How to Practice the Giant Steps Cycle: Video Tutorial and Supplementary Material

My preoccupation with John Coltrane's tune "Giant Steps" now ebbs, now flows, but always continues. I'm not the most fabulous alto sax man who has ever played the changes, certainly not in the league of Kenny Garrett, but I have my own approach, which I strive to make less digital and more lyrical. I've even had the temerity to write a book of licks and patterns on "Giant Steps" titled The Giant Steps Scratch Pad, available for instruments of every key. In the following video tutorial, I share a couple approaches to practicing the Giant Steps cycle that I have found profitable in my own practice sessions. The video begins with a bit of theory; however, the theory behind "Giant Steps" is more than adequately covered elsewhere in greater depth, as in this excellent article by Dan Adler, and it isn't the thrust of the tutorial. Rather, I address a more pragmatic concern: How do you wrap your fingers around the Giant Steps cycle? The tips I share in the tutorial certainly aren't the only way you can or should tackle the cycle, but I think you'll find them helpful. Briefly, I explain how to run both a one-bar pattern and a more extensive two-bar lick through the cycle. The two patterns used in the video were taken from The Giant Steps Scratch Pad. For your convenience, I'm supplying them for you here. Note that these excerpts are from the Eb edition, suitable for alto and baritone saxophonists; if you play a C, Bb, or bass clef instrument, you'll need to transpose (though editions of my book are available in your key). Click on the images to enlarge them. One-bar pattern: 002     One-bar pattern through the cycle: 003     Two-bar lick: 004     Two-bar lick through all three keys of the cycle: GS 1-Bar Pattern       And now, here is the video. It's obviously a homespun effort, so please bear with its flaws. I haven't figured out how to read from my PowerPoint notes and still look directly at the camera, and as for that stupid deer fly that lands on my forehead while I'm signing off and roams around like an astronaut exploring the lunar surface, I wasn't aware of it till I got home and viewed the clip. You think I'm going to do a redo just for that? It's part of filming outdoors: mosquitoes setting up drilling operations on my nice, pink flesh, deer flies exploring my noggin—I deal with it and you can too. Go ahead and chuckle. But if you're a jazz improviser who's tackling "Giant Steps," then I think you'll nevertheless find this tutorial worth your while.  

Coming Soon: The Giant Steps Scratch Pad in All 12 Keys

My book The Giants Steps Scratch Pad is enjoying modest success. While it's not flying off the shelves, musicians are buying it, and I find that gratifying because I haven't done much to market it other than display it on this and a couple of other jazz websites, and run a few ads in Craigslist. Available in separate editions for C, Bb, Eb, and bass cleff instruments, the book supplies 155 licks and patterns designed to help jazz instrumentalists master the Giant Steps cycle. To the best of my knowledge, there's no other resource out there like it that helps musicians actually practice Coltrane changes. The closest I've seen has been for guitar players. But enough about that. If you want to learn more about The Giant Steps Scratch Pad, visit my sales page. This post is to announce the upcoming release of a new edition of the Scratch Pad that covers all 12 keys. I've had this edition in mind for a while. I finally got the project underway but have held back announcing it until I felt certain that I'd see it through to completion. Today, with just three keys left to go, I think it's safe to say that this new, all-keys edition is gonna happen. I hope to wrap up the main grunt work within the next few days. I wish it was as easy as simply hitting the transposition button on MuseScore, but while transcription software is great, it doesn't eliminate the need for hands-on editing. So I've been sifting through each key page by page, changing the range where necessary, correcting wrong notes, inserting and deleting accidentals, and so forth. Once I'm finished, I'll proofread the results to make doubly sure that the manuscript is glitch-free. Then I'll assemble the whole lot and make it available as a PDF download. I will not offer it as a print edition through unless I get requests to do so. Judging from my sales of the present editions, people would much rather download the PDF and get the guts of the book instantly for cheaper rather than pay the shipping costs (even though the full-color cover looks sooooo sharp!). And I'm fine with that. Prepping a print edition is a lot of extra work; I have to charge more for it in order to make less than half the profit; and Lulu's insistence on putting a single, slim book inside a cardboard box that costs nearly $4.00 to ship is just plain crazy, not to mention a sales-killer. Anyway, stay tuned. It'll still take a week or two, but The Giant Steps Scratch Pad for all 12 keys is on the way. I haven't determined the price yet, but it'll be reasonable, something that'll let you still pay your utility bills while helping me to pay mine. I should add that this edition is written in treble clef. I may do a bass clef edition in all 12 keys as well--I'm not sure right now. One thing at a time.

Voice Leading for the Giant Steps Cycle

Both in print and on the Internet, there's no paucity of theoretical material available when it comes to "Giant Steps" and Coltrane changes. Of course, theoretical knowledge can't take the place of time in the woodshed hashing out the changes on your instrument. But it can help you make some sense of what you're practicing by revealing the order in what can at first seem like an odd, rambling array of chords. Once you understand some of the voice leading in "Giant Steps," you'll be able to pinpoint certain guide tones and use them effectively in your solos. This post is by no means intended to offer an in-depth explication of "Giant Steps" theory. All I'm going to do is call your attention to how a few select tones proceed, so you can be mindful of them for the reason I've just stated. Let's begin by naming the changes to the first four bars of section A in "Giant Steps." In concert pitch, they are: Bmaj7 D7 / Gmaj7 Bb7 / Ebmaj7 / A-7 D7. The second four bars repeats that chord progression a major third lower, thus: GMaj7 Bb7 / Ebmaj7 F#7 / Bmaj7 / F-7 Bb7. If you delete the last two bars in each four-bar phrase and crunch together the remaining chords, you get the following sequence: Bmaj7 D7 / Gmaj7 Bb7 / Ebmaj7 F#7. This is the essential Giant Steps cycle. As you can see, once you reach the end of the cycle it repeats itself as the F#7 resolves downward by a fifth to the Bmaj7. So far, so good. Now let's see what happens when we start moving some basic chord tones. We'll start with the root of the Bmaj7 chord. If you move it down by a whole step, you wind up on the note A, which functions as the fifth of the next chord, the D7. Move A down another whole step and you land on the root of  Gmaj7. Continuing down by whole steps in this manner--in other words, moving down the B whole tone scale--will move you from root to fifth to root to fifth through the entire Giant Steps cycle. You can also apply the same down-by-major-second movement starting on the fifth of the Bmaj7, which is F#. In this case, the fifth moves down a whole step to E, which functions as the ninth of the D7 chord. (You could also look at it as the fifth of an A minor chord that serves as the ii/V7 to the D7.) This note in turn moves downward to the fifth of the Gmaj7. Again you're descending through a whole tone scale, this one beginning on the fifth of the Bmaj7. So if you want a handy memory aid to help you organize your guide tones in the Giant Steps cycle, simply think of two whole tone scales (using half notes to match the harmonic rhythm), one descending from the root and the other from the fifth of the Bmaj7 chord. When you spotlight the third of the major seventh chords, things get more interesting. The third of the Bmaj7 is D#. Moving down a half step lands you on the note D, which is the root of the D7. To get from there to the third of the next chord, Gmaj7, you have to jump down a minor third. When you extend this downward movement of half step/minor third throughout the entire cycle, you wind up with an augmented scale. You also get an augmented scale when you use the same movement starting on the seventh of the Bmaj7 chord, thus: A#, A / F#, F / D, C#. To recap: * For voice leading from the root and fifth of the major chords in "Giant Steps," consider using, respectively, the B and F# whole tone scales. * For voice leading from the third and seventh, use the D# and A# descending augmented scales. I hope these concepts will help you see the symmetry in Coltrane changes and make life easier for you as a result. If you want a resource you can take into the practice room with you to help you master "Giant Steps," check out my book The Giant Steps Scratch Pad. It's available in C, Bb, Eb, and bass clef editions. See below for ordering info. Happy practicing! Oh, and be sure to visit my jazz page for plenty more tips, solo transcriptions, exercises, and articles of interest to jazz musicians.

The Giant Steps Scratch Pad

. Instant PDF download, $9.50 C edition Add to Cart Bb edition Add to Cart Eb edition Add to Cart Bass clef edition Add to Cart View Cart Print editions--retail quality with full-color cover, $12.95 plus shipping: order here.

C Edition of “The Giant Steps Scratch Pad” Is Now Available

I'm pleased to announce that "The Giant Steps Scratch Pad, C Edition" is now published and available for purchase on If you play the flute, piano, guitar, or any other concert pitch instrument and want a practice companion to help you master Coltrane changes, then this collection of 155 licks and patterns is for you! Besides the new C edition, "The Giant Steps Scratch Pad" is also available in Bb and Eb editions. A bass clef edition is next in line. I'm not sure what kind of editing it will require, since the shift is to a different clef rather than a different key. I'm hoping that the process will be a simple one and I'll be able to release the bass clef edition soon. If you want to learn more details on what the book has to offer, read the initial release notice for the Eb edition. The description applies to all the editions, which are identical except for the keys in which the musical material is written. At the risk of sounding immodest, I'm not aware of any other resource, either in print or online, that offers such extensive practice material for the Giant Steps cycle. You can find plenty of information on the theory of Coltrane changes, but it has been a different story when it comes to a hands-on, made-to-be-played book that jazz musicians can take with them to the woodshed. "The Giant Steps Scratch Pad" fills that gap. If you want to solo confidently and creatively over the challenging, lopsided changes of "Giant Steps," then pick the edition that's right for you and order your copy today!

Bb Edition of “The Giant Steps Scratch Pad” Is Now Available!

Tenor sax, soprano sax, trumpet, and clarinet players, I've kept my promise and haven't forgotten you! I'm pleased to announce that The Giant Steps Scratch Pad, Bb Edition is now published and available for purchase on In case you haven't followed any of my related posts, "The Giant Steps Scratch Pad" is a book of licks and patterns on the Giant Steps cycle. Made for the woodshed, it had its inception over ten years ago during a period in my life when I was immersing myself in Coltrane changes. Finding nothing in the way of practice material, I bought a spiral-bound book of staff paper and began writing down my own ideas, which multiplied over time into more material than I could wrap my arms around. In recent months, it occurred to me that the material could benefit other jazz musicians. So I transcribed it using MuseScore, and after more hassles and delays than I care to describe, finally published the Eb edition for alto sax and baritone sax players just two weeks ago. Read the release notice for more information on what the book has to offer jazz instrumentalists of every stripe who want a practice companion to help them develop their technique for improvising on "Giant Steps." In a nutshell, information abounds on the theory of Coltrane changes, but this is the first book I know of that actually gets you soloing on "Giant Steps." Flutists and other concert pitch instrumentalists, fear not: The C edition is next in line, and I'm already underway with editing. Bass players and trombonists, a bass clef edition will follow after the C edition has been published. So, campers, be patient. Nobody's going to be excluded from the party. "The Giant Steps Scratch Pad" is now priced at $10.95. I had initially settled on $13.95, but when I factored in the cost of shipping from Lulu, I decided to trim down by a few bucks. Head to the Scratch Pad landing page to access both the Eb and Bb editions, and other editions as they become available. I'm hoping to have the C edition published within a week, so look for another announcement soon.

The Giant Steps Scratch Pad: NOW PUBLISHED!

You read right: The Giant Steps Scratch Pad has finally hit the streets! I hadn't wanted to give further updates until now because it seemed that I kept running into snags and delays. That kind of news gets embarrassing to write about after a while, and no doubt it's tiresome to read. But all the hurdles have finally been crossed, and I am extremely pleased to announce that my book of 155 licks and patterns on Giant Steps changes is at long-last published and available for purchase. Let me quickly follow with this caveat: The Eb edition is the one that is presently available. However, with that trail finally blazed, Bb, C, and bass clef editions are all in the works and will be following shortly. I finished editing the Bb edition earlier today, and I hope to complete the job tomorrow, so look for it in a day or two, or at least sometime this week. After that will come the C and bass clef editions. (UPDATE: ALL FOUR EDITIONS OF THE GIANT STEPS SCRATCH PAD ARE NOW AVAILABLE FOR PURCHASE. SEE BOTTOM OF PAGE TO ORDER. CLICK AND ENLARGE IMAGE TO YOUR LEFT TO VIEW A PAGE SAMPLE FROM THE Bb EDITION) If you've ever wanted to build the technique to blaze your way through the changes to John Coltrane's jazz landmark, "Giant Steps," this is the book to help you do it. It's truly a one-of-a-kind. Here's the cover copy for it:
Build Your Technique and Creativity for the Giant Steps Cycle Looking for a practice book to help you master “Giant Steps”? The Giant Steps Scratch Pad will help you develop the chops you need. Plenty has been written about the theory behind Coltrane changes. This is the first book designed to help you actually improvise on John Coltrane’s benchmark tune. In it, you’ll find
  • * A brief overview of “Giant Steps” theory
  • * Insights and tips for using this book as a practice companion
  • * 155 licks and patterns divided into two parts to help you cultivate facility in both the A and B sections of “Giant Steps”
“Giant Steps” isn’t innately hard. It’s just different and unpracticed. This book gives you a wealth of material to help you take Coltrane’s lopsided chord changes and make music with them. Choose the edition that fits your instrument—Bb, C, Eb, or bass clef—and then get started today. "Ever since John Coltrane recorded 'Giant Steps,' its chord progression has been a rite of passage for aspiring improvisers. Bob's book The Giant Steps Scratch Pad presents a practical approach to Coltrane changes that will challenge advanced players and provide fundamental material for those just beginning to tackle the challenge of Giant Steps.'” --Ric Troll, composer, multi-instrumentalist, owner of Tallmadge Mill Studios "In this volume, Bob has created an excellent new tool for learning how to navigate the harmonies of 'Giant Steps.' This is a hands-on, practical approach with a wealth of great material that will be of assistance to students of jazz at all levels of development." --Kurt Ellenberger, composer, pianist, jazz educator and author of Materials and Concepts in Jazz Improvisation
I'll of course be putting up an advertisement for the book on this site. But no need to wait for that. If you're an alto sax or baritone sax player, you can purchase the Eb edition right now! Trumpeters, tenor saxophonists, soprano saxophonists, and clarinet players (did I miss anyone?), the party is coming your way next, so keep your eyes open for the next announcement. It seems strange to me that something like this book hasn't been done before, but as far as I know, The Giant Steps Scratch Pad truly is unique. It has been a lot more work than I ever anticipated, but I'm really proud of the results. Major thanks to my friend Brian Fowler of DesignTeam for creating such a totally killer cover for the print edition. But there's more to this book than good looks alone. I trust that those of you who purchase it will find that its contents live up to its appearance. If you're ready to tackle Coltrane changes, this book will give you plenty to keep you occupied for a long time to come. NOW AVAILABLE IN C, Bb, Eb, AND BASS CLEF EDITIONS, AND BOTH IN PRINT AND AS A PDF DOWNLOAD. Instant PDF download, $9.50 C edition Add to Cart Bb edition Add to Cart Eb edition Add to Cart Bass clef edition Add to Cart View Cart Print editions--retail quality with full-color cover, $10.95 plus shipping: order here.

“Giant Steps” Licks and Patterns

After posting a couple days ago on how to use the augmented scale with "Giant Steps" changes, I've experienced a renewed interest in woodshedding John Coltrane's high-hurdle chord cycle. There was a time in my musical life, maybe ten years ago, when I became moderately obsessed with "Giant Steps." I painstakingly wrote down my practice material in a music notebook, which I continued to add to until I had a veritable blizzard of ideas to work with. Today, looking through the web, I see plenty of resources that explore the theory behind the changes to "Giant Steps." However, I don't see much in the way of licks and patterns, of application-oriented stuff that a sax player can actually wrap his or her fingers around. So, since I'm presently re-exploring my "Giant Steps" notebook, I thought I'd share a page with you. Click on the image to the right to enlarge it. It's all hands-on stuff. If you want to study Coltrane's theory involving key centers moving by major thirds, you can find plenty of information on the Internet, such as this excellent Wikipedia article. But understanding the "Giant Steps" cycle isn't the same as playing it, and that's where this article can help. One caveat: since I'm an alto sax player, I wrote out the changes in my key. If you play an instrument pitched in Bb or C, such as tenor sax or flute, you'll need to transpose. The patterns shown here are for the first four bars of the tune's A section. With it's lopsided arrangement of V7-I cadences--which would be simple enough in themselves to negotiate if Coltrane hadn't placed the bar lines so inconveniently--this section is the one that can be hard to master. I wrote out material for the B section as well, but what I've shown here will probably be more to your immediate interest. Enjoy the material, practice hard, and have fun! UPDATE: My entire "Giant Steps" practice notebook is now available for sale in C, Bb, Eb, and bass clef editions. Using music notation software, I transcribed all of the handwritten material (including the above image) into a clear, easy-to-read format; wrote a front section that discusses the basic theory of Coltrane changes and gives tips and insights for practice; and had a cover professionally designed. The Giant Steps Scratch Pad is available as * PDF download--$9.50 * Print edition--$10.95 plus shipping The PDF will provide you with the full contents of the book instantly and save you money. The print edition gives you the complete, finished production complete with glossy cover. If you enjoyed the licks and patterns on this page, then The Giant Steps Scratch Pad is for you. View page samples from the Bb edition and order your copy today!