credit: Thomas Kelley

Rhythm Changes is one of the most important chord progressions you can find in contemporary jazz music. It first came to prominence in the 1930s, being adopted by many bebop musicians over the next couple decades, and has formed the basis to numerous classic jazz tunes. You can read more about the history and useage of this turnaround here, or, if you are ready, jump straight into the lesson.

Today we are going to focus on the “A section” of a Rhythm Changes. You can find this 8 bar turnaround in songs like: I Got Rhythm, Oleo, and Anthropology. Improvising over those chords is fun, but at the same time, can be tricky because you have to deal with so many changes in such a short time.

Typically, blues or rock guitarists would play a minor pentatonic (or blues scale) over this section. For example if the key is Bb flat major, they will play Bb minor pentatonic or blues scale. But in the spirit of jazz, we can further emphasise the chord changes using some carefully chosen arpeggios.

Rhythm Changes harmonic explanation

In this turnaround we have major/minor chords and dominant chords. Over major and minor chords we will just play, more or less, the same arpeggio of the chord. For example, if we have Bb6 chord we will play a Bb6 or Bb major 7th arpeggio and and we will just add some passing tones. We want to stay focused on the dominant chords that give motion to the progression.

We can divide the dominant chords in 2 groups:
1) the altered dominant group. These are the dominant chords resolving a fifth below or the dominant chord built on the fifth degree of the key’s scale (for example F7 in Bb)
2) the natural dominant group. These are the dominant chords which are not resolving a fifth below or built on anything but the fifth degree of the key’s scale.

To create an altered dominant sound we can use a minor/major 7th arpeggio a half step above the chord (if we have F7alt we will play Gb m/Maj7 arpeggio). With this arpeggio we will emphasise: the root, the major 9th, the major 3rd and the augmented 5th or minor 13th of the chord.

To create a natural dominant sound we can use a minor/major 7th arpeggio a perfect fifth above the chord (if we have Ab7 we will play Eb m/Maj7 arpeggio). With this arpeggio we will emphasise: the perfect 5th, the minor 7th, the major 9th and the diminished 5th or augmented 11th of the chord.

You can listen to the audio file for each turnaround. Practice these 10 licks and try to use those in your improvisation. Have fun!

Lick 1

Lick 2

Lick 3

Lick 4

Lick 5

Lick 6

Lick 7

Lick 8

Lick 9

Lick 10

About the author: Tommaso Costa is an Italian guitar player based in New York with more than 10 years teaching experience. He graduated from the Italian Conservatory of Trento, Rock Guitar Academy in Milan and at the Collective School of Music in New York. He also studied classical performance at the Accademia Regondi in Milan. He has recently performed with: Tobias Ralph, Gregory Jones, Bob Quaranta, Vittorio Cosma, Maciek Shejbal, Meraviglia Orchestra, Mistery Evanescence Tribute Band, 69 Strings & Enrico Merlin and Zerita Hamilton. He was described as 'Born for the art of music and guitar' by legendary classical guitarist Alirio Díaz.

There are 0 comments on this article so far

Comment on this article

Email address
solve the following equation: 2 + 2 =

D'Angelico EXL-1A Acoustic-Electric Archtop Guitar 190839595010



D'Angelico EXL-1A Acoustic-Electric Archtop Guitar 190839595010 J34514006000006 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. Designed to capture the true essence of the instrument, the EXL-1A is a no-frills acoustic arch top with simple ... more

The Loar LH-600 Archtop Acoustic Guitar - Vintage Sunburst - New!



The Loar LH-600 Archtop Acoustic Guitar - Vintage Sunburst - New! Product Description The Loar LH-600 Archtop Acoustic Guitar modeled after American designs from the early 20th century. This all solid wood acoustic guitar delivers superior acoustic projection thanks to a top that is hand-carved from graduated spruce. The Loar LH-600 guitar has a hand-carved back and sides made from highly flamed maple. The nitrocellulose lacquer finish helps this replica of guitars from the 1920s deliver ... more

Epiphone Joe Pass Emperor-II PRO Sunburst Hollowbody Electric Guitar - Archtop



Epiphone Joe Pass Emperor-II PRO Sunburst Hollowbody Electric Guitar Here is what Epiphone has to say: New Vintage Natural Finish plus ProBucker™ pickups with coil-splitting The classic Epiphone Joe Pass Emperor-II PRO honors the "President of Bebop Guitar, " one of the most prolific and groundbreaking guitarists in the history of jazz. The Joe Pass Emperor-II PRO is a true archtop with hand-scalloped bracing. Featuring Epiphone’s critically acclaimed ProBucker™ hunbuckers with ... more

Peerless jazz guitar, archtop, tiger flame maple & hard shell case



Peerless jazz guitar, archtop, tiger flame maple & hard shell case. Condition is used. Plays easily and responsively. Sounds superb acoustically and amplified.... more

Normandy Zombie Copper Archtop Hollowbody Custom Guitar



Used only a couple times. Excellent condition. Like new!. Any questions let me know! This custom model starts out as shiny new copper, then apple cider vinegar and sea salt is applied. Very cool looking!. The American-made guitars are manufactured and hand-riveted in Salem, Oregon. Normandy Guitars ensures the quality by hand-picking every component. Each guitar takes several months to finish. Discoveries like making their own overwound pick-ups for a high output that mimic that 1950’s sound ... more

Eastman AR603CED-15 15" Archtop Sunburst Finish Dual Pickup @ LA Guitar Sales



This item is being offered to you by L A Guitar Sales located on the world famous Sunset Strip in West Hollywood California. We are authorized dealers for Bedell, Blackbird, Breedlove, Cordoba, Composite Acoustics, Eastman, Larrivee, Lowden, Martin, McPherson, RainSong, Ramirez, Santa Cruz, Taylor, Rick Turner and Voyage-air with their full line available. We are a true brick and mortar store and have over 12-years of online sales experience so you are in good hands with us. Please note that we ... more

Find more jazz guitars for sale at

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