Watch the Four to the Bar Swing online guitar lesson by Fareed Haque from Jazz Comping Survival Guide
Freddie Green was the soft spoken gentle rhythm guitarist in Count Basie's band for years and years. But 4 to the bar rhythm guitar has been a part of jazz music since its early swing and dixieland days. Using a big arch top guitar, heavy roundwound strings and a powerful attack, these guitar players drove the rhythm section and provided the 'skank' or 'chunk' of the rhythm section sound. Often using three note chords, bass notes and guide tones, sometimes just the guide tones, sometimes even just one note. One note comping?
For some, even two notes are too many. There was a great study of Freddie Green’s comping style, where the author asserts that Freddie Green used the one note comping style, that is only one note of the two color tones. And in fact after you check out a bunch of early guitar, one finds that it's sort of true, and sort of not.
I don’t think any guitarists initially played just 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 or 1 note chords. But they did mute the hell out of what they were playing so as not to step on any one. They muted the bass notes, muted the top extension notes, maybe even muted one of the color tones. Just so long as the guitar followed the harmony - but mostly provided the rhythm that the band needed.
(The ‘spank’ or ’splunk’ or ‘chunk’ of the guitar on top of the drums and bass) - the one note was enough, even if they were holding a full 4 note chord, muting the open strings and muting three of the four! That’s the key here, a lot of chording evolved from muting strings, not choosing strings. Eventually that muting evolved into blues, funk and rock guitar playing as well.
I remember sitting with another comping genius - not Freddie Green but Hiram Bullock (RIP brother) before taping Night Music w/David Sanborn and he sat with me just goin' off on how he mutes strings, the mad science of muting strings and strumming to get to the funky guitar parts we love.
Mute top notes, mute bottom notes - with your left hand, right hand, nose if needed to get the SPNK of the strings without all of the extra notes. Remember music is not about notes, it's first about the rhythm.< get that and yes maybe one note comping will be all you need too!