I'm having trouble when comping over a jazz ballad with a singer/solo instrument. In my case I also have drums and bass playing with me. I'm mainly stuck between playing sustained chords to fill out the music or trying to play some rhythms which feel out of place or make the music slightly empty. How can I approach comping in this situation efficiently?

2 Answers 2


I generally go the sustained chords route, but then I throw in little melodic bits to fill space or complement the singer/soloist. When the drums and/or bass are playing a steady rhythm, I might echo that or counter it by filling in spaces in their pattern.

The best way to find a solution you like is to listen to lots of jazz ballads and find out what various pianists do.

For example, from the John Coltrane Quartet's Ballads, listen to the beginning of "Say It (Over and Over Again)". McCoy Tyner is quite active, because the drums and bass are playing very simply, and the melody leaves a lot of space.

On the other hand, on "All or Nothing at All", the rhythm section has clearly worked out ahead of time a rhythmic accompaniment.

For jazz standards, "everyone" has recorded them, so when you're working on a particular ballad, listen to all the recordings you can get your hands on to hear how the pianists — and rhythm sections as a whole — handle things.


There cannot be any hard and fast rule for this - each song is different and needs to be treated differently - even to the extent of changing tack somewhere in that song.

It will depend on a) what the vocals are up to, b) what the bass is doing, c) what the drummer is playing, d) how you and the rest of the band want the overall feel to be.

There are a lot of permutations to contend with there.

a). If the song's a busy one with lots of words and notes being sung, generally don't complicate it further with a fiddly accompaniment, unless you want that particular feel.

b).If the bass is playing a steady two in the bar then that gives you more room to do whatever, be it block chords or fills.

c). A good drummer will be listening to everything going on in the song (I wish...), so will be busy or not, hopefully meshing with the bassist, making a great mini-team, and you should be listening to what they produce between then to guide what you play to fit into that jigsaw too.

d). There are many, many different ways in which to accompany even one standard song. Just listen to some recordings to appreciate the plethora of varieties available. You and/or the band may/not decide that one in particular fits the way you want to perform that song. Follow the recording that's most apposite.

So, in summation - as the song says 'Anything Goes'! There will be times when block chords, one per bar will be quite enough. Times when your left hand does very little, leaving the bass to play that part instead, or even play in unison, with stabs from the r.h. You could play part of the song in unison with the vox, or play 'fiddly bits' in between the lines sung, or harmonise with vox.

If it's an electronic piano, consider using different sounds available (that's what I do - pno, Rhodes, organ, vibes, strings, for example) but there are so many different ways with an acoustic piano that it will become a list (something we don't provide here), and won't be particularly suitable for even one individual standard.

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