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Lesson 46: Tonal Centers

Tonal Centers

A tonal center is the tonic of an area in a tune where all the chords are from the same scale. A large majority of the tunes in the Standards repertoire in jazz can be broken down into a series of tonal centers.

Example 1: All the Things You Are by Oscar Hammerstein and Jerome Kern

Let's analyze All the Things You Are by Oscar Hammerstein and Jerome Kern.

The first A section goes like this:

|Fm7   |Bbm7  |Eb7   |Abmaj7|
|Dbmaj7|G7    |Cmaj7 |      |
Now, that's five bars of Ab major followed by three bars of C major.

The second A2 section goes like this:

|Cm7   |Fm7   |Bb7   |Ebmaj7|
|Abmaj7|D7    |Gmaj7 |      |
That's five bars of Eb major followed by three bars of G major.

The B section goes like this:

|Am7   |D7    |Gmaj7 |      |
|F#m7  |B7    |Emaj7 |C7aug |
That's a II-V-I in G major followed by a II-V-I in E major and last a C7aug chord leading back into F minor.

The last, or C, section goes like this:

|Fm7   |Bbm7  |Eb7   |Abmaj7|
|Dbmaj7|Dbm7  |Cm7   |Bdim  |
|Bbm7  |Eb7   |Abmaj7|C7    |
That's just about all Ab major!

Example 2: Stella by Starlight by Victor Young and Ned Washington

Now, let's go for a slightly harder tune, and do Stella by Starlight by Victor Young and Ned Washington.

The first, or A, section goes like this:

|Em7b5 |A7b9  |Cm11  |F13   |
|Fm9   |Bb13  |Eb6/9 |Ab7#11|
That's a II-V in D minor, followed by a II-V in Bb major, followed by a II-V-I in Eb major, and last an Ab7#11 chord leading back to Bb major.

The second, or B, section goes like this:

|Bbmaj7 |Em7b5A7b9|Dm11    |Bbm7 Eb9|
|Fmaj7  |Em7b5A7b9|Am7b5   |D7b9    |
That's one bar of Bb major, followed by a II-V-I in D minor, a substitute II-V leading to F major, a II-V in D minor followed by a II-V in G minor.

The third, or C, section goes like this:

|G7alt |      |Cm11  |      |
|Ab9#11|      |Bbmaj13|     |
Here the tonal center is C minor, the Ab9#11 chord then functions as a substitute dominant leading into Bb major.

The fourth, or D, section goes like this:

|Em7b5 |A7b9  |Dm7b5 |G7b9  |
|Cm7b5 |F7b9  |Bb6/9 |      |
That's a string of minor II-V's, first in D minor, then in C minor and Bb leading to the Bb major chord.

2006 Tomas Karlsson. All rights reserved.