Two Giant Steps Licks

Lately, my book The Giant Steps Scratch Pad has enjoyed a modest spate of sales. I appreciate that musicians take an interest in it. On my part, it was a labor of love, and it's gratifying when you, my readers, find it worthwhile enough to shell out your hard-earned cash to obtain a copy. Every purchase is a shot of morale for me, not to mention a nice dent in my electric bill. As a way of saying thanks, I thought I'd share with you a couple of favorite new Giant Steps licks that I've been practicing. They correspond to the A section of Giant Steps' A-B form and have a bebop flavor to them. Since I'm an Eb alto saxophonist, I've written the licks out for my instrument. C, Bb, F, and bass clef instruments will need to transpose accordingly. 'Nuff said. Without further ado, here are the licks. Click on the image to open and enlarge it.

Practicing “Giant Steps”: Static and Chord Tone Sequences

Here are some more exercises on the Giant Steps cycle. (Click on the image to enlarge it.) While it might not be immediately apparent, the linear patterns shown here are actually a continuation from my previous post on isolating V7s in the cycle. Note that the V7 chords are still spotlighted by emphasizing them with quarter notes, which are led into by the preceding grouping of eighth notes. Think of the dominant harmonies as target tones preceded by a walk-up. In these exercises, I've elected to focus on the treadmill-like cycle of Coltrane changes rather than the full eight-bar A section of "Giant Steps." As is typical of so much of the practice material in my posts, what you're getting here comes straight from my own current explorations and discoveries in the woodshed Don't be cowed by this post's heady subtitle, "Static and Chord Tone Sequences." I'm just not sure how else to describe this material. The goal I'm after is to work with linear sequences that will drill the shifting tone centers of Coltrane changes into my fingers. (Geeze, that still sounds murky as all get-out. Oh, well. Deal with it.) Since I'm an alto sax player, I've written these exercises in the Eb transposition. If you play a Bb or a C instrument, you'll need to transpose accordingly. Exercise one proceeds through the entire Giant Steps cycle in three bars. The first three-bar cycle starts on Ab; the second, on E; and the third, on C. In each series, I've kept the first note of each measure as static as possible, shifting it by just a half-step in the third measure to accommodate the change in key. In exercise two, the harmony continues to repeat itself (i.e. AbM7 to B7, back and forth) while the starting tone for the eighth-note groupings shifts, progressively, from the root to the third to the fifth. In both exercises, pay attention to which target tones you arrive at in the dominant seventh chords. And that's enough of me talking. Dig in, engage your analytical thinking along with your fingers--and, as always, have fun! Oh, yeah--if you enjoyed this post, please check out my many other articles, practice exercises, solo transcriptions, and video tutorials for improvising musicians.

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.

Fourth Patterns: Three Exercises to Build Your Technique

This post begins with a slice of my life. Blogs are personal things, or have the capacity to be if we let them. Sometimes I choose to do so in a way that goes beyond the realm of storms and music to other aspects of my world. Today, the pressures of that world have been getting me down. In the face of Michigan's gnarly economy, the bills have been coming in with a consistency that the amount of business I need in order to pay them has not.  As a self-employed copywriter and marketing copyeditor, I'm grateful for every project that I get. Still, as anyone who has felt the bite of this recession can tell you, sometimes it's hard to stay upbeat. I need more marketing clients. Yoo-hoo...anyone...? Shameless, aren't I. But...I've learned--or rather, I continue to learn daily--to thank the Lord for small but important glints of progress. One of them lately has been with my book of licks and patterns for Coltrane changes, The Giant Steps Scratch Pad. A number of you have been good enough to buy it--enough of you over this past month in particular that I think the book may be starting to slowly catch on. It was a labor of love, and I hope you're finding it to be every bit as useful as I envisioned it would be. If you feel inclined to share your experience with it so far, by all means drop a comment. And if you like the book, please spread the word. Okay, enough of this self-indulgent stuff. August has been a busy month for me, occupied with family and, last weekend, with getting my first and probably last taste of a hurricane as Irene slammed through North Carolina. That's material for another post soon to come. Overall, in the midst of my preoccupations, I haven't been updating this blog as often as I normally do. So today, I'm back for you jazz musicianly sorts with an exercise on fourth patterns. Three exercises, actually, with the latter two being variations of the first. Click on the image below to enlarge it. Note that these patterns cycle downward not by the usual root movement of a perfect fifth, but by perfect fourths. Why is that, you ask. Because I like how it sounds, and you will, too. These patterns can be used in a number of ways. Since they're closely related to the pentatonic scale--pick any three adjacent patterns, crunch the notes together, and you'll have a pentatonic--you can use them as you would pentatonic scales. For that matter, you can use as many as five of these patterns in succession within a given key and remain diatonic to the key. The fifth pattern will fill in the last blank, furnishing you with all seven notes in that key. For example, the first two-and-a-half bars of the exercise are all diatonic to the key of C major. From there, the harmonic applications can get as sophisticated as you care to go with them. I'll let you hash out that part. My mission here is simply to give you something to grease your technique with. Have fun! And if you enjoy this post, check out my many more helpful exercises, transcriptions, and articles for jazz improvisers.

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.

PDF Download of “The Giant Steps Scratch Pad” Now Available

With my practice book for Coltrane changes, "The Giant Steps Scratch Pad," now published in its four fundamental editions--C, Bb, Eb, and bass clef--I'm now making it available as a PDF download as well as in print. The advantages of the download for you are twofold: * You'll save money. The difference is $9.50 for the download versus $10.95 plus shipping for the print edition. Those of you who can afford the print edition will love it! The cover looks fantastic and does a professional job of printing. But if it's not in your budget, then the download is a cost-effective alternative that gives you all of the book's vital content to help you master Coltrane changes. * You'll save time. If you want to start practicing the material today rather than wait for the print edition to arrive in the mail, then the PDF download is the way to go. To give you a quick summary, "The Giant Steps Scratch Pad" is a collection of 155 licks and patterns for all jazz instrumentalists on the chord changes to the John Coltrane tune "Giant Steps." Taking you beyond theory to actual application, the book is intended to be played, not just read. Choose the edition that meets your needs--C, Bb, or Eb, and print or PDF download--and order your copy today.
"...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, multi-instrumentalist, composer, owner of TallmadgeMill Studios "...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, author of "Materials and Concepts in Jazz Improvisation"
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 Giant Steps Scratch Pad Complete instant PDF download, $21.95 All 12 keys in treble clef. Add to Cart View Cart Print editions (C, Bb, Eb, and bass clef editions only)--retail quality with full-color cover, $10.95 plus shipping: order here.

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.

Update on “The Giant Steps Scratch Pad”

"If something's worth doing, then it's worth doing right." Hear, hear! I agree with that old axiom. But doing something right often takes longer than we expected when we first got our project underway. In the case of "The Giant Steps Scratch Pad"--my book of licks and patterns for Coltrane changes--it has been taking considerably longer. So I thought I'd share another update for those of you who are interested. Here's the status of the project and my plans for it: * After many a headache and blind alley, the music and text files for the Eb edition are now merged into a single document and the interior of the book is ready to go. * Registration for copyright has been filed at the U. S. Copyright Office. * Rather than use one of the templates at, I've decided to have the cover professionally done by a friend of mine who specializes in graphic design for book and CD covers. I meet with him next week. This should be the last big task (knock on wood). * Once the cover is completed, the Eb edition will be ready for publication through At that point, I'll just need to set up a store account and make the book available. * Bb, C, and bass clef editions will follow once the Eb edition is published. So tenor sax, trumpet, piano, flute, trombone, and bass players, never fear! I've definitely got you on the radar. It just makes sense, from my standpoint, to publish the material as I initially wrote it first, so I can at least get alto sax player like me underway. That's it for now. When there's more to tell, I'll let you know, so stay dialed in.

The Giant Steps Scratch Pad: Getting Back on Track

Finally...the grunt work is done. I'm pleased to announce that today I finished keying in the last of the patterns and licks in my "Giant Steps" practice book. Not only so, but I completely revised the introduction and wrote a new section of "Preliminaries and Practice Tips." Preparing "The Giant Steps Scratch Pad" for publication has been a longer haul than I had anticipated, but the extra time and effort I've invested have produced a much better product. And in the process of transcribing it using MuseScore notation software, I've had ample opportunity to better consider my options for self-publishing. "The Giant Steps Scratch Pad" will be available in C, Eb, Bb, and bass clef editions. I'm now weighing the pros and cons of print versus electronic editions and the feasibility of offering both. Whatever I decide, the hardest part is now behind me (knock on wood). I still need to figure out how to merge my text and music score files into a single document, and I need to create a cover, and I need to set up an online store. But the book in its essence now exists in a format that is a huge improvement over the scanned, handwritten material I had initially envisioned as an e-book. Bottom line: If you've ever wanted to build the chops needed to play John Coltrane's tune "Giant Steps," this book will help you immensely. Continuing on in the spirit of shameless self-promotion--hey, it's my blog, and I get to do this sort of thing!--I thought I'd share the "Preliminaries" part of the section titled "Preliminaries and Practice Tips." You know, just to whet your whistle, start a little buzz, put a bug in your ear, that kinda thing. I think you'll find this little writeup interesting, maybe even enlightening, possibly even useful:
"The Giant Steps Scratch Pad" is straightforward. It’s about building your chops for Coltrane changes. Still, there are a few things you’ll want to keep in mind. “Giant Steps” cycles through three key centers spaced a major third apart. The tune is written in B concert (if you can really pin it to a single key), and it takes you through the keys of B major, G major, and Eb major. A quick glance will tell you that the notes B, G, and Eb (D# enharmonically) spell out a B augmented triad. Formally, the tune consists of two eight-bar sections in an A-B format. Each section has its unique hallmarks:

* The A section can be distilled into a series of V7–I cadences that descend by major third, thus: F#7–BMaj7, D7–GMaj7, Bb7­­–EbMaj7. Simple enough, except that Coltrane had the audacity to insert a bar line in the middle of each cadence. So instead of a nice, perfectly symmetrical treadmill of chord changes, you wind up with this awkward roller-coaster: BMaj7–D7, GMaj7–Bb7, EbMaj7–F#7.

* The B section is essentially a series of two-bar ii–V7–I cadences that ascend by major third. But of course, once again Coltrane complicates a simple thing by beginning each two-bar phrase with a major chord, then in the following bar modulating abruptly to the ii–V7 of the next key. In other words, the chord series Am7–D7–GMaj7, C#m7–F#7–BMaj7, Fm7–Bb7–EbMaj7, becomes EbMaj7–Am7–D7, GMaj7–C#m7–F#7, BMaj7–Fm7–Bb7.

In a nutshell, “Giant Steps” was John Coltrane’s way of tweaking simple, essential musical formulae in a way that has had jazz musicians stubbing their toes ever since. Just remember: The A section of “Giant Steps” descends by major thirds through three keys, and the B section ascends by major thirds through those same keys. Got it? Good. With that conceptual foundation in place, here are a few pointers for practicing...
I'll close with that cliffhanger. Can't you just feel the tension? You want to know my "Giant Steps" practice tips, don't you.  I can just tell. Don't worry, you can find out all about them once the book is released. So stay tuned, jazz campers. A little more work and then I'll look forward to announcing publication.