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Posted by David Luebbert, 7/2/01 at 2:06:58 AM.

The game in Giant Steps is to visit three key centers (G major, B major and Eb major) in quick succession using different patterns. The key roots G, B, and Eb all fall on a cycle of major 3rds. The interval distance from G and B, from B to Eb, and from Eb to G is a major 3rd. This kind of transition between keys has been infrequently used in musical composition.

Many believe that Coltrane became interested in this kind of key transition by studying Richard Rodgers' song Have You Met Miss Jones? which visits 3 keys that fall on a major 3rd cycle during the course of its bridge section

Giant Steps is a 16-bar form. On its first repetition, it seems to start with a seven bar A section that changes to a new key in the key cycle every bar and a half, followed by an 8-bar section where a new key in the cycle is visited every two bars.

When the last bar, the 16th bar, is visited it becomes clear that when the form is repeated, the A section actually starts on this bar and is 8 bars in length rather than the 7 bar length we initially perceived. Moreover the A section, consists of a four bar pattern covering bars 16, 1, 2, and 3, that is transposed down a major 3rd and repeated during bars 4, 5, 6, and 7.

Giant Steps has been used as a vehicle by improvisors to demonstrate technical proficiency because it requires the improvisor to handle 10 key changes within a 16 bar form, usually at a tempo above 200 beats per minute. Coltrane made the game a little easier by ensuring that only 3 keys falling on a particular cycle of major 3rds are visted throughout the form.

Here's the blow-by-blow description of the key changes. If you click in order on the musical links included with each description below you'll hear the Giant Steps chord progression partitioned by its key changes.


Giant Steps gif 1:

Giant Steps begins with a single B triad, which is played in the key of B major. The tune in its last bar ends with C#mi7 F#7, the ii-V sequence in the key of B which leads directly to this chord.


Giant Steps gif 2:

Change of key in the middle of bar 1 to the key of G major, accomplished by the two chord sequence D7-G.


Giant Steps gif 3:

Change of key in the middle of bar 2 to the key of Eb major, accomplished by the two chord sequence Bb7-E. The E is prolonged for the entire third bar.

In the first three bars of the tune, we have visited the keys of B, G and Eb. We have now visited all three of the key centers that will be used in the entire piece, like so:
   


Giant Steps gif 4:

In bar 4 through the first half of bar 5, we enter the key of G major through the sequence Ami7-D7-G, the ii-V-I of the key of G.


Giant Steps gif 5:

We spend the last half of bar 5 and the first half of 6 in the key of Eb major via the sequence Bb7-Eb.


Giant Steps gif 6:

We spend the last half of bar 6 and all of 7 in the key of B major via the sequence F#7-B.

To sum up, in bars 4 thru 7, we've played through the cycle of major 3rds again, this time visiting the G key center first (G,Eb,B).


   
In bar 8, Coltrane will start moving through the keys B, G and Eb using a different rhythm. In bars 1 through 7, by changing keys in the middle of bars and prolonging a chord for an entire bar he stitches the different key visitations into longer key sequences that we hear as a unit. We hear the B-D7-G-Bb7-Eb in bars one through 3 as one unit because the Eb held for bar 3 sounds like a resting place. We hear the Ami7-D7-G-Bb7-Eb-F#7-B of bars 4 through 7 as the second unit since the B held across bar 7 sounds like a resting place.

 In the last half of the tune, bars 8 through 16 wrapping around into bar 1, he visits each of our key centers for two bars, letting us hear each of them separately.

The Giant Steps progression is a kind of recipe where the same materials are cooked up two different ways.


Giant Steps gif 7:

In bar 8 and 9 we visit the key of Eb major, through its ii-V-I progression: Fmi7-Bb7-Eb.


Giant Steps gif 8:

 In bar 10 and 11 we visit the key of G major, through its ii-V-I progression: Ami7-D7-G.


Giant Steps gif 9:

In bar 12 and 13 we visit the key of B major, through its ii-V-I progression: C#mi7-F#7-B.


Giant Steps gif 10:

In bar 14 and 15 we visit the key of Eb major again through its ii-V-I progression: Fmi7-Bb7-Eb. Since we started in Eb using the longer rhythm back in bar 8, visited G in bar 10, and B in bar 12, we've come back to Eb which gives us a sense of resolution, a feeling that we've completed the pattern that we started.


Giant Steps gif 11:

Bar 16 is a turnaround, C#mi7-F#7, which gets us ready to run the Giant Steps sequence all over again. This takes us into the key of B major for a bar and a half as we continue back to the B chord which begins the piece.


Now you can listen to bars 8 thru 16, the last 9 bars of the form as one unit:


   


Now listen to the entire chord progression for Giant Steps. Notice how the chord of the last bar leads back and connect with bar 1:


   




Last update: Saturday, May 24, 2008 at 5:46 PM.