Playing Changes Part 9: Dominant Seventh Cycles

The Playing Changes series presents and expands on concepts from my book, The Living Jazz Tradition: A Creative Guide to Improvisation and Harmony (which is on sale until Friday, June 15th on Amazon).

Index of Playing Changes articles

Dominant Seventh Cycles

The bridge of George Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm” is a chain of dominant chords that moves around the circle of fifths:

Notice that the thirds and sevenths of the chords (guide tones) connect in descending half steps. These connections are important for connecting melodies and building chord voicings:

• Play the previous example on the piano and continue the pattern all the way around the circle of
fifths. The right-hand voicing is the interval of a tritone, and it moves down in half steps.

Measures fifteen through nineteen of Thelonious Monk’s “Skippy” feature a chain of dominant seventh chords that moves all the way around the circle of fifths:

The A7 chord in the fifth measure breaks the circle of fifths pattern. This chord is a tritone substitution for E7. We’ll discuss these in future articles and tritone substitutions covered in “Chapter Nine: Tonal Harmony Continued” of The Living Jazz Tradition.

• Practice playing melodies in twelve keys around the circle of fifths (counterclockwise—so you move down in perfect fifths/up in perfect fourths)

Here are a few fragments that link together to form smooth sequences. Use these and make up your own as you improvise around the circle of fifths. Make octave adjustments where necessary:

Next in the series: “Playing Changes Part 10: Blues Harmony”

Index of Playing Changes Articles

Purchase The Living Jazz Tradition from Amazon

– ST

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