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Lesson 50: Some Hard Chord Progressions

Three Examples

We are going to look at three particularly hard chord progressions. The progressions are those of

  • Countdown by John Coltrane
  • Giant Steps by John Coltrane
  • Lakes ( the solo section) by Pat Metheny

Countdown by John Coltrane

In Countdown this progression is sequenced three times and transposed a whole step down each time:

thus becoming ( with a turn-around added as the last four bars of the form):

|Em7   F7    |Bbmaj7Db13  |Gbmaj7A7    |Dmaj7       |
|Dm7   Eb7   |Abmaj7B13   |Emaj7 G7    |Cmaj7       |
|Cm7   Db7   |Gbmaj7A7    |Dmaj7 F7    |Bbmaj7      |
|Em7         |F7          |Bbmaj7      |            |

The main progression of Countdown can be looked at as a reharmonization of a II-V-I ( Countdown is actually a reharmonization of Tune Up by Miles Davis):

|Dm7         |G7          |Cmaj7       |            | ( original)
|Dm7   Eb7   |Abmaj7B13   |Emaj7 G7    |Cmaj7       | ( reharmonization)

This progression goes through three tonal centers: Ab, E and C. The tonal centers are spaced a major third apart. This originates from a division of an octave into three equal parts. The same type of progression is used in Giant Steps.

Giant Steps by John Coltrane

The progression of Giant Steps by John Coltrane is the following, here with the melody:

and here are just the chords:

|Bmaj7 D7    |Gmaj7 Bb7   |Ebmaj7      |Am7   D7    |
|Gmaj7 Bb7   |Ebmaj7F#7   |Bmaj7       |Fm7   Bb7   |
|Ebmaj7      |Am7   D7    |Gmaj7       |C#m7  F#7   |
|Bmaj7       |Fm7   Bb7   |Ebmaj7      |C#m7  F#7   |

Giant Steps has a symmetric melody. It has three equally strong tonal centers: B, G and Eb major. The tonal centers are spaced a major third apart. This originates from a division of an octave into three equal parts.

Giant Steps can be analyzed as follows:
First it cycles downwards between the tonal centers:
B - D7 - G - Bb7 - Eb - Am7 D7( each tonic chord is preceded by its dominant)
then a new downwards cycle ( preceded by a II-V):
G - Bb7 - Eb - F#7 - B - Fm7 Bb7 ( each tonic chord is again preceded by its dominant)
then upwards between the tonal centers:
Eb - Am7 D7 - G - C#m7 F#7 -
B - Fm7 Bb7 - Eb - C#m7 F#7 ( this time each tonic chord is preceded by its II-V)

"Coltrane Changes"

The progressions of Countdown and Giant Steps are very similar. This type of progression is commonly referred to as "Coltrane changes". Let's take a look at the two in the same key ( C major) and side by side:

|Dm7   Eb7   |Abmaj7B13   |Emaj7 G7    |Cmaj7       | ( Countdown)
|Cmaj7 Eb7   |Abmaj7B7    |Emaj7       |            | ( Giant Steps)
Other Coltrane tunes where the same type of progressions are used:
  • 26-2 ( which is a reworking of Confirmation by Charlie Parker)
  • Central Park West
You may also want to check out the bridge of Have You Met Miss Jones by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart...

Lakes by Pat Metheny

The progression for the solo section of Lakes by Pat Metheny is a really hard one, too:

|Dmaj7 C7sus4|Fmaj7 Ab7sus|Dbmaj7B7sus4|Emaj7 D7sus4|
|Gmaj7 F7sus4|Bbmaj7Db7sus|Gbmaj7G7sus4|Cmaj7 A7sus4|
|Dmaj7 C7sus4|Fmaj7 Ab7sus|Dbmaj7B7sus4|Emaj7 D7sus4|
|Gmaj7 F7sus4|Bbmaj7Db7sus|Gbmaj7G7sus4|Cmaj7 A7sus4|
|D           |A/D         |G/D         |A/D         |
|D           |A/D         |G/D         |A/D         |

Lakes also goes through several tonal centers. First D, F, Db and E, then G, Bb, Gb and C major - with each tonic chord preceded by its dominant. Here the tonal center moves up a minor third four times: D to F, Db to E, E to G to Bb and down a major third two times: F to Db and Bb to Gb.

Lakes can be analyzed as follows:
First it progresses between the tonal centers:
D - C7sus4 - F - Ab7sus4 - Db - B7sus4 - E - D7sus4
then a new slightly different cycle:
G - F7sus4 - Bb - Db7sus4 - Gb - G7sus4 - C - A7sus4

Features Common to These Progressions

As it happens, these progressions have several things in common. Realizing this may make them easier to handle. Some things that they have in common are:

  • multi-tonic systems
  • non-functional harmony
  • uncommon root progressions
  • sequencing with transposition

2005 Tomas Karlsson. All rights reserved.