Comping Over "Softly As In A Morning Sunrise"

I’m working thru the playing in a jazz band course and I’m on the 2 5 1 lesson. Great material!

I’m trying to apply it to Softly as in a morning sunrise, but I’m running out of ideas. I’m adding some of what you call inner movement on longer holds, and some chromatic chord shifting, but are there any other lessons I should also review to add flavor and spice to this beautiful yet somewhat repetitive chord progression?

Interesting question Doug.

Perhaps @Tuomo can give some advice on how to comp over repetitive chord changes?

Looking at the iRealPro chart, the A Sections contain a lot of repeated 251s so it can be a challenge to keep fresh ideas coming chorus after chorus:

One place I would start would be to listen to many recordings of the tune and try to decipher how pianists and/or guitarists are accompanying the changes under the lead instrument/vocalist.

Listen to what they doing harmonically and rhythmically, and where are they adding fills.

Perhaps sometimes they don’t even play at all.

From my experience comping, silence and leaving space can often be the most effective and appropriate thing to do.

Often ‘less is more’ and it’s an important skill not to overpower the soloist.

I think that the most effective way to learn and practice this is to take the ideas you currently have and practice accompanying someone in person.

Ask for their feedback, perhaps record it and listen back to it, and even compare it to your favourite recording of the tune.

Hi guys, that’s an excellent question!

(I’m going to be using only the first 2 bars of ‘Softly’, as they keep repeating throughout the A sections)

Here some thoughts:

3 important parts in Comping:

Rhythm, MELODY (highest note of the chord), and Chord Quality

1) Rhythm:

When we listen the masters, we can notice them using certain rhythmic patterns in comping, and combining them. Here 2 simple examples:

Even with these two, you can have plenty of material, for example combing them:

This way you can “collect” rhythmic material from recordings, and start using them in your own playing. Don’t be afraid to repeat the same rhythm for an A section, or even 2 A’s in a row!

2) MELODY (highest note of the chord):

This is, to me, more important than the actual voicing. I would pay more attention to a good ‘melody’ the voicings create than hip tensions.

Here 2 examples:

Again, the best way to ‘collect’ good chord melodies is to listen recordings, you don’t even need to hear the actual chord quality, just pick up the melody and figure out your own voicings under it!

3) Chord Quality:

Chord quality is the most sensitive part of comping; you want to give the soloist the basic harmonic foundation, but every now and then throw in some good tensions.

I would always go with simple first, then gradually put in some new material.

Here 2 examples:

Now let’s put all the 3 parts together,

Here examples derived from the material shown above.

First 2 different ones with the basic harmony, using the 2 example rhythms, and the 2 example melodies:

And now 2 different ones with using a mixture of the rhythm examples, 2 example melodies and the 2 example chord alterations:

This way you can find plenty of material by just using few different things.

I hope this helps, let me know if you have any questions!

All the best,


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Thanks for sharing this Tuomo… some great insights here :+1:

@Doug_Flather it might be nice to check out our lessons on ‘block chords’ and ‘drop 2’ harmony. Tuomo is using ‘drop 2’ voicings in his examples:

Here’s 3 lessons I’d recommend you check out:

Block Chords Introduction: The 4-Way Close

It’s important that you first understand the 4-way close, which is the earliest style of block chord voicing. Check out the lesson here:

Block Chords Drop 2 Voicings

If we take a 4-way close voicing and drop the second-to-top note into our left hand, we then have a ‘drop 2’ voicing. Check out the lesson here:

Barry Harris Voicings

Tuomo created an interesting study of Barry Harris Voicings which is related to the above concepts. First watch the lessons above and this lesson then develops the ideas and application further:


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