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Jazz Guitar Lessons: Giant Steps

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We're gonna talk about a real
groundbreaking song in jazz history it's
called Giant Steps by John Coltrane, and
It's an interesting song in many,
many different ways but
one of them has to do with
how you divide up the octave.
So what do I mean by that?
Well if you remember back when we were
talking about the diminished chord,
I said it divided the octave
exactly in four equal parts
Each note delineates one
quarter of the octave.
The augmented chord divides
it in three equal parts
The augmented chord is made
up of three major thirds,
whereas the diminished chord is made up of
four equal minor third intervals,
the augmented chord is
made up of three major
third intervals
So from here to here
from here
to here
and from here to
each one is a major third.
So it divides the octave
in three equal parts.
Now you're wondering, what does
this have to do with Giant Steps?
Well, the genius of
John Coltrane is that he in this
song divided the octave
in three equal parts.
And used three different tonal centers,
that are a major third apart
First starts out in B major 7
It goes to the 5/7 chord in G,
well that's a major third down from B
And then it goes up to the E flat five,
seven chord.
The E flat which you guessed it,
a major third down from G.
And if you go down a major
third from E flat,
you're back at the beginning of B
Three equal parts.
And listen to the way that sounds
It's such a cool sound, right?
And it's really an augmented chord
Now, what some people don't
always necessarily realize is,
the base player playing giant steps can
go right down the whole tone scale.
Remember the, each major 3rd
is made out of 2 whole tones.
So if you just go up the whole tone scale
theres the first major 3rd
Here's the second one,
straight up two whole tones
And two whole tones gets you
back to the beginning again.
So actually
that takes you through
It's just amazing.
So this is the genius that
John Coltrane had to think of this and
then it's also a beautiful melodic song.
If you play it slow,
it almost sounds like a pretty ballade
Very pretty.
Of course,
he doesn't play it that slow [LAUGH].
Rumor has it that Tommy Flanagan, the
pianist on the recording session that day,
got there early,
saw the music for Giant Steps.
He thought it was gonna be a ballad,
cuz it was such pretty changes.
But of course he plays
through it real quick.
And, when I was in my early 20s,
I was playing a lot of bop,
and I was playing through
a lot of changes.
And then I would hear players,
some of the players around New York,
especially saxophone players and it would
sound like, the way Coltrane played,
they'd be playing on one chord
And playing a lot of notes
that weren't in the key
But they somehow made it work.
And I went and
studied with a guy named Steve Grossman.
A great saxophone player that used
to play with Miles Davis, actually,
when he was very, very young.
And he had me study a song of Coltrane's,
based on the giant step
changes called Satellite.
Please feel free to look up that song,
it's a great song.
It's the song, it's based on
the chords to, How High The Moon, but
he puts the Giant Step
changes in every key center.
It's pretty complicated.
At the end of each chorus of Satellite,
they land on a ped, a pedal.
Pedal, if you remember, is where a bass
line just holds for a long time.
You may move chords above it
This is a pedal tone.
And over that pedal, Coltrane was
playing all kinds of crazy stuff.
And I asked Steve, what is that?
And he said,
that's what you have to listen for.
Because what he was doing, in essence,
is he was on top of the pedal chord
He was playing a lot of the giant
steps kind of changes
And he would move it somehow,
back to B flat.
But he was super imposing a whole
bunch of other stuff on top of it.
And it's just the coolest way of
got a little hung up at the end of that
But you can see how I started
out playing giant steps and
I moved it back into B flat
And this is kinda a way where you can
kinda almost get away with playing any
note in any key.
Any note works, if you will because
if you have the movement under your
fingers of how the chord changes snake
around in-between other things, and
you connect them with
the right chromatic notes,
it can lead you back to
almost any other note.
You're never more than
a half step away from
a tone that's in the key you're in anyway.
So this is a really cool concept and
giant steps is kind of an open door
into what I would call, you know,
this harmo-melodic chromaticism where
almost any note works on any chord.
So in order to get to that point first,
let's really get into giant steps.
Play through the changes
Remember, it goes through
the three tonal centers.
E flat.
And it goes through like this.
I'll play the changes really slowly.
Grab your guitar,
play along with me
Quick two five, back to G
Back to E flat
Back to B where it started.
Now this is sort of the bridge,
two five to E flat
clearly marking out the three tonal
two five to G, marking out that one,
two five to B
And then ending
two, five back to E-flat.
Then just a quick turn around
to get you back to the beginning,
to the
to the B major seventh.
One more
That took us back to the beginning.
Now I'm gonna just quickly talk about
some of the ways that you can play
through this.
All of the different techniques that we've
talked about, playing through changes.
Scale patterns.
Segments of arpeggios.
Chromatic connections.
Neighbor tones.
Diatonic neighbor tones.
Chromatic neighbor tones.
Simply playing through
the cord scale of each cord.
All those things can be
applied to giant steps.
As you practice it, I suggest that you
practice it at a slower tempo, and
even rubato, even out of tempo.
Because it's a lot of
quick changing harmony.
This tune the other day we were having a,
a session up here at Artist Works, with
Nathan East, and we played this song it's
available on the site, the video of that.
And, he said, are you thinking
about each chord as it comes, or
do you have to think ahead?
Without a doubt you gotta
think ahead on this one.
You have to kinda be thinking a,
thinking around the corner.
What's coming up?
I know it's gonna take me
to another key any second.
So like I say, rubato,
just sit down with your guitar,
look at the sheet music, you can even
make yourself a little rubato track
Just lay down each chord like this
or you can use, use your looper pedal, and
do it in a very slow tempo.
And just play through it.
I'll for example use, this is the really
famous example of Coltrane using the one,
two, three, five pattern.
One, two, three, four, five scale pattern.
in the key
of B
One, two, three, five.
And on each chord he does that.
Check it out
You can hear right through
the changes with that.
And then the two five to E-flat
Two five to G
Two five to B.
And then D flat again
And our little turnaround
Then you're back to
the beginning with the B chord.
Now let's do the same thing
out of tempo using just,
you know, triad arpeggios,
a triad in seventh chord arpeggios.
move to
a different
down here
So, those are a couple of different
things we're gonna try it and
play along with the fast tape of this.
I want to be very clear.
This is isn't for beginner students.
It's a lot of information to get
going [LAUGH] even at a slow tempo.
But feel free to listen to it and feel
free to try it at this tempo, but also,
use your lo, your looper pedals,
use your whatever recording equipment you
have to make your own
play-along at a slower tempo.
And then, you know you can build it up
a metronome marking each time you do it.
Just little by little, build it up until
you get more and more comfortable with it.
So let's give it a try.