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Lenny’s Guide Tones

Lenny Breau is without any doubt one of the most original jazz guitarist. A lot can be said on his unique playing style but what stand out the most for many people is how he is using guide tones to emulate piano comping. In this lesson series I will break down how he achieve this unique technique. In the first part of this lesson we will look at the voicings he is using.

Basic Shapes

So let’s start with the dominant voicings, all of these shapes can be viewed from two point of view, Bb7 or E7. Try visualize every voicings according to these two roots. I have written four shapes for every string sets, beginning with the basic shape (3rd & 7th) than those with the color tones. Those shapes will constitute the major part of the voicings used in this playing style.

5th & 4th strings:

4th & 3rd strings:

6th & 5th strings:

Here’s the major shapes;

  • 1st bar show the basic voicings (3rd & 7th)
  • 2nd bar show the quartal (69) voicings
  • 3rd bar show alternative shapes Lenny Breau is using sometime

Same for the minor shapes;

  • 1st bar show the basic voicings (3rd & 7th)
  • 2nd bar show the quartal (m11) voicings
  • 3rd bar show alternative shapes Lenny Breau is using sometime

Half diminished shapes are very similar to minor shapes except when adding the 5th as you can see in second bar. Those particular voicings aren’t very finger friendly. Note that, most of the time Lenny is using normal minor 7 shapes or substituting for an altered dominant shape instead of playing half diminished chords.


Inside voice leading

The shapes I am about to show are very personal to Lenny Breau. Lenny is using them to create inside voice movement. These voicings can be used very efficiently in a more standard comping situation. You can check how I am using them in my ‘Blues Comping’ lesson.




Lenny Breau is sometime deriving shapes from pentatonic scale. Here’s the shapes for the three string sets:


Here’s some other shapes Lenny is also using when doing his particular piano comping style.

In the next part of this lesson we will look at many examples in various context; II-V, minor II-V & turns.


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Bb Blues (Part 2)

Hey there! I hope you enjoyed the Bb Blues Comping etude in the 1st part of this lesson. The next few lessons will be dedicated to breaking down the concepts I have used in the last part etude.

In this part, we will look at the voice leading between chord changes, more specifically at what I call ‘approach’ chords. As I said in the previous part, the voice leading used in the etude is more accentuated between chords when chord changes occur. This way of changing chords is used a lot in comping, even more in blues comping. By understanding how it works you will be able to use this device in any comping situation.

So there are two main ways of approaching a chord in comping situation:

  • From ‘Below’
  • From ‘Above’

Approach from ‘Above’

We will start with the approach from ‘Above’ since it is the most used of the 2 approaches and there is a lot more to say about this one. So what is exactly an approach from above? The simple answer would be; an approach from above is a way of targeting a chord using his relative V chord.

Let say we want to target an Eb7 chord, we will use his relative V chord, so a Bb7. It would look like this:

Hmmm, not exactly what we’re looking for…

To really make this look like an approach from above we will use the b5 substitution concept and substitute our Bb7 to E7. Let see what it looks like now:

Now it looks like an approach from above. In fact, you don’t have to understand any of what I said previously to apply chord approach. You just need to use a chord that is a half step higher than the chord you want to target. Most of the time we will use a dominant chord but we could also use other chord families depending on the situation and the chord you want to target.

Approach from ‘Below’

Approach from ‘below’ is even more simple. It consists of using an identical chord shape an half step lower to approach the target chord. This approach takes advantage of the natural tendency of tension to resolve upward.

So both approach looks very similar, one is from a half step above and the other from a half step below. Although, in theory, they don’t work the same and because of that they will not offer the same possibilities. With the first approach (From above) we will have much more liberties due to his V relation to the target chord while with the second approach (From below) we will need to stick with the chord form we are targeting. Although, we will be able to cheat a bit using melodic devices. We will cover this aspect more in detail in the next lesson.


Blues Form

So now let see what a simple blues form would look like using these two approach technique:

I have added some simple chord extensions (9th & 13th) and melodies to make this look and sound like a real blues comping. Note that in the last chord change there’s the little melodic cheat I was talking about, I have used a passing tone on the melody to avoid that the approach from below sound too parallel.

Now we have a frame that looks a lot like what Joe Pass would do on his ‘solo guitar’ blues tune. But not really appropriate for comping with a band like Lenny Breau or Ed Bickert would do. To make this more appropriate for comping with a band we will need to remove bass notes. This will help us avoid being in conflict with the bass and also make our comping sound way more professional.

So how do we do this? We could simply remove the bass notes and we would have a perfectly functional chord sequence for blues comping. But we are going to take advantage of this missing bass notes to use some more refined chord forms.

For the next examples, I only used chords with the 3rd or 7th on bass. These notes are very often named ‘guide tones’. These two notes tend to have some very close melodic movement in functional harmony. They are very often used to build counter melody and since we are removing the bass notes, our lower register will become a kind of counter melody. I will do a complete lesson on this subject at some point but now let’s take a look at how we can use these voicings in our blues comping:

A lot of these approach chords are just straight parallel movement and it is normal, that is what blues sound demand. Note that I have stuck with some relatively simple voicings. We will go through some more complex voicings later, especially in the chapter on melody.

So that’s it for approach chords, this idea is very easy to implement and will add a lot of depth to your comping. In the next lesson, we will check how we can develop chords and also some popular blues substitutions. Cheers

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Bb Blues Comping

Hey there! Why not talk about comping… the way too often forgotten of our practice sessions. The coolest thing about comping is that it might get you a job if you are good at it! Although I have no idea what I am talking about since I never got any jobs for my comping abilities, but that’s what everyone say so it might have some truth into it.

So for this lesson I decided to go upside down and to show you the result first… I am tired of writing text… I WANT TO PLAY! Just kidding, but in fact there is so much to say on this subject that I thought it would be great to have an example to refer to and avoid that all the ideas and concept become too abstract.

That is why; I will not explain any substitution or re-harmonization concepts here. What I would like is that you pay attention to the voice leading between chord changes, the melody  and the rhythm. You will notice that:

  • The voice leading is more accentuated in chord changes than when moving shapes of the same chord.
  • The melody come from a variety of melodic material; chord tones, minor blues pentatonic, passing tones…
  • the rhythm is varying between syncopated chords and ‘on beat’ chords. Long sustain, long rest…. etc

Those three points are the foundation of a good comping, the rest is ‘gravy’. In the next lesson(s) I will go through all the concepts I have used in this little comping etude. Enjoy!



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