4 Easy Ways to Expand Your Jazz Guitar Chord Textures Today
By: Matt Warnock When learning how to play jazz guitar, one of the most important techniques you can get under your fingers is the ability to break up chords in order to highlight the upper or lower voice of any chord progression or tune you are playing. This can often seem like a tall order when you are first starting out with jazz guitar, as many of the chord voicings are new and can seem tricky to get down, let alone having the dexterity and focus to break these chords up beyond just strumming or plucking them with your picking hand. To make this technique easier and fun to practice, in today’s lesson we’ll be looking at 4 different ways that you can use your picking hand to break up your chords into two parts, bringing emphasis to either the bass or melody note and adding new textures to your comping at the same time. So, to begin let’s take a look at a few ways that you can use your picking hand in order to break up any chord or chord progression you are comping over.
Highlighting the Bass Note
Probably the easiest way to highlight the bass note of any chord, and in turn the bass line of any chord progression, is to separate it from the upper three or four notes of the chord you are currently playing. By playing the bass note first and the top part of the chord second, you are bringing an emphasis to the lowest part of the chord, and breaking the chord up into two parts. This will not only bring an emphasis to the lowest part of the progression, but it can end up sounding like two hand of a piano if you play the bass notes a bit louder than the top chunk of the chord. Here is an example of how to apply this technique to a ii V I VI chord progression in the key of C Major.
You can also use arpeggiation to bring attention to the bass notes of any chord progression that you are comping through. This is also a great way to get away from playing chords in “chunks,” which will add a new texture to your comping as well as a heightened focus on the bass line of that same chord progression. Here is an example of how you could apply an arpeggiation to a ii V I VI chord progression in the key of C, with an emphasis on the lowest note of each chord as it begins the arpeggiated form for each change in the progression.
Highlighting the Melody Note
As well as bringing attention to the bass notes of any progression, you can also separate the melody line in order to highlight the top note of your chords as you work your way through any tune you are comping over. To do this, you simply pluck the top note of the chord followed by the bottom notes, in the example below there are 3 notes below the melody note but you could have 4 or 5 depending on what kind of chord you are playing at the time. By doing so, you will separate the melody line from the bottom chunk of the chord, bringing attention to the top notes in your chord progression and giving more emphasis to the melody line created by those chords. Here is an example of how you would apply this technique to a ii V I VI chord progression in the key of C Major. You can also use arpeggiation to break up a chord and highlight the melody line at the same time. By playing an arpeggiated chord from the top down, the highest note to the lowest, you are bringing focus to the melody note of that chord, and breaking up the chord itself at the same time. Here is an example of that approach over a ii V I VI chord progression in the key of C major.
Mixing It All Together
Once you have worked on separating the bass note and the melody note, as well as arpeggiating both of these ideas, you can mix them all together in order to take these technical exercises and make them sound more musical. There are no limits to how many ways you can break up chords into chord, bass and melody line in your comping and chord soloing. So try and experiment with as many variations as you can think of, and then let the musical situation and your musical tastes dictate which approach you use when. Here is a short example of how you could apply different right-hand patterns to a ii V I in the key of C major to mix arpeggiation, single bass-notes, single melody-notes and chord chunks all within a four-bar phrase. Learning how to alter your right-hand approach in order to highlight a bass note or melody note within any chord will greatly expand the amount of textures and timbres you can use in your chord soloing and comping ideas. Check these ideas out in the practice room this week and see where your ears and creativity take you when applying each idea to common chord progressions and tunes that you know or are working on in the woodshed. What did you think about this lesson? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.
About the Author
Matt Warnock is the owner of mattwarnockguitar.com, a free website that provides hundreds of lessons and resources designed to help guitarists of all experience levels meet their practice and performance goals. Matt lives in the UK, where he is a senior lecturer at the Leeds College of Music and an examiner for the London College of Music (Registry of Guitar Tutors).