Hey Jazz Guy,

I’m mystified by ‘Giant Steps’ and ‘Coltrane changes’, can you explain how that harmony works? –Confused in Cambridge

Dear Confused,

John Coltrane’s ‘Giant Steps’ was a landmark moment in jazz, a beautiful tune that has proved fascinating ever since. We will break it down to examine this brilliant piece of music. This is a three tonic system. If we divide the octave into three equal parts, we get three notes, each four half-steps apart, for example B, Eb, and G. Then we build major triads on these notes [Ex 1], they will be our three tonics. The genius of the progression is the relative dominant chords in front of each major chord make the resolution stronger. The first half of the progression [Ex 2] illustrates this technique, starting with BMaj7 then dominant (D7) to the next tonic (GMaj7) followed by another dominant (Bb7) to the last tonic (EbMaj7). Notice that a ii-V is used to ‘recycle’ the tonics and start the sequence again on GMaj7. The second half of the progression [Ex 3] just places ii-Vs as preludes to each key change, beginning with Eb, then ii-V to G, ii-V to B, ii-V to Eb, finally another ii-V to get back to the top. Because the motion is so complex, the aim when soloing is to play accurately over the shifting tonal centers. Over the first four chords [Ex 4] the line is almost exclusively chord tones. This is important because when the harmony changes so rapidly, it must be clearly articulated by the soloist in order to sound ‘correct’. Practice each piece of this tune slowly and carefully, taking one small step for you, one Giant Step for your jazz abilities!

Link to PDF Example: HJG – COLTRANE

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Categories: Harmony

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