Tag Archives: coltrane changes

Learn to Play Giant Steps Jazz Lines On Bass – Bass Practice Diary 51

How to Improvise on Giant Steps – Bass Practice Diary – 9th April 2019

Last week I posted a video of me practicing improvising on Giant Steps chord changes on fretless and fretted bass. So this week I want to talk a bit about my approach to playing on what are some of the most notoriously difficult chords changes in jazz.

Having said that, I don’t think that soloing on Giant Steps needs to be very difficult. As long as you start slowly and focus on internalising the sound of the chords before you increase the tempo.

One of the reasons that John Coltrane’s Giant Steps has it’s fearsome reputation is because of the chord changes in the first two bars. The first bar starts on a Bmaj7 chord for two beats and immediately changes to a D7 chord on beat three. Which is a key change to G major. The second bar starts with a resolution to a Gmaj7 chord. Then it changes key again. This time to Bb7 on beat three which is the fifth of Eb major.

So the tune starts with three different keys in two bars. Needless to say, if you’re not prepared for it, it will catch you out. And many Giant Steps solos have failed before they’ve begun because musicians can’t negotiate these quick key changes quickly enough.

This chord movement in bars 1 and 2 repeats itself in bars 5 and 6 but transposed so that the progression starts on Gmaj7. And it’s this chord progression that defines Giant Steps. So if you want to improvise on Giant Steps you need to spend some time really working on this two bar chord progression.

Use the Chord Tones

My first piece of advice would be to come up with lines over this two bar progression using chord tones. The progression itself is already complex enough on it’s own that you don’t need to add lots of chromaticism or substitutions to make your lines sound interesting. It’s amazing how many interesting sounding jazz lines you can come up with on Giant Steps using nothing but roots, 3rds, 5ths and 7ths.

Here are three different lines that I came up with which use nothing but chord tones.

Giant Steps Licks for Bass Bars 1-3
Giant Steps Licks for Bass Bars 1-3

You can transpose each of these to work over bars 5 and 6. But here’s another one that I wrote specifically to be played over bars 5-7.

Giant Steps Lick for Bass Bars 5-7
Giant Steps Lick for Bass Bars 5-7

I don’t work out these licks so that I can play them in a solo. I do it to help me get the sound of the chord changes into my ears. And the more lines like this that I work out, the more likely I’ll be to be able to improvise something like this in a solo. So feel free to play through my licks and practice them, but also come up with some of your own.

I honestly feel that this two-bar chord progression is the key to unlocking Giant Steps. Once you can improvise over this tricky chord sequence, the rest of the progression is easy, dare I say it. It’s just a sequence of II – V – I’s in three different keys. Eb major, G major and B major.

Playing on II – V – I’s is a jazz musicians bread and butter. There are hundreds of lessons and videos out there about playing on them.

John Coltrane Jazz Lick on Bass Guitar – Bass Practice Diary 44

John Coltrane Jazz Lick on Bass Guitar – Bass Practice Diary – 19th February 2019

This week I’m breaking down another jazz lick on bass guitar. And I wanted to take on one of the all time great jazz improvisers, John Coltrane.

So, I was reading through the bass clef John Coltrane Omnibook trying to choose where I should start. And I decided I should start by looking at how he played over what are know as the Coltrane Changes. Or the Coltrane Matrix as it was called when I was taught it at music college.

Coltrane Changes

The Coltrane changes are a sequence of chords that take you through three keys. Each key is a major third away from the previous key. So, the progression always resolves back into the original key. Because an octave divides perfectly into three major thirds.

John Coltrane used this progression as a substitution for a standard II – V – I progression. Coltrane used this substitution in his composition Countdown from the Giant Steps album. The Countdown chord progression is a reharmonisation of the jazz standard Tune Up.

The Lick Arranged for Bass

So, I’ve arranged one of John Coltrane’s licks from Countdown for bass guitar. The lick takes place over three bars and encompasses all three key changes. It starts like this.

Coltrane Jazz Lick Bar 1

The first chord, Cm7, is chord II in the key of Bb major. If you’re going to analyse the first two notes in terms of their relationship to the chord then they would be 5th and 11th. But I feel like in this case, Coltrane was just using two notes from the key of Bb major to lead into the new key. Which is why I haven’t written 5th and 11th above the notes.

The Db7 chord is chord V in the new key, Gb major. From this point on, it’s really interesting to see how many chord tones John Coltrane uses in his line. So I’ve written the chord tone relationships above the notes. Here’s the second bar.

Coltrane Jazz Lick Bar 2

In this bar, the key changes from Gb major to D major (A7). You’ll notice that virtually every note he uses in this lick is either root, third, fifth, seventh or ninth. The only note that isn’t in this bar is the Ab passing note between the root and seventh of the A7 chord.

Using Chord Tones

His approach might seem quite simplistic on the face of it. It would certainly seem like a simplistic way of building lines if you were to apply it to the standard, unaltered II – V – I progression. But, if you look at it in context with the chord progression, it makes complete sense.

He’s using this incredibly cool substitution, which features constantly moving harmony. And he wants his line to reflect the substituted harmony. If he filled his line with chromatic alterations and extensions, then the underlying chord progression could quickly become unrecognisable. Here’s bar three.

Coltrane Jazz Lick Bar 3

In this bar the key returns to the original Bb major (F7). The pattern used on the Dmaj7 chord is very typical of the 1, 2, 3, 5 patterns that Coltrane loved to use around this period. Which is why I’ve put 2nd in brackets next to the 9th, E. Here is the full lick.

John Coltrane Jazz Lick

John Coltrane Improvisation Style

Analysing these licks is like getting a lesson in jazz improvisation from one of the masters. This lick is very typical off what John Coltrane was playing in the late 1950’s. But, during his career he went through several different stages. Each featuring a different approach to improvising. So I have no doubt that I will be analysing more Coltrane licks in the near future from different stages of his career.

In the mean time, why not check out this Jaco Pastorius Jazz Lick. Or if you’ve already seen that you can check out one of my own jazz licks here. And here is an example of a diminished jazz blues lick. Enjoy!