The Jazz Guitar Site

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 part of bebop.
  • Rhythm Changes are most often played in the key of Bb, but you should be comfortable playing this 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 are the basic Rhythm Changes chords:

|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

Lets break down the form:
  • Note that the form is AABA.
  • When playing the melody, it is traditional to improvise over the B section (D7, G7, C7,F7). Click here for an example of Miles Davis and John Coltrane playing a Rhythm Changes where Red Garland plays over the B section.

A section:
  • | I         vi      |  ii         V    | I          iv       |  ii         V    |
|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 D, G, C, F 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.


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