Rhythm Changes 101


The chord progression written out below is know as "Rhythm Changes." The basic outline dates back to George Gershwin's tune entitled, I Got Rhythm and eventually, this progression became a staple of bebop.

  • Rhythm Changes are most commonly played in the key of Bb, but you should be comfortable playing the progression in all keys. If you think of the chords as numbers, it is much easier to transpose.
  • Some examples of Rhythm Changes jazz standards include Oleo, Anthropology, Cotton Tail, and Seven Come Eleven.

 

Here is the basic Rhythm Changes progression:

  • The form is AABA.
  • When playing a Rhythm Changes standard, usually there is not a melody written over the B section (D7, G7, C7, F7) so it is traditional to improvise here.

|Bb     Gm7   |Cm7    F7     |Bb     Gm7    |Cm7  F7    |
|Bb     Bb7    |Eb     Ebm    |Bb     Gm7    |Cm7  F7    |

|Bb     Gm7   |Cm7    F7     |Bb     Gm7    |Cm7  F7    |
|Bb     Bb7    |Eb    Ebdim  |Bb     F7        |Bb               |

|D7          |              |G7          |              |
|C7          |              |F7           |              |

|Bb     Gm7   |Cm7    F7     |Bb     Gm7    |Cm7  F7    |
|Bb     Bb7    |Eb     Ebm    |Bb     F7        |Bb               |

 

How to Improvise Over Rhythm Changes

 

A section

|Bb     Gm7   |Cm7    F7    |Bb     Gm7    |Cm7  F7    | (<--- All of these chords are in Bb Major meaning the Bb major scale will work over all of these. Keep in mind that it is still important to hit the chord tones.)

|Bb (Bb major scale)   Bb7 (Bb mixolydian)  |

|Eb (Eb or Bb major scale) Eb° (Eb diminished scale, Bb mixolydian)|

|Bb     Gm7    |Cm7  F7    | <----Bb major

 

B Section:

The B section is usually played with a pretty open feel. The chords D7, G7, C7, F7 are all a fourth apart from each other.


|D7 (D Mixolydian*)      |      '"     |G7  (G mixolydian*)     |     ""     |
|C7  (C mixolydian*)      |     ""     |F7   (F mixolydian*)     |     ""     |

You may also use the altered, whole tone, half whole, etc. scales in order to provide altered tones.