by Dennis Winge

The classic album Giant Steps by John Coltrane
The classic album Giant Steps by John Coltrane was recorded in 1959 and released in 1960

Coltrane changes are fun to play on.  If you're intimidated by Giant Steps, it could simply be the tempo of the tune.  Just because Trane's version is fast doesn't mean you can't enjoy using the changes at slower tempos, in smaller increments, and on generally easier tunes.

What are Coltrane's 'Giant Steps'

There are plenty of internet resources on what Coltrane changes are so we will only provide a short overview here. (Listen to the original track on youtube)

The changes Bmaj7 - D7 - Gmaj7 - Bb7 - Ebmaj7 is the opening of Giant Steps.  It spans 3 keys, B, G, and Eb.  Those keys are a major third apart and they sit far away from each other on the Circle of Fifths, hence the title "Giant Steps." 

In re-harmonizing jazz standards, you can take any II - V - I progression and put these changes into it by going up a half-step from the II chord to begin the cycle.

Standard Changes - key of C

II
V I
Dm7 G7 Cmaj7

Standard II - V - I Re-harmonized with Coltrane Changes

II
(key C)
(V
(key Ab)
I) (V
(key E)
I) (V
(key C)
I)
Dm7 Eb7 Abmaj7 B7 Emaj7 G7 Cmaj7

In the above example we have 3 keys: Ab, E, and C and they are a major third apart, which is the same relationship as in Giant Steps. Over each key change is the V chord to the I chord in that particular key, as indicated.

If you are not familiar with this reharm, it would be good to write them out in 12 keys, so I'll give you one more example:

Standard Changes - key of F

II
(key F)
V I
Gm7 C7 Fmaj7

Standard II - V - I Re-harmonized with Coltrane Changes

II
(key F)
(V
(key Db)
I) (V
(key A)
I) (V
(key F)
I)
Gm7 Ab7 Dbmaj7 E7 Amaj7 C7 Fmaj7

Why Christmas Carols?

(Please note, I use a harmonic analysis system based on John Mehegan's classic book "Tonal and Rhythmic Principles" which doesn't lower case the Roman Numerals for minors, and uses the following symbols: ∆ = major, x = dominant, - = minor, Ø = half-diminished or m7b5, and o = diminished,.)

So if the re-harmonization technique can be used on any jazz standard, why an article specifically about Christmas Carols?  Notice in the above examples that it takes 3 bars of reharm before the I chord comes in bar 4.  This is fine if the I chord in the standard changes stays the same in bars 3 and 4.  It'll also be fine if the chord in bar 4 is diatonic to the key (like Am in the key of C, as in a II - V - I - VI progression).  But if bar 4 takes you somewhere else, you may have to be bit creative with how use the reharm.  For example, suppose you have:

II
(key C)
V I VII IIIx
Dm7 G7 Cmaj7 Bm7b7 E7
VI IIx II V I
Am7 D7 Dm7 G7 Cmaj7

In order to use Coltrane changes in the first 4 bars you might have to go:

II
(key C)
(V
(key Ab)
I) (V
(key E)
I) (V
(key C)
I) VII IIIx
Dm7 Eb7 Abmaj7 B7 Emaj7 G7 Cmaj7 Bm7b5 E7
VI IIx II V I
Am7 D7 Dm7 G7 Cmaj7

So notice that when you "resolve" to C, the underlying harmony as written in the original version of the tune is not really on C anymore, and you're, in a sense, shoving a round peg in a square hole.  (And, as experienced guitarist know, if you're trying to pull off this reharm on the fly with a bass player who is not expecting them, it can sound quite unusual indeed, so a word to the wise:  play it confidently and play it clearly if you're going to do it spontaneously or it will just sound wrong.)

Fortunately, in a lot of Christmas carols, there are many sections where the I chord doesn't come until bar 4.  That makes them perfect for Coltrane reharmonizations. 

Examples

Christmas Song

Coltrane re-harmonization of 'The Christmas Song'

The re-harmonization would go: | Bbm7 B7 | Emaj7 G7 | Cmaj7 Eb7 | Abmaj7 |

Let it Snow

Coltrane re-harmonization of 'Let it Snow'

The re harmonization is: | Gm7 Ab7 | Dbmaj7 E7 | Amaj7 C7 | Fmaj7 |

Winter Wonderland

Coltrane re-harmonization of 'Winter Wonderland'

The re-harmonization would be: | Dm7 Eb7 | Abmaj7 B7 | Emaj7 G7 | Cmaj7 |

Contexts in which to use the Re-harmonizations

Of course you're not going to re-harmonize while someone is singing or playing the melody unless you have worked out how to alter the melody in advance!  There are examples of the melody being altered (such as in my wacky version of Rudolph the Rednose Reindeer on my Holiday Album, but generally speaking you should reserve those reharms for solo sections only.

You can really go nuts with this device if you're so inclined, because sometimes whole tunes lend themselves to re-harmonized changes such as in this version of Happy Holidays.  I look forward to hearing the results of your experiments, so don't be shy in sending them. :)


About the author: Dennis Winge is a professional guitarist living in upstate New York with a passion for vegan food and bhakti yoga.  If you are interested in taking Guitar Lessons in Ithaca, NY, then be sure to contact Dennis!

There are 0 comments on this article so far

Comment on this article

Name
Email address
solve the following equation: 4 + 4 =


Ibanez AFC Contemporary Archtop Electric Guitar Flat Black 190839635990

DIRECT FROM MUSIC123, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

$607

Ibanez AFC Contemporary Archtop Electric Guitar Flat Black 190839635990 J48410006001004 This gear was returned in good working condition with one or more scratches or dents, typical of an instrument that's seen normal wear and tear. It's a great choice if you're looking for performance and value and can overlook cosmetic flaws. Full Manufacturer warranty not applicable on all used products. For many decades, Ibanez has been re-energizing the hollow body world with a wide variety of original ... more

Eastman AR580CE-HB Archtop Hollow-Body Electric Guitar w / HSC, NAMM Model #39153

PENSACOLA, FLORIDA, 32507, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

$1366

Please feel free to contact us with any questions you may have about this listingor any other items that we carry in our store! Thank you for taking the time to visit Blues Angel Music's eBay store! Blues Angel Music, est. in 1997 in Pensacola, Florida, has been named by NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) as one of the "TOP 100" music stores in the USA since 2011!!! Your satisfaction is our #1 objective! Eastman AR580CE-HB Hollow-Body Archtop Electric w / HSC, Honey Burst Finish, ... more

The Loar LH-700 Archtop Acoustic Guitar Vintage Sunburst 190839559203 Open Box

DIRECT FROM MUSIC123, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

$1199

The Loar LH-700 Archtop Acoustic Guitar Vintage Sunburst 190839559203 Open Box 581071005015021 Gear returned in great condition, with only minor signs of use, such as slight scuffs or pick marks. It looks and plays like new and may be considered an equivalent to display units found in retail stores. Full Manufacturer warranty not applicable on all used products. The Loar's hand-carved, nitrocellulose-finished LH-700 archtop acoustic guitar is a product of extensive historic research. The ... more

Ibanez AFC Contemporary Archtop 6str Electric Guitar w / Case Black Flat AFC125BKF

CLARKSVILLE, INDIANA, 47129, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

$949

Ibanez AFC Contemporary Archtop 6str Electric Guitar w / Case - Black Flat AFC125BKF For many decades, Ibanez has been re-energizing the hollow body world with a wide variety of original designs, unrivaled playability and polished tones. By closely working with many legendary artists Ibanez is constantly striving to experiment, innovate and deliver. This enthusiasm for exploration has led to the Contemporary Archtop series, customized specifically to meet the demands of today’s cutting edge ... more

Gibson ES-175F Figured Archtop Hollow-Body Guitar CASE, COA & STRAP 2016 es-175

CATONSVILLE, MARYLAND, 21228, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

$3999

Powered by Frooition Shop CategoriesAccordionAmplifierBand & OrchestraBanjoCablesDJ & LightingDobro & Resonator GuitarDrum MachineDrums & PercussionDuplicator & RecorderGuitar & BassGuitar & Bass AccessoriesGuitar EffectsHanger & StandsHarp & DulcimerHeadphonesKeyboard & PianoMandolinMicrophoneOtherPickups & AccessoriesPower Supply & AdapterPro AudioSamplerSpeakerStringsTuner & MetronomeUkulele Gibson ES-175F Figured Archtop Hollow-Body Guitar CASE, COA & STRAP 2016 es-175 Item Description ... more

Vintage Gretsch Archtop Orchestra Acoustic Guitar Guitar w / Hard Shell Case

MARGATE CITY, NEW JERSEY, 08402, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

$1100

Vintage Gretsch Archtop Orchestra Acoustic GuitarTested and in working conditionPreviously used with marks from wear as shown in the picturesPlease use the zoom feature for close ups of condition as the guitar is very old and does show some wearComes with Gretsch hard shell case as shownI have tried to do extensive research on the guitar and it appears to be a pre-war 1920s / 1930s guitar. I was also told that by a local guitar expert. However, the serial number embossed into the top of the head... more

Find more jazz guitars for sale at jazzguitarsforsale.com


Jazz Books


Hal Leonard Guitar Method - Jazz Guitar: Hal Leonard Guitar Method Stylistic Supplement Bk/online audio. Featuring in-depth lessons and 40 great jazz classics, the Hal Leonard Jazz Guitar Method is your complete guide to learning jazz guitar. Songs include: 'Satin Doll', 'Take the A Train', 'Billie's Bounce', 'Impressions', 'Bluesette' and more.

Jazz Guitar Lessons


Jazz Bebop Blues Guitar helps you to create the authentic sound of jazz guitar, without having to learn numerous scales and modes. Based around the familiar blues progression, this book uses simple chord / scale substitution ideas to create beautiful jazz-blues lines in the style of the great jazz guitarists