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I play piano in a jazz band and I've been learning piano for about 8/10 years now. The type of music I'm talking about here is mainly swing music.

What are some good techniques/practices for accompanying a big band when all you get is chord symbols? I can read and play chords fine, but I'm unsure as to how I should play them (e.g. when accompanying a solo).

Could someone advise as to rhythmic techniques, styles or examples which would be good to look at? This has always puzzled me as when I've watched other people do it, they seem to just know how and when to place the chords so they fit in with the band really well.

I would appreciate your suggestions

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2 Answers 2

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First voicings: A good rule with jazz bands is to avoid playing low roots. Try playing just 3rds and 7ths in the LH. Then add the root/5th in your right. So a C7 would be voiced E, Bb, C, G from the bottom up. When you can do that easily with several familiar chords, play around with moving the right hand up a step so: E, Bb, D, A for a C7 which makes it a 13th chord. Of course, there are many other ways to voice chords but this is one voicing that works most of the time. Also, don't feel you always have to play every chord. Sometimes a little spritz of single chord tones up high AKA "Basie Tinkles" can be quite tasty.

Rhythms: Here are a few fallback rhythms: Dotted qtr, eighth, half rest (Charleston) eight, quarter, eight, half rest (The Entertainer after the pickups) Other tips: avoid always playing the chord on beat one; listen to the drummer's snare hits and copy them; listen for holes in the arrangement where a well placed chord makes a nice bit of counterpoint.

Hope this helps.

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thank you - very useful. –  Alex Coplan Aug 10 '11 at 6:49

It does depend a lot on the style of music, but here are some standard ones with audio examples -

http://www.musicwerx.com/JazzInstructionStuff/SwingCompPatterns.htm

And a video from a guitar player, but the concepts are the same:

Also, get a hold of the horn charts and look at some of the rhythms they play, and the rhythm in the melody, there is going to be some kind of rhythmic motif in those parts that you will be able to mimic or play off of in there somewhere.

Simple is better.

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