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Songwriter September

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Watch the Too Many Big Chords online guitar lesson by Fareed Haque from Jazz Comping Survival Guide

One of the biggest problems aspiring jazz guitarists face is learning chords and learning how to use them. Most guitarists learn chords from 'Jazz Chords for Guitar' style books with block chord diagrams, whether it be Mel Bay or Ronny Lee as it was in my case. These books open the door to big 'jazzy' sounding chords that are full and fat and usually four finger voicings. We memorize these voicings with excitement and enthusiasm. I remember sitting with Ronny Lee's book for hours everyday over a summer vacation, memorizing cool chord grips. Then I went on to the Ted Greene books, with pages and pages of amazing sounding chords. How could I ever memorize all of this? So I tried and tried to memorize. Finally got a gig or two. And lo and behold, my chords, so lovingly and painstakingly learned, were, well - almost useless! First thing the bass player says, "Hey man could you not play so many bass notes? It's sort of getting in my way. Next up to rip on me was the piano player, "Hey man, how about laying off those 9th and 13ths and s@#$%^t, it's stepping all over me". And then the sax player, "yeah man, it's cool man, just lay out a bit, ok? Thanks man, yeah great!" Slowly over many gigs I started to find that I was playing smaller and smaller chords. Eventually it was just the 3rds and 7ths that were working. So over the years of teaching, over 20 years of touring and teaching, I've focused my students not on learning chords and then throwing that all out and starting all over again, like me and so many others have had to do. Rather, we start with the small building blocks - just guide tones - and build. So we can use just guide tones when there is a bass player and piano player and vibes player. Or add bass notes when there is no bass player on the gig. Or just guide tones and extensions when there is no piano player. Or add bass notes, guide tones and one or two extensions if you are playing duo with a singer. This approach works! After 20 years of teaching I can humbly say this approach to comping has proven itself many times over. I have had students comping at jam sessions in Chicago after only 3 months of study! Are you ready? Let's go!

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