"Giant Steps" Analysis

 

Most people treat "Giant Steps" as a disjointed collection of ii-V7-I and V7-I changes.

To properly analyze this tune, it must be done in 2/4 time (NOT 4/4).

Here is the genesis of how it was written:

There was/is a very popular Jazz exercise that does a ii-V7-I progression and then begins the next ii-V7-I in the sequence with a minor with the same name as the Major just before it. This runs through six keys before it returns to its starting point.

| Fm   | Bb7 | EbMaj7 | EbMaj7 |
| Ebm7 | Ab7 | DbMaj7 | DbMaj7 |
| C#m  | F#7 | BMaj7  | BMaj7  |
| Bm   | E7  | AMaj7  | AMaj7  |
| Am   | D7  | GMaj7  | GMaj7  |
| Gm   | C7  | FMaj7  | FMaj7  |

This yields a never ending progression whose tonal center goes down a whole step each time.

Coltrane decided to alter this "exercise" with some tritone substitutions.

By doing a tritone substitution on every other phrase in this exercise, he ended up with an alternate "never-ending" progression whose tonal center goes up a major third each time (only three phrases though instead of six like above):

phrase 1: | Fm  | Bb7 | EbMaj7 | EbMaj7 |
phrase 2: | Am  | D7  | GMaj7  | GMaj7  |
phrase 3: | C#m | F#7 | BMaj7  | BMaj7  |
phrase 4: | Fm  | Bb7 | EbMaj7 | EbMaj7 |
phrase X: | Am  | D7  | GMaj7  | GMaj7  |
phrase Y: | C#m | F#7 | BMaj7  | BMaj7  |

Then he deleted phrase X and phrase Y from the above progression to make it an "even" 16 bars. This yields what you'll recognize as the "B" section of the tune.

phrase 1: | Fm  | Bb7 | EbMaj7 | EbMaj7 |
phrase 2: | Am  | D7  | GMaj7  | GMaj7  |
phrase 3: | C#m | F#7 | BMaj7  | BMaj7  |
phrase 4: | Fm  | Bb7 | EbMaj7 | EbMaj7 |

But the progression as it stood still needed something more to make it "special"...

Since this is really a three phrase progression, what would happen if we now took phrases 1, 2 and 3 and mirrored them? Here's the answer:

phrase 3: | C#m | F#7 | BMaj7  | BMaj7  |
phrase 2: | Am  | D7  | GMaj7  | GMaj7  |
phrase 1: | Fm  | Bb7 | EbMaj7 | EbMaj7 |

Hmmm... That's 12 bars. Why don't we whittle it down to 8 bars? Which 4 bars can we subtract?

phrase 5.1 = phrase 3 minus bar 4, ie: | C#m | F#7 | BMaj7 |
phrase 5.2 = phrase 2 minus bars 1 & 4, ie: | D7 | GMaj7 |
phrase 5.3 = phrase 1 minus bar 1, ie: | Bb7 | EbMaj7 | EbMaj7 |

That leaves us 8 more bars to construct to make the song 32 bars long.

Phrase 6 is the amputated mirror of phrases X, 4 and 3 (done in exactly the same fashion as for phrase 5):

phrase 6.1 = phrase X minus bar 4, ie: | Am | D7 | GMaj7 |
phrase 6.2 = phrase 4 minus bars 1 & 4, ie: | Bb7 | EbMaj7 |
phrase 6.3 = phrase 3 minus bar 1, ie: | F#7 | BMaj7 | BMaj7 |

Now let's have phrases 5 and 6 be the "A" part of the tune, and let phrases 1, 2, 3, and 4 be the "B" section.

Our analysis is complete:

phrase 5.1 (| C#m | F#7 )  | BMaj7  |
phrase 5.2 | D7   | GMaj7  |
phrase 5.3 | Bb7  | EbMaj7 | EbMaj7 |

phrase 6.1 | Am   | D7     | GMaj7  |
phrase 6.2 | Bb7  | EbMaj7 |
phrase 6.3 | F#7  | BMaj7  | BMaj7  |

phrase 1:  | Fm   | Bb7    | EbMaj7 | EbMaj7 |
phrase 2:  | Am   | D7     | GMaj7  | GMaj7  |
phrase 3:  | C#m  | F#7    | BMaj7  | BMaj7  |
phrase 4:  | Fm   | Bb7    | EbMaj7 | EbMaj7 |

I personally prefer to play phrase 5.3 as | Fm | Bb7 | EbMaj7|

and I also prefer to play phrase 6.3 as | C#m | F#7 | BbMaj7 |

* * * * * * *

As far as soloing over these changes, Coltrane was heavy on playing 1 2 3 5 over almost everything. I know that's oversimplifying his art, but it's true. Sometimes he'd play 1 2 3 5 or 5 3 2 1 or 2 3 1 5, etc. It's like he was rebelling against Bird's forays into the higher partials. Anyway Coltrane could pull it off, whether or not you can remains to be seen.

In the end, the only real point to the analysis from my point of view is to make it easier to memorize the tune.

You can play all your standard ii-V7-I (or V7-I) licks anyway you like. Even a deep understanding of the tune's structure doesn't make it any less disjointed. Try to smooth over the transitions if you can.

7



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