Jazz Guitar Walking + Comping Tutorial
Hey there, Marc here! I’ve got a great lesson for you on walking bass with chords for jazz guitar. This technique is very useful as a guitarist, as we often find ourselves in duo situations. Today, I’ll give you some of the fundamentals of how to approach this along with some practical exercises.
In this lesson, we’ll be taking a classic I VIm IIm V progression in Bb and showing you how you can apply this concept over it. Still, though, I’d recommend exploring different progressions that you’d find throughout jazz tunes and try finding solutions for them.
Walking + Comping Exercises
In this section, I’m going to give you seven great exercises for practicing this. We will begin with a simple quarter note bass line to give you a good foundation.
Exercise 1: Simple Root Motion
This exercise is nothing more than a I VIm IIm V bass line playing two quarter notes on the root of each chord.
This is only to serve as a basis for the rest of what we’re going to cover.
Exercise 2: Adding Chords to Bassline
In this second exercise, we’ll take the previous exercise and add a chord on the first and third beats of the measure. Stay with me, this is important!
This is where you start to see how to add harmony while keeping a constant bass line. I’d like to point out that in most but not all cases, you’ll want to use your middle finger to play bass notes. This, of course, will vary depending on the shape of the chord, but it does seem to be the easiest way to grab them.
Exercise 3: Moving Chords to “Ands” of Beats
Now we start to get into the fun stuff. In this exercise, we’ll start creating some separation between the chords and the bass to give the illusion of two instruments. Keep in mind that we want to play this with a swing feel. See the video for reference.
So far, the bass line has been pretty stagnant, but that’s about to change. 😉
Exercise 4: Approaching Roots from Half-Step Below
In this exercise, we’re going to give the bass some motion. Here, we will be approaching every bass note from a half-step below.
Now it’s starting to sound like a proper walking bass line, right? Let’s move on to the next one. This will be very similar.
Exercise 5: Approaching Roots from Half-Step Above
Next, we’ll do the same thing, only this time we’ll be approaching it from a half-step above.
Are you starting to see how this works? In the final two exercises, we’re going to combine exercises 4 and 5 to create some fun bass motion.
Exercise 6: Combining Approaches
In this one, we’ll be approaching each chord combining the previous two exercises. Here, we’ll go from one above and one below.
Exercise 7: Combining Approaches – Inverted
For the sake of thoroughness, we’ll do the exact same exercise as before inverted.
Now you’ve got some of the basics of walking and comping down. I invite you to explore how bass players approach some of this stuff as well. Notice how they handle chords that last for longer periods. Further, make sure you figure out some solutions for different progressions. Take this information and apply it to your favorite tunes right away.
It might even be helpful to transcribe some bass lines from actual bass players to see some of the solutions they come up with for navigating these bass motions. Then, you can simply add chords on top and voila!
Now it’s your turn to try. Call up your horn player or singer buddies and play some duo together. Learning to listen and applying this accordingly is really the most difficult part of it to master. Have fun!
If you’re having trouble with any of the terminology used here, we’ve got our covered with our Comping 101 course.
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Please comment below with your questions and comments. Feel free to share your ideas with us about playing faster. See you soon!
Marc-Andre Seguin is the webmaster, “brains behind” and teacher on JazzGuitarLessons.net, the #1 online resource for learning how to play jazz guitar. He draws from his experience both as a professional jazz guitarist and professional jazz teacher to help thousands of people from all around the world learn the craft of jazz guitar.