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 Lulu.com 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.

The Giant Steps Scratch Pad: As Crass a Plug as You’ll Ever Encounter Anywhere

BUY MY BOOK! BUY MY BOOK! BUY MY BOOK! BUY MY BOOK! BUY MY BOOK! Never mind the rest of the gobbledegook on this page--just go to the bottom and start clicking on shopping carts. As for you less impulsive types: Gosh, I hope I'm not being too forward. In real life, I'm the retiring, wallflower type who would never think of grabbing you by the lapels and shaking you wildly about while protruding my eyeballs at you and screaming, "BUY MY BOOK!" Never. The marketing methods I use to get you to buy The Giant Steps Scratch Pad--available in C, Bb, Eb, and bass clef editions--are far more subtle. I prefer to drop discrete hints, such as sending out glossy, full-color mailers that say things like, "This Father's Day, give Dad the gift that says 'I love you!' Give him The Giant Steps Scratch Pad." Low-key is best, that's what I say. Ummm...did you get the mailer? Well, no matter, because here is your reminder that now is the perfect time to get Dad, or Mom, or your Aunt Bronte who plays the crumpophone, or maybe even your little old self, a copy of the Scratch Pad. Why is now so perfect a time? Because now is such a totally in-the-moment time, and jazz improvisation is such an in-the-moment art form, and Coltrane changes typically fly by at such an in-the-moment, near-light speed, that, overlooking the utter pointlessness of everything I've just written, you really should cough up $9.50 and BUY MY BOOK. Do it. Not only will you be keeping a starving artist in Ramen for a week, but--seriously now--you will also be getting a truly unique and valuable practice companion for jazz improvisers. If you've ever wanted to master Coltrane changes, this book will do the trick. To the best of my knowledge, it's the first practical, hands-on resource for jazz instrumentalists of every kind that helps you develop the technique to play Giant Steps changes. You can find plenty of material on Coltrane's theory, but very little that you can actually wrap your fingers around in the woodshed.* The Giant Steps Scratch Pad fills that gap, taking you beyond theory to application. Here's what you get:
  • * 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”
  • * 2 pages of licks using the augmented scale--the "universal scale" for Coltrane changes
Click on the image to your left to view a printable page sample from the Bb edition (for tenor sax, soprano sax, trumpet, and clarinet). Print it out, take it with you to your next practice session, and get a feel for what the Scratch Pad has to offer. Each line takes you through the first four bars of Giant Steps changes. Transpose the pattern down a major third for the second four bars. AVAILABLE IN C, Bb, Eb, AND BASS CLEF EDITIONS, AND BOTH IN PRINT AND AS A PDF DOWNLOAD. 32 PAGES. 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.
PRAISE FOR THE GIANT STEPS SCRATCH PAD "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
------------------------------- * Unless you're a guitarist. For some reason, I've found a modest offering of good, practical material available for guitar players. You'd think that tenor sax players would be the prime audience for lit on Coltrane changes, but not so. Guitarists are the torch bearers. Sheesh. You string pickers have all the luck.