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Coltrane’s Giant Steps Part One

John Coltrane was one of the most gifted musicians of all time.  Coltrane developed a sound and a method of playing that is emulated by almost every jazz musician today.  When I was in Grad School, one of the concepts we covered in improv class was Coltrane’s Three Tonic System.  The most famous example of this is his composition “Giant Steps.”

For many jazz musicians, Giant Steps represents an ultimate goal.  If you can play over this tune at a fast tempo, then you are a “jazz musician.”

Not true.

This is merely an exercise in becoming more flexible on your instrument.  That is exactly why Coltrane composed this tune and once he got it under his fingers, he moved on.

Here I want to show you how to break down this tune and make it into easy, understandable pieces. The first part of the lesson will focus on how to reharmonize a ii-V-I progression using a three tonic system.

Here are the basic changes of the tune.


As you can see, there are only two tricky parts to this tune.  Measures 1 through 3 and measures 5 through 7.  The rest of the tune consists of basic ii-V-I progressions.  Nothing too crazy.

First let me show you the basics of how these changes work.  Let’s start with an easy ii-V-I progression in the key of C.

The progression Coltrane used in Giant Steps is based on a three tonic system. Since we are in the key of C for this example, the key enters for this progression will be C, E and A flat.

The next step is to place our key centers.

Once we have established our key centers, we will approach each major 7th chord with it’s diatonic dominant 7th chord.  Like this.

So now that you understand how to reharmonize a basic ii-V-I using Coltrane’s Giant Steps progression, start to work on voicings that will allow you to move through this progression at a reasonable tempo.

In the next lesson we will start to learn how to solo using some digital patterns.

So, what do you think ?