Master “Giant Steps” in All 12 Keys with The Giant Steps Scratch Pad Complete

Excuse me while I deviate from this blog’s generally non-commercial tone into a bit of blatant self-promotion. As you know if you’ve followed the musical part of for any length of time, I’ve self-published a practice resource for jazz musicians titled The Giant Steps Scratch Pad. Without going into details that I’ve already covered on the Scratch Pad page, the original editions provide 155 licks and patterns in the standard key for concert pitch, Bb, Eb, and bass cleff instruments.

This new edition takes that effort to the ultimate level for those who want to master John Coltrane’s jazz rites-of-passage tune, “Giant Steps,” in every key. Available now as an instant PDF download,The Giant Steps Scratch Pad Complete gives you a grand total of 1,860 exercises written in treble clef.

Speaking modestly but plainly, this is a terrific resource for jazz musicians. It gives you enough theory to help you understand Coltrane changes in the context of “Giant Steps”; however, its focus is on getting you actually playing through the changes comfortably and creatively. To the best of my knowledge, no other book like it exists that provides a practical and comprehensive means of mastering “Giant Steps.”

Written in treble clef, The Giant Steps Scratch Pad Complete is 252 pages in length and costs $21.95. As I’ve already mentioned, it is currently available as a PDF download only. That seems to be what people prefer, and I’m reluctant to invest more time and effort preparing a print edition unless I know there’s a reasonable demand for one. I’d have to charge more to make it worth my while, and you’d have to pay for shipping on top of the purchase price.

However, given the size of this new, complete edition, there may be an interest in a print version, so let me know. Enough requests can make the difference. And I will say that the cover which I had professionally designed for the standard-key editions looks very sharp, better than most of what I’ve seen in music stores.

To place your order, or to learn more about The Giant Steps Scratch Pad and check out printable page samples, click here.

Also, if you like what you find, please tell your fellow musicians. Self-publishing means self-marketing, and the best way to accomplish that is through word-of-mouth. Nothing means more to other musicians–and to me, personally–than the recommendation of a colleague.

Thanks for your interest and for spreading the word!


Contrafact for “Cherokee”

Okay, all you bebop saxophonists and assorted jazz instrumentalists, here’s a little something to have some fun with. Next time you want to work over “Cherokee,” try this instead. It’s a contrafact I wrote over the “Cherokee” changes–quite a few years ago, in fact; it’s copyrighted 2010 only because that’s when I finally got around to charting it with transcription software so it looks nice and pretty. Just click on the image, print it out, and you’re good to go.

It’s a good, strong melody, so I’m accompanying it with this statement:

1) You may use “Liberation Bop” on the gig.

2) You may NOT use “Liberation Bop” for any other commercial purposes, such as but not limited to recordings or written music collections, without my express consent. If you want to use it for commercial purposes, click the tab that says “contact” and shoot me a request.

In other words, keep it honest. And that being said, I hope you’ll enjoy the tune.

PS–I didn’t intend for the watermark to be that freaking big. But I don’t think it’ll interfere, so I’m leaving it as, at least for now.

Half a Step Away from Right

The old jazz improviser’s adage is true: You’re never more than half a step away from the right note. You can justify any clinker by calling it a chromatic neighbor as long as you play it like you mean it and resolve it to a chord tone or to the correct upper extension. That raised seventh you played over the dominant chord–that was intentional, right? Love how you used it as a leading tone to the chord root! The major third you landed on in that minor seventh chord–how clever of you to create such unexpected tension en route to the minor third.

I’m joking around a bit, but what I’m saying is perfectly true: the difference between a clinker and chromaticism lies in how you handle the note.

Knowing about the half-step difference can help you when you’re sitting in with a group and find yourself playing a tune by ear whose harmonies you’re not familiar with. Barring tunes whose chords are all purely diatonic, you’ve got to identify the qualitative differences in borrowed chords. Modulations are a different matter; often, though, you’re dealing with just a chord or two out of the norm. Can you identify the note (or notes) that has been changed? It has only been raised–or lowered, take your choice–by just a minor second; otherwise, it would be diatonic to the scale.

Often the sixth note of the scale will be lowered to serve as the minor third in a IVmin7 chord, or as the flat 5 in a IImin7b5. Or the fourth may be raised to serve as the major third of a secondary dominant (V7 of VI). Or the tonic may be raised to serve as the major third in a V7 of II. The point is, if something in the harmony you’re hearing creates a clear qualitative difference, try to identify the tone or tones involved. You may be able to simply skate over the altered chord using a diatonic scale, as you can in rhythm changes, but you really should pay attention to it so you can make judicious choices about how to handle it. Doing so isn’t necessarily a matter of using a different scale; think instead of using the same scale with a note or two in it changed, or perhaps a note added. Your scale options can become more involved, of course, but it pays to start simply until you know what you’re dealing with.

Some tunes will stretch your ears if you work with them; others are too complex to simply jump in on. Speaking personally, my ears have their limitations. If a tune has a lot of modulations and odd harmonies, I have no problem with sitting out that number. But if I think I stand a chance of playing something convincing over unfamiliar territory, I’ll give it a try. Such on-the-spot listening and response is part of the learning curve of an improvising musician. Mistakes can be embarrassing, I’ll grant you, but don’t be afraid to make them. How else are you going to learn?

If you found this post helpful, then make sure to check out my jazz page, featuring many more articles, solo transcriptions, and resources of interest to jazz instrumentalists.

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.

Exploring the Lydian Flat Seven Sound (or, Ruminations on a Flatted Fifth)

Hey, there, fellow jazz saxophonists and other jazz instrumentalists, I haven’t forgotten you! Even as I’ve been blogging about the big, late-October weather system that has been blowing through the Great Lakes, I’ve been contemplating my next post for sax players. I hope you’ll find that what follows was worth waiting for.

A riff from Jimmy Forrest

Back in my college days, Basie tenor man Jimmy Forrest lived in Grand Rapids. Naturally, I owned one of his albums, a vinyl LP titled “Black Forrest.” It was a hard-swinging, straight-ahead collection of tunes that showcased Jimmy’s ability to deliver both high-testosterone bebop and wonderfully lyrical balladry. The album included a heaping helping of blues, and in one of those blues, Jimmy worked into his solo a lick reminiscent of the old Jetsons cartoon theme song, which sounded something like this:

I liked that lick, and I incorporated it into my blues playing. The thing that made it sound so hip was the sharped fourth–aka the flat five, though in this application, that’s not the correct theoretical term–which defines the lydian sound.

What makes lydian sound so lydian?

Good question. There are two scales that can be considered lydian: the traditional lydian church mode built off the fourth degree of the major scale, and the lydian flat seven scale, also known as the lydian dominant.

The term “lydian dominant” is a bit confusing, since each word, “lydian” and “dominant,” suggests a function of the scale that cancels out the other one. In this case, however, “lydian” refers to the raised fourth scale degree, and “dominant” describes how the scale and its characteristic chord function. The more accurate term is actually “mixolydian sharp four,” since the scale is used the same way that a standard mixolydian mode is used: as a scale choice for dominant seventh chords.

Whatever you wish to call it, the lydian flat seven sound is defined by its raised fourth scale degree. But other scale options for dominant seventh chords also contain the raised fourth/flatted fifth. The half/whole-step diminished scale and the diminished whole tone scale both come instantly to mind. What makes the lydian flat seven different?

Its consonance with an unaltered dominant seventh chord.

Following is a G lydian flat seven scale, which you would use over a standard G7 chord:


Note that this scale neither raises nor lowers the ninth of the G7, nor does it alter the fifth, nor does it lower the thirteenth. Only the fourth degree gets raised a half-step to create the characteristic lydian sound. The raised fourth doesn’t clash with the third of the dominant chord the way that the unaltered third of the standard mixolydian mode does, in effect making the lydian flat seven scale the more consonant scale.

Triad superimposition

When you build triads off of the first and second degrees of the lydian flat seven scale, each triad is major in quality. For instance, a G lydian flat seven scale gives you the following:


Note that the first triad outlines the foundational notes of the G7 chord, minus the seventh, while the second triad emphasizes the ninth, raised fourth, and thirteenth. Thus,  a quick way to emphasize the lydian sound over a dominant seventh chord is to superimpose a major triad whose root is a whole step above the chord root. In other words, if you’re soloing over a Bb7, play a C major triad; if you’re working with a D9, play an E major triad, and so forth.

By the way, since neither triad includes the seventh of the scale, you can apply the above superimposition equally well to both the G7 and Gmaj7 chords.

Major triad couplets in inversion for the lydian sound

Okay, time to start getting the stuff I’ve just covered into your fingers and your ears. Click on the exercise to your right to enlarge it. It’s a practical extension of the superimposition principle I’ve just described that takes you through different inversions of the triad couplets based on the G lydian flat seven scale. As always, take the exercise up and down the full range of your instrument, and through all twelve keys.

I’ll have more to say about the lydian flat seven scale, but this ought to keep your woodshed smoking for a while.

Visit my jazz page for more articles on jazz improvisation, jazz theory, and saxophone playing.