Jim Hall Chords and Comping Techniques


Jazz guitar comping is an art form in its own right. The comping rhythms, melodies, and voicings of the greatest Jazz guitarists are delightful to listen to, with or without a soloist present.

But how is it that some players manage to create such captivating comping ideas, while others fade into the background?

A great accompanist can create motifs, melodies and rhythms that work with the ensemble without being overbearing, but that are still interesting on their own.

The techniques and approaches for captivating Jazz guitar comping are scattered throughout recordings of the Jazz greats.

Sometimes it only takes a few bars from a recording to learn truly unique comping techniques that you can use right away.

In this lesson, you’ll play through a Jim Hall comping example inspired by the Autumn Leaves recording from Ron Carter and Jim Hall on the Alone Together album.

Using this comping example and the Jim Hall chords contained within, you’ll derive 5 different concepts that you can immediately apply to your own playing in countless ways.


Free Jazz Guitar eBook: Pick up a free copy of my 64-page Jazz guitar PDF here and learn more about comping, improvisation and the necessities of playing Jazz guitar.


Below is the Jim Hall comping example itself. Included with the music and tab notation are the recorded audio example and a backing track to help you practice.

Each new musical exercise in this lesson will contain both audio and backing tracks to aid you in learning.

Start off by playing and getting familiar with this Jim Hall comping example, then you can move on to the techniques required to comp like this.


Click to listen Jim Hall Comping

Backing Track Jim Hall Comping


Original Lick REAL_0001


After playing through the Jim Hall comping excerpt, it’s time to go deeper and find out what’s really going here.

Here’s a menu that will allow you to jump to the different topics contained in the lesson.



Harmonic Analysis

Learning through Rhythm

Secondary Dominant Chords

Chord Splitting

Triad Substitution

Melodic Comping



Harmonic Analysis


After playing through the Jim Hall comping example, the first step is to take a look at the individual chords and identify them.

Breaking down the chords found in the excerpt will provide you with an opportunity to add them to your own playing and chordal vocabulary.



Bar 1 – Cm9/C9 (iim7)




Over the Cm7, two chords are featured. The first chord is a fragment of a Cm9 chord and the second chord is a fragment of a C9 chord.

What you’ll notice is that in both chords, the root is excluded.

In many comping examples that feature bass and guitar, the root is excluded from the chord. Jazz guitarists often exclude the root in favour of more colourful tones, especially due to the fact that the bass player will be covering the root note.

As these chords exist in the lower register of the guitar, you’ll immediately generate a darker, more unique sound – this is especially true when extensions are present (such as the 9th).



Bar 2 – F9 (V7)




In bar 2, a single F9 chord is broken up into two chords, providing a sense of harmonic movement. Having the ability to play two chords in one shape is also very easy on the hands!



Bar 3 – Bbmaj7, Bb9 (Imaj7)




In bar 3, over the Bbmaj7 chord, 2 chords are featured. Both chords are triads and both chords exclude the root note of the Bbmaj7 chord.

The first triad is a Dm chord, which contains the notes D, F and A.

The second triad is an F chord that contains notes F, A and C.

Why F major and Dm triads? Take a look at how each triad corresponds to the chord tones in a Bbmaj9 chord.


Bbmaj9 Bb D F A C
Dm Triad R b3 5
F Triad R 3 5


The Dm can be found starting on the chord 3rd of Bbmaj9, and the F major triad starts from the 5th of the Bbmaj9 chord.



Bar 4 – Ebmaj7, Ebmaj13 (IVmaj7)




In the last bar of the Jim Hall comping example, an Ebmaj7 chord is featured on the ‘and’ of beat 1.

Following the Ebmaj7 chord, a second type of Eb chord is played.

This time an Ebmaj13 is played without the root.

If you look closely at the Jim Hall comping excerpt you’ll notice that both chords are based off of the chord shape above. The only difference between the two Eb  chords is that 1 string is left out of the complete chord shape in both chords.

This chord splitting technique will be looked at in depth later in the lesson.

If you’re having trouble forming any of the chord shapes in the lesson, be sure to check out this guide on how to play chords faster.



Learning through Rhythm


Your first step to improvising and implementing new material into your playing should be experimenting with rhythms.

Changing the rhythm even slightly gives the music a completely different feel.

Adjusting the rhythm also helps you to develop a deeper relationship with the musical content by creating new associations for your mind and hands to work over.

Here are a few rhythms using the exact same chords as the Jim Hall comping excerpt to help you get started.



Charleston Rhythm


The first example you’ll play through involves implementing the Charleston rhythm. The Charleston rhythm, as you may know, is played on beat 1 and the ‘and’ of 2.

Listen to how the comping example takes on a completely different vibe when using a different rhythm.


Click to listen Charleston Rhythm

Backing Track II-V-I-IV Track




Freddie Green Rhythm


Again, you’ll use the same chords as in the Jim Hall comping example, but this time you’ll play quarter notes throughout.


Click to listen Freddie Green Rhythm

Backing Track II-V-I-IV Track


Freddie Green_0001


As you can see and hear, shifting the rhythm only slightly creates a completely different comping feel.

Now, take this concept further but thinking up as many new rhythms as possible and applying the Jim Hall chords to it.

For even more rhythmic comping ideas, be sure to check out this essential Jazz guitar comping rhythms lesson here.



Secondary Dominant Chords


After working with altering the rhythm, the next step is to take a deeper look at what’s going on harmonically.

In just the 4 bars of the original Jim Hall comping example, a number of musical devices are used that you can incorporate into your comping.

The first technique you’ll find in the Jim Hall lick is the usage of the secondary dominant.


A secondary dominant is a dominant chord that resolves to a chord other than the tonic or I chord. The secondary dominant must also resolve to a chord that is either a perfect 4th above, or perfect 5th below the secondary dominant itself. 


Keeping that definition in mind, take a look at bar 1 in the original Jim Hall comping example.




You’ll notice that the Cm9 chord fragment becomes a C7 chord in bar 1, which resolves to the F7 chord in bar 2.

In this chord progression, the F7 is a V7 chord and not a I chord, therefore making the C7 a secondary dominant.


How can you take advantage of secondary dominants in your playing?

Here are a few examples…

First, play through the same II – V – I – IV chord progression using typical Drop chord style voicings. Get familiar with these chords as the next step will introduce the secondary dominants.


Click to listen Drop Chords

Backing Track II-V-I-IV Track


Drop Chords Orignal Rhythm_0001


Moving on, the available chords that can be turned into secondary dominants are the Cm7 (iim7) and the Bbmaj7 (Imaj7).

The reason the Cm7 can be converted to a secondary dominant is because the proceeding chord, F7, is not a I chord. Also, the F is a 4th above the C, which satisfies both conditions for a secondary dominant chord.

The Bbmaj7 can be converted to a secondary dominant for the same reasons.

The I7 (Bb7) in the place of the Imaj7 (Bbmaj7) is considered a secondary dominant due to the fact that the Ebmaj7 is not the tonic and that Eb is a perfect 4th above Bb.

Here’s what playing the II – V – I – IV progression sounds like with the inclusion of secondary dominants. Play the example using the notation below to familiarize yourself with the secondary dominant concept.


Click to listen Secondary Dominants

Backing Track II-V-I-IV Track


Secondary Dominant Root Position_0001


*Note that the chords in red indicate the secondary dominant chords.


But hold on a moment, this example sounds different than the Jim Hall excerpt. Why is that?

The chords you just played in the secondary dominant example are voiced in a brighter manner. In order to get the same darker quality as in the Jim Hall example, try playing the same chord progression using both secondary dominants and inversions of 7th chords, instead of root position 7th chords.

Using inversions of 7th chords can open the doors to both brighter and darker sounding versions of the same chord.


Click to listen Secondary Dominant Inversions

Backing Track II-V-I-IV Track


Chord inversions REAL_0002


*Note that the chords in red indicate the secondary dominants.

The inversions and secondary dominants sound great, but there’s more you can do to emulate Jim Hall’s approach.


You can lose the Drop chord sound all together by simply removing a single note in each of the chords in the above example.

Many of the smaller chord fragments Jim Hall and other great Jazz guitarists played can be derived as sections of larger Drop chords.


Click to listen Secondary Dominant Fragments

Backing Track II-V-I-IV Track


Inversions minus 1 REAL_0002


In the first 2 bars of the example above, the highest note in each Drop chord shape was removed.

In bars 3-4, the lowest chord tone in each Drop chord shape was removed to add some variety.



Chord Splitting


As Jazz guitarists it’s important to know how to get the most sound and playing ideas from even the simplest chords.

In Bar 2 and 4 of the original comping example (seen below), a technique seen in countless Jazz guitar solos is used – taking a single chord and playing different parts of it at different times.




In the excerpt above, the F9 and Ebmaj13 chords are broken up into two chord fragments.

Breaking up larger chords into fragments creates movement and allows you to highlight specific chord tones without having to lift a finger.

In order to work this chord splitting concept out for yourself, check out the following exercise.

Using the II – V – I – IV progression as a starting point, play through the following chord shapes.




Now, using the same 4 chords as above, you’ll play through the following comping example.

This time, instead of playing the complete chord all at once, you’ll break up each chord into 2 parts.


Click to listen Chord Splitting

Backing Track II-V-I-IV Track


Chord Splitting_0002


The technique works for any chord shapes you can think of. In fact, you can even break the chord up into 2-string fragments or non-adjacent string fragments.

Experiment with the number of ways you can break a single chord up. This kind of experimentation will quickly add variety to your comping and chord soloing.



Triad Substitution


Moving on, in bar 3 of the Jim Hall comping example, triad chord substitutions are featured.

Over the Bbmaj7 in bar 3, a Dm traid is played followed by an F triad.



Why the Dm and F traids?

Building triads off of the chord 3rd and 5th allows you to play specific chord tones in a given chord.

Triad substitutions often exclude the root of the chord in favor of the upper structure chord tones or extensions.

In each substitution in the below chart, the triad built from the chord 3rd produces the 3rd, 5th and 7th of the given chord. The only chord tone excluded with the chord 3rd triad sub is the root.


Chord Tones 1 3 5 7
Eb over Cm7 Eb G Bb
Adim over F7 A C Eb
Dm over Bbmaj7 D F A
Gm over Ebmaj7 G Bb D


Play through the chord 3rd triad substitution below and listen to the audio example to develop a feel for this substitution.


Click to listen Triad Sub on 3rd

Backing Track II-V-I-IV Track


Triad Substitution 3rd_0002


Next, play through the complete II – V – I – IV progressions again, but this time using triads built from the 5th of each chord tone.

Remember that triads built from the 5th omit the 3rd and add the 9th of each chord tone.

As you can see in the chart below, when using a triad built from scale degree 5 of a given 7th chord, the root and 3rd are excluded. Often the 3rd is kept in a substitution voicing because of how it helps to define the chord.

However, without the chord 3rd, triads built from the chord 5th of a 7th chord produce a unique sound that can bring variety and color to your comping.


Chord Tones 1 3 5 7 9
Gm over Cm7 G Bb D
Cm over F7 C Eb G
F over Bbmaj7 F A C
Bb over Ebmaj7 Bb D F


Take a listen to the audio example below, then play through the example to hear the effect that chord 5th triad substitutions have on 7th chords.


Click to listen Triad Sub on 5th

Backing Track II-V-I-IV Track


Triad Substitution 5th_0002



Melodic Comping


The final, and possibly trickiest element to the Jim Hall comping excerpt is the concept of melodic comping.

In order to create interest and variety when comping, it’s important not to forget about one of the most important elements to music – melody.

Starting in bar 2 of the Jim hall example, a melodic line can be heard moving through the top voice of the chords.

Listen to the original Jim Hall comping example again and listen closely for the top voice throughout the excerpt.


Click to listen Jim Hall Comping




Starting in bar 2, the top voice of each chord starts moving in a consistent pattern. In bar’s 2 and 3 the top voice moves in 3rds and in the last bar, the top voice jumps by a fourth.

Having control over both the chords and melody of a tune or progression can be challenging, but here’s an exercise to help you get started.

Before trying to create a melody with leaps and patterns as in the example above, work on playing stepwise melodies through the chord progression.


The term stepwise refers to playing a melody or line in a given key by step, using no intervals larger than the 2nd.


Here’s an example of maintaining a stepwise melody over the II – V – I – IV chord progression.


Click to listen F7 Melodic Comping

Backing Track II-V-I-IV Track




In this melodic comping example, the G in the top voice of the Cm7 in bar 1 moves by step throughout the progression. So, the notes in the melody starting in bar 1 are as follows: G, A, Bb, C.

A trick to finding melodic limitations within each chord voicing is by playing the root note of a given chord then reaching for every available tone in the highest voice by step.

Depending on your hand position relative to the root note, the basic chord shape may change as well.

Next, you’ll play through an example of creating melody with an F7 chord.

Using this exercise in combination with all the other chords in your chord vocabulary will set you on your way to creating melody while comping.


Click to listen F7 Ascending Melody


F7 Melody Ascending_0003


Now, play through the same chords as above, but this time in reverse.

Working with each chord like this will immediately allow you to find out the melodic limitations of the given chord shape.


Click to listen F7 Descending Melody


F7 Melody_0003


Before finishing up, check out the review for final points on the lesson. You can also continue reading by learning how to solo with chords here.



Review and additional practice ideas


Rhythm – First, if you haven’t already, play through the II – V – I – IV progression using the same chords as the original comping example, but come up with even more rhythms.

Additionally, you can also apply rhythmic variations to each of the other exercises you completed in this lesson. So, head back through and see what everything sounds like using different rhythms.


Secondary Dominant – In order to get in the habit of applying secondary dominants, run through each of the tunes you know or are working on and apply them where possible.

Remember a secondary dominant is a chord that has been converted to a dominant (ie: from a m7 or maj7 chord) and resolves to the following chord up a perfect 4th or down a perfect 5th.


Chord Splitting – Comp through any tunes you know already, but this time split each chord into sections.

Maintain the same shapes you normally play and strum the chord in sections on different beats, rather than as a whole.


Triads – In order to really hear the color of the triads you use as substitutions in your playing, start out with a backing track or loop of a chord progression or tune. This way, you’ll be able to hear the color of the triad substitution much easier.


Melodic Comping – While comping through your favorite tunes, start thinking about creating lines in the top voices of your chords. At first try maintaining a continuous stepwise melody (as in the example in this lesson), then work on making larger leaps.


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