When learning how to play jazz guitar chords, many of us spend hours working out different voicings, learning chord licks and phrases and putting together the harmonic aspect of comping chords. But what about the rhythmic side? To help you take your jazz guitar chord rhythms to the next level, here are 10 comping rhythms that every jazz guitarist should know.
Since the focus of this lesson is rhythmic, the chord progressions themselves are fairly basic, and are the same for each rhythm to allow for a quick comparison when practicing them back to back. Because the chords are the same in this lesson, be sure to practice each rhythmic pattern in all 12 keys, as well as apply them to any and all other chord progressions you know, as well as playing them over your favourite jazz guitar standards.
So, let’s dive in and learn 10 classic and essential jazz guitar rhythm patterns.
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Jazz Guitar Chord Rhythms 1 – Freddie Green
The first comping rhythm we’ll explore is probably the most popular and well-known jazz guitar rhythm, the Freddie Green four-to-the-bar quarter note pulse. Made famous by Freddie Green when he was a member of the Count Basie Big Band, the quarter-note pulse is a great way to lay down a swinging rhythm and keep things steady at the same time.
While playing this rhythm might not work for a whole tune, depending on the context and genre of jazz you’re playing, it can be a great way to set up a more complex rhythm. So, once you have this rhythm down, try mixing it up with other more syncopated rhythms in order to hear how it can highlight those syncopations while swinging hard at the same time.
Listen & Play
Jazz Guitar Chord Rhythms 2 - Charleston
The next rhythm is also a very poplar and well-known pattern that is based on the Charleston dance from the 1920s. Though originally based on a dance craze, this rhythm has since crept into the writing, comping and playing of countless jazz guitarists as they have modernized this fun rhythmic pattern.
When playing the Charleston rhythm, make sure to play the first note long and the second note short, as written, in order to get the most swing out of this rhythmic pattern.
Jazz Guitar Chord Rhythms 3 – Charleston 2
One of the ways that players have altered the Charleston Rhythm is to push it around the bar, starting and ending it on different beats in the process. Here is an example of the Charleston starting on the & of 1, rather than on the downbeat of each bar.
When moving this rhythm around, you are able to create more levels of rhythmic interest without having to learn a new rhythmic pattern, you are simply altering a pattern that you already know. This is an approach that you can take to any rhythm that you learn.
Jazz Guitar Chord Rhythms 4 – Charleston Combo
To finish up our study of the Charleston Rhythm, let’s combine the first and second rhythms together in order to build a two bar phrase that starts on the beat in bar one and off the beat in bar two.
Jazz Guitar Chord Rhythms 5 – Dotted Quarters
We’ll now move on to a new rhythm, and one that was heard often in the playing of Jazz Guitarist Jim Hall, the dotted quarter note. In this patter, you are playing three chords in each bar.
Jazz Guitar Chord Rhythms 6 – & of 2 and 4
This next rhythm is a tricky one to nail without rushing or speeding up.. Playing on the & of 2 and the & of 4 in each bar can really help a tune swing and give it forward motion when comping, but it can also lead you to “trip forward" a bit since there are no downbeats in the pattern.
Because of this, go slow and work with a metronome or backing track when exploring this pattern as that will help you become comfortable with this syncopated rhythm much more quickly, and prevent you from rushing.
Jazz Guitar Chord Rhythms 7 – 2 and 4
The next rhythm is a bit easier that the & of 2 and 4 that you just worked on, but it is an essential jazz rhythm and one that is often played in combination with the & of 2 and 4 as you’ll see later on in this lesson. When playing on 2 and 4, make sure that you play each chord short, one quarter note exactly, as this helps create the bouncy, swing feel in your comping with this pattern.
Jazz Guitar Chord Rhythms 8 – 2 and 4 Combo 1
You will now combine bars of 2 and 4 with bars of the & of 2 and 4. There are no rules for how you can combine these two rhythms, but I’ve written out a common pattern below which is one bar of 2 and 4 followed by one bar of the & of 2 and 4.
From here, try coming up with your own combinations, reverse this pattern, 1 bar of one and 3 of the other etc. There is no limit for how you can combine these two common jazz guitar rhythms.
Jazz Guitar Chord Rhythms 9 – 2 and 4 Combo 2
You can also combine half of one rhythm and half of the other, such as the example below which uses the first half of the & of 2 and 4 and the second half of the 2 and 4 patterns.