How To Play “La Pompe”

by | Oct 7, 2022

If there’s one element crucial to correctly understanding how to play rhythm guitar in a Gypsy Jazz environment, that would be “La Pompe”.

La Pompe is one of the most important rhythmic patterns you will need to learn if you want to play Gypsy jazz guitar. So, today we’re going to look at how to approach studying it correctly and how to master all the little nuances that will help you to make your La Pompe sound as authentic as possible.


Different Ways of Approaching “La Pompe” 

Before we start getting into the technical aspects of playing this crucial Gypsy jazz accompaniment style, we need to point out that there are multiple ways of interpreting and playing La Pompe.

The “American Way” of playing La Pompe is characterized by accents on the first and third beats of your typical 4/4 bar, played alternatively to muted strings on beats two and four.

For example, let’s take a simple turnaround chord progression in A Major.

You see, regardless of which chord we’re playing, the accents are only placed on beats one and three of every bar. More precisely, we are playing actual notes only on these beats while responding with muted strings on the second and fourth movements.

You can also choose to play La Pompe incorporating a straight ahead quarter note feel. This means that every beat of the bar has to be more or less the same in terms of what you are playing rhythmically.

Let’s look at the same turnaround in A Major played with this approach.

This way, we are not playing any muted strings throughout the entire progression. Therefore, we are only introducing rhythmical elements through the slight accents on beats two and four combined with a very intentional and quick releasing technique of our left (fretting) hand.


Playing “La Pompe” the Dutch Way 

The Dutch Way of playing La Pompe is arguably the most commonly used, and it certainly is one of the most traditional approaches to this rhythmic pattern.

Unlike all the previously mentioned ways, we will need to virtually “split” the six guitar strings into two separate groups to play La Pompe in the Dutch Way. This might sound more complicated than it is, so don’t worry.

An essential aspect of the Dutch style of playing La Pompe is that we need to alternate our quarter notes downstrokes between playing the bottom two (or three) strings and then all six strings simultaneously.

Let me show you.

So, when we approach this A6 chord using the Dutch Way of playing La Pompe, we get a constant back and forth between the A and E notes played on the 6th and 5th strings and all the strings played at once.

When accompanying this way, you are almost mimicking a basic drum pattern of kick (on beats one and three) and snare (on beats two and four), which makes perfect sense when you add the fact that you are playing the lower notes together with the “kick”, just like a bass player would.

Now, after you have mastered this alternation, don’t make the mistake of forgetting the basics. It would be best if you still played this with the correct right-hand accents and, most importantly, with the quick-release fretting hand technique. This is the best way to make your La Pompe sound just right.

Let’s look at our A Major turnaround played in the Dutch Style.

You can see that sometimes you don’t need to play more than one string on beats one and three, especially if the chord shape you’re playing doesn’t allow you to do that.

So, this is the basic Dutch Style La Pompe pattern, and you can get away with playing just this when you’re jamming on a fast-tempo tune. Still, there’s a crucially important element of this accompanying style that you cannot neglect.

So, we now have to start discussing incorporating an essential element of more complex La Pompe accompaniment patterns: the upstroke.

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The Upstroke 

The use of upstrokes throughout your La Pompe playing is a fundamental concept that we need to go deeper into, mainly because it is a crucial part of the Dutch Way of playing La Pompe, which is what Django Reinhardt’s rhythm section used to play, as well as the main focus of this article.

There is both a rhythmical and a technical side to take into consideration when approaching incorporating upstrokes in your La Pompe playing.

But first, let’s visualize how this would look on paper.

So, what’s going on here? First things first: we are playing muted strings on our upstrokes.

This adds a drum-like percussive feel to the overall groove, and it’s essential that you keep it like this. For example, if you were to play the actual chord on the upstrokes, your La Pompe would sound messy and muddy. You would add too much “content” with no rhythmical separation or definition. Believe me; you do not want that to happen.

It is also crucial that you don’t alter the order of the movements your right-hand needs to make for your upstrokes to sound good.

To make things even more explicit, let’s divide this sample La Pompe right-hand movement into three distinct parts.

The correct picking-hand sequence of movements is as follows: small downstroke, big downstroke, and upstroke.

So, as you can see, we are choosing to anticipate only the strong downbeats (1 and 3) with a rapid and tight upstroke on the upbeats. But that’s not the end of it.

There’s one more crucial detail you need to pay attention to, which is the rhythmical placement of your upstrokes. If there’s one thing that will set you on your way to playing your La Pompe like a Gypsy Jazz guitar master, I would say it’s this one. So read this next section carefully.


The Upstroke: The Correct Rhythmic Placement 

One of the most common mistakes that pretty much all beginner Gypsy Jazz guitar students make is not placing the upstrokes in the right “rhythmical spot”. Still, don’t start panicking yet, because it’s nothing that some good guided practice can’t fix.

Let’s take a look at our sample La Pompe accompaniment one more time.

If you were to play this rhythm precisely like it is written, you would quickly notice that something wouldn’t feel right.

Focus your attention on the rhythmic subdivisions of the bar: you have a straight alternation between one quarter-note (being your small downstroke) and two eight-notes (being the sum of your big downstroke followed by your muted-strings upstroke).

The problem is that if you play your two eight-notes too straight, you will not create enough of the Swing Feel necessary to play La Pompe believably. What seems to be a minor detail to the untrained ear can determine whether you sound legit or not.

So, where should you put your downstrokes? The answer to this question is pretty straightforward. Still, don’t be fooled; it will take much practice to get it right.

You must delay your upstroke as much as possible, making it closer to the next small downstroke. How close? Some Gypsy Jazz guitar players even teach the upstroke and the small downstroke as one single movement. So yeah, as close as you can.

If we were to “force” this concept into written music, this is what it would look like.

As you can see, we are not dealing with two eight-notes anymore, but it’s more like a dotted eight-note (your big downstroke) followed by a very quick sixteenth-note (your muted-strings upstroke).

Please bear in mind that nobody would ever write La Pompe this way, and let me clarify that you shouldn’t even think about it like this. Still, you should definitely approach your upstrokes by emphasizing the swing between the two eight notes on beats 2 and 4, pushing your upstrokes as close as possible to the next small downstroke.

Before we finish: this works for fast-tempo tunes as well as ballads. So, even if you are playing songs at slower tempos, you should still aim to make your upstrokes as close as possible to the next small downstroke.



I hope you found this overview on how to play La Pompe helpful.

Remember that, as long as you play with a good sense of rhythm and the notions I’ve shared with you here, you will be on your way to making your La Pompe playing sound great. So, enjoy, and keep playing!

Join us for a complimentary 14-day journey to take your Gypsy jazz guitar skills to the next level:

Below you can see Filippo Dall'Asta showing you how to play the Gypsy Jazz Pompe in video!

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