Barry Harris Archive

Adding Interest to Comping Using the Book: The Barry Harris Harmonic Method

jazz comping Feb 13, 2015

Question by Ivo


Alan Kingstone's book

(View my review of this book here )
Hi Marc-Andre,

On your site you specifically say that your comping has radically improved/changed since you discovered the book "The Barry Harris Harmonic Method for Guitar". I have trouble adding interest, motion or spice to my own comping.

I know most of the guitar (comping) chord voicings and I get by, but it sounds really vanilla or plain. After buying quite a few books on comping and voice leading it really hasn't changed my playing to anything that sounds 'professional'.

So before blindly buying another book I was wondering if you could tell us why this book had such a big impact on your comping or harmonic awareness. What makes this book or method so good? Maybe you could give some examples.

I'm not asking for a free lesson or anything like that, but I'm curious in what -practical- way this book has changed your comping (so it's basically about usability of the method).

Thanks for answering this question!

Kind regards,

(View my review of this book here )

Hello Ivo,

Very good question.

Let's start with the usability right away :

Imagine that you harmonized the major scale in such a way that you have only two chords . They would be called "home" and "away" (or "release" and "tension").

In musical language we would say "C major", the I chord, for "home" and "G dominant", the V chord, for "away".

To get to that we have to use the major scale and add one note (also known as the "bebop" scale):

C D E F G Ab A B

By harmonizing we get two chords:

C E G A = C major 6th (= A minor 7th)
D F Ab B = D diminished 7th

(Note = D dim 7 = F dim 7 = Ab dim7 = B dim7 ... which in turn is always equivalent to G7(b9) without the root.)

That is the starting concept of all of the Barry Harris approach. By playing in inversions, you can then harmonize the scale in chords... that are still just I and V !!!

For example :


D dim7 (aka G7(b9) over D bass)

C6 / E

F dim7 (also aka G7(b9))

C6 / G

Ab dim (also G7(b9))

Am7 (aka C6 over A bass)

B dim (also G7(b9))


That's for the theory. Now try playing it .


Click to download your "Barry Harris - Chord Example" PDF!


Here's a PDF that demonstrates the difference between "plain" harmonization in C major and the "Harris 6th - diminished" technique. They're shown in two useful guitar voicings : drop-2 and drop-3.

So, this is only the first step in the liberation of static "chord grips" . After that, it's possible to apply the "6th-dim concept" to common progressions.

For example : Dm7 - G7 - C

Dm7: use F6-dim
G7: use Abm6-dim (for altered sound)
C: use C6-dim

You can understand that, from playing 3-4 chord grips, you can now move around with about 20 of 'em! And that's also just the tip of the iceberg...

Kingstone goes in much detail on what can be derived from this kind of thinking. One of the things that really helped was the use of extensions.

For example, if you see Cmaj, instead of using the regular C6 scale, start with an "extended" chord such as G6. It contains G B D E, so it gives a C major chord with 3rd, 5th, 7th and 9th. Then it's possible to "come back down" from the extended C major 9th with a passing diminished:

(All of which is happening during a bar of C major chord type!)

E B D G (aka G6 = C major 9th)

E Bb Db G (aka Db dim = the infamous bII dim7)

E A C G (aka C6 = Am7)

As you can see, this way of thinking clearly demonstrates what extensions really are and the origins of the passing diminished chords often found in fakebooks. And it is, of course, applicable anytime, anywhere with any chord type.

...and once again, that is only a fraction of what you can come up with using this new way of relating to chords and harmonic movement in general...

Other very interesting concepts topics found in the book are : diminished borrowing, Monk moves, solo jazz guitar, applications to intervals, partial chords, applications to single-note playing and altered dominant chords.

Finally, while I believe that books and concepts can change your playing for the better, always remember that there's no magic pill for playing good! You have to investigate, practice and develop a personal style.

I highly recommend Alan Kingstone's book BUT it's understood that you will have to work at it (at least a little) for the concepts to sound good to you and others.

I hope it answers your question. Good luck with your comping.


Marc-Andre Seguin

(View my review of this book here )


Check out this video. A simple demonstration on the first 8 bars of the jazz standard "Out of Nowhere".



I using some ideas directly (or indirectly related to Barry's harmony...)

First 8 bars of "Out of Nowhere" Chords :

|Gmaj7 / / / | / / / / | Bbm7 / / / | Eb7 / / /|
|Gmaj7 / / / | / / / / |Bm7 / / / | E7 / / / ||

|Am etc.

Old Comments for Adding Interest to Comping Using the Alan Kingstone Book: The Barry Harris Harmonic Method for Guitar

Oct 11, 2012
Drop 2 book
by: Anonymous

Hi Mark.

Is this the same principle of Mark Levine´s Drop 2 Book that was adapted by Randy Vincent to Guitar? I'm still trying to play II-V-I properly but started reading the barry harris book and saw a lot of similarities with Levine's one.


M-A's Comment:

There are some similarities with the Vincent book, but it's not the same basic "approach" to passing chords. I really like both books, but Kingstone opened my eyes to LOTS of things I wouldn't have figured out ...


Mar 23, 2012
II V I minor examples !
by: Anonymous

Thank you for this lesson !!!! I have already been practicing this harmonic devices. Juat wanted ti ask if its posible for you to share some II-7b5 Valt I examples. I guess you will be using the minor dim 6th wright? thanks in advance and greetings from argentina. JP


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