Jazz Guitar: Accompanying a vocalist

Question by Anonymous

I”ve “mastered” the theory behind “chord-melody” and have worked out many arrangements of standards and enjoy playing them but would really like to be able to accompany a vocalist (or me) in the style of Barney Kessel with Julie London for example but dont know of any books or sites that could help.

The chords found in the fake-books are not the problem, its the phrases used to fill out the tacit bars in the vocal line.

M-A’s Answer:


That’s a good question.

Without getting too technical here, I believe that the best advice is to “stay flexible”: when there’s no singing happening, you have your chance to fill in with chords and lines runs. I’m saying “stay flexible” because depending on the singer (yourself or someone else you’re accompanying), their might be more or less “filling” to do. (-:

I personally have only some experience in duo (vocal / guitar) format. The best takes and the tunes that really flow are ALWAYS the ones I could be playing on my own, as a solo guitarist. The form, the chords, the melody are all familiar and everything goes really smoothly. I can add my 2 cents whenever I want or resort to simple harmonic / rhythmic accompaniment.

When it comes to improvising ideas (harmonic, melodic) within the form, over the changes, when you’re free to do so on your own, you’ll certainly be free do so in a duo! You’ll have all this previous ability PLUS you’ll be able to listen to the singing more easily. If you know the material, then your playing frees up.

So, in the end, the idea is to really MASTER the tunes themselves to make yourself hear (and have at your disposal) everything that is between the lines. Play the tunes, try to hold harmony, melody and rhythms together, play the tunes a lot on your own!

Then, all the fills will already be there when you get to the duo situation. If you’re not required to take a lot of space, simple comping will do. Best of both worlds. Ultimately, all of those things are the one and same idea: playing the tune!

If your duo playing is not flowing and feeling good, ask yourself sincerely if you know the tune(s) in question well enough.

I hope this helps,

Marc-Andre Seguin
“Improve Your Jazz Guitar Playing with a REAL Teacher”

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