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.

Practicing “Giant Steps”: Isolating Dominant Sevenths

I've recently been focusing on the Giant Steps cycle during my practice sessions, with the thought that at some point soon, once I'm ready for prime time, I'll record myself. It seems only right that a guy with the audacity to write a book of Giant Steps licks and patterns ought to furnish some evidence that he can actually play the tune. So I've been getting myself up to snuff. But it's one thing to play "Giant Steps" and another thing to play it creatively. As you know if you play or have attempted to play the tune yourself, the A section in particular is a challenge. So I was pleased with the breakthrough of sorts that I experienced the other night, which I continued to explore during this evening's practice with good results. In the changes to "Giant Steps," bars 2–3 and 5–6 alternate tonic major chords with dominant seventh chords in a framework of rapid modulations through three key centers spaced a major third apart. For the Eb alto sax, the first two bars proceed thus: AbM7 B7 / EM7 G7; and bars five and six are as follows: EM7 G7 / CM7 Eb7. You can distill all of that into a single cycle, thus: AbM7 B7 / EM7 G7 / CM7 Eb7, after which the cycle repeats itself. I've tended to focus on the major chords--in other words, the first chord in each measure. But I'm finding that spotlighting the dominant seventh chords is helping me to improve my command of the changes. For practice purposes, my approach--or at least, part of my approach--is to omit the major chords entirely, forcing me to think exclusively about the dominant chords and what I want to do with them. Right now I'm keeping it simple, sticking with essential chord tones. In a while, I'll start altering upper extensions and probably incorporating tritone substitutions. But first I want to get basic chords drilled into both my fingers and my mind. On this page I've included a few simple patterns that I've been working with. (Click on the image above to enlarge it.) They're nothing fancy, and they're not intended to be. But if you work with them when you practice "Giant Steps," I think you'll find that they make you think in a different way which will help you wrap your mind around the changes better. These patterns are just to get you started. I encourage you to make up your own patterns, and don't be shy about using wider intervals such as fifths and sixths. I should add, at the risk of stating the obvious, that you should transpose the patterns according to the dictates of your instrument: up a minor third for flute, piano, and other concert pitch instruments, and up a perfect fourth for Bb instruments such as the tenor sax and trumpet. Practice hard and have fun!