Fill-style comping can be a very effective tool when dealing with a crowded accompaniment space:

  • when comping in a traditional big band setting
  • when comping alongside a guitarist’s brazilian rhythmic comping
  • when comping alongside a guitarist’s “4 to a bar” comping

In part 1 of this 3-part series, we are going to examine Oscar Peterson’s fill-style comping on “It’s Only A Paper Moon” from his record “With Respect to Nat”. In this track, guitarist Herb Ellis is taking the dominant accompaniment role by playing “4 to a bar” style comping.

4-in-a-bar style comping is when an accompanist, often times a guitarist, will comp 4 quarter notes per bar in a 4/4 time signature. This rhythmically inactive form of accompaniment frees up the pianist for either rhythmic jabs or fill-style comping.

Follow along with the transcription PDF below as we listen to how Oscar Peterson uses melodic fills as an accompaniment device for maximum impact:

Things to Consider:

  • Don’t Be Afraid to Be Sparse!
    • The first thing that you should notice when looking at the transcription is how much rest there is in Oscar’s comping!
    • But it’s not only how much space Oscar is leaving; another essential component to successfully pulling of fill-style comping is short phrases. Notice how all of Oscar’s melodic fills are no more than 2-4 beats!
  • Look for spaces in the melody
    • If you find yourself wondering when to insert a melodic fill, the key is to look for spaces in the melody. Notice how the placement of Oscar’s fills is always at the end of the melodic phrase.
  • Simplicity in Ideas
    • Call and Response
      • In the first A, Oscar presents a call in his first fill (measure 2) to which he responds to in his second fill (measure 4) by changing the direction of the end of the phrase.
      • Similarly, Oscar repeats a similar call and response figure in the second A.
    • Repetition
      • In the second A, Oscar repeats his fill concept from the first A: Call and response for the first 4 bars and a blues based idea at the end of the 8 bar phrase.
    • Not only is the fill concept similar, but the rhythmic placement of the fills and some of the melodic ideas are exactly the same!
  • Blues Based Ideas
    • D major pentatonic scale & Use of the b3
    • Use of Grace Notes

Fill-style comping presents a unique challenge to pianists: to be tasteful, open and spacious in the role of accompanist. It requires a different mindset, one that is melodically driven rather than solely chord-oriented. In part 2 and 3 of this series we will examine fill-style comping in the context of comping in a traditional big band, as well as how Antonio Carlos Jobim utilizes melodic fills while comping alongside Joao Gilberto. 


Bijan Taghavi is a pianist, composer, and educator currently based in New York, NY. For more information visit:

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Brenden Lowe

3 Responses

  1. Thank you for the analysis. What would you call the way Oscar Peterson plays behind Bill Henderson on “You Are My Sunshine” and “At Long Last Love” where he basically solos behind the singing. I find this approach and the sparse example you gave both very effective.

    1. Hi, thanks for the question! The way Oscar plays behind Bill Henderson on those recordings I would refer to as busy fills. It’s certainly more busy than the way Oscar comps behind his own singing from the record “With Respect to Nat”.


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