazz piano playing…trying to create motion in your chords. To get more movement in your piano comping and chord voicings, start to think of your chords as moving horizontally rather than vertically. So, think horizontal. This means that you are looking for motion between the chords by using 3rds or maybe bell tones.

This can also be achieved with inner voices. Take a look at the example below and notice the descending pattern in the right hand. See it? A, Ab, G, Gb.

Chord voicings at the piano

Another way to get movement in your comping, looking for space in the melody is a great way to get started. In the example below, you’ll see that there are red and green arrows. The red arrows are where we find some space to comp chords AFTER the melody hits. The green arrows are where we will do our piano comping ON the beat. This alternation between syncopated and non-syncopated rhythms is what adds spice to the arrangement.

How to comp chords at the piano

Now, see what this example looks like when we create an arrangement with piano chords that use our comping techniques.

how to comp chords at the piano

Jam With The Band

Playing with a live band is an incredible experience. Now you can enjoy this experience from your own home. Most students don’t have a live band hanging around so using our Live-to-Library system, we’re bringing the band to you!

Learn more about how to play piano with a band.

author avatar
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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