I have always been a big fan of limiting exercises. For example, I have heard Jim Hall, Mick Goodrich, and John Abercrombie talk about practicing improvising on only one string, or a pair of strings. Placing restrictions while practicing is a great way to focus on one particular aspect of performance. Also a great way to unlock musical doors by breaking out of routines and familiar shapes. Today I offer an exercise that places some very specific limits on comping through a tune. It may seem difficult at first, but by keeping at it, you will unlock many of said doors. Under the surface, you will be training your brain to see and hear these relationships faster and smoother.
The Raw Material
Here are the limits I am imposing on this comping workout.
- The melody note of the chord (highest sounding note) can only move Ascending (ex.1) or descending (ex.2)
- The melody note can remain on the same pitch over several chords.
- I can voice the melody on other strings as long as I continue the Ascending or Descending line
- When the melody note moves, it will move to the nearest acceptable chord-tone, tension or alteration. For example a dominant chord could have: chord tone, b9,9,#9,#11,b13(#5), in the melody position. I am not thinking of fitting with melody or soloist.
Got the idea? I choose “Stella by Starlight” for my workout. This tune has a little more complicated chord movement than typical be-bop type standards, so I thought it would make a good example. In fact, this exercise is easier with tunes that generally move in cycle-wise motion.
The most important thing
Choose a tune and try it yourself. Memorizing my exercise is not the point of this.. at all. We are training our brains to be able to do stuff like this on the fly. Training our brains requires that we build our own pathways and connections. Think about the notes of the chord you need to play. Think about the tensions available. Use whatever means you have at your disposal.(ie. inversions, substitutions, root or rootless voicings, etc.)
Stella by Starlight Ascending Comping Exercise: Exercise #1
Note: I use mainly rootless voicings, but I notated the roots in a parenthesis in both notation and the tabs, when they are in reach.