I’ve Got Rhythm, I’ve Got Changes

I’ve Got Rhythm, I’ve Got Changes

Picture of Lyman Lipke

Lyman Lipke

Hi, LWM blog readers. Lyman Lipke here, and it’s been a while! This week, I’m beginning a series for the Jazzandgrass instagram going over two choruses of the chord changes to “I Got Rhythm”, by George Gershwin. Many different bebop melodies have been written over these chord changes. Oleo (Sonny Rollins), Rhythm-a-ning (Theolonius Monk), Cotton Tail (Duke Ellington), and Anthropology (Charlie Parker) are just a few examples of tunes that use these chords. With the ubiquity of these changes, it would be a good idea to take a look at the framework, and some different ways we can approach these chords.

You don't have to be a "young people" in order to jazz like one.

The form for rhythm changes can be called an AABA form. 32 bars, split in to 8 bar sections. The A sections fall on bars 1-8, 9-16, and 25-32, and are all very similar, while the B section is quite different, and falls on bars 17-24. 

As a general rule, if you really want to learn a set of changes, you should go through the chords, one by one, and play all of the arpeggios for each chord. Then, you should be able to identify all of your voice leading and stepwise motion between the chord tones. For example, Bbmaj7 is built Bb, D, F, A. G7 is built G, B, D, F, and Ab, if you want to include the flat 9 (which you should, over the G7s in the A sections). So this gives us Bb going to Ab or B, and A moving to Ab or G. D and F are common tones between Bbmaj7 and G7. To really spell out the harmony while you’re soloing, use this concept of voice leading as you go from the last note of one chord to the first note of the next chord. I believe these changes between notes as the chords pass to be the true definition of “changes”.

Here is the chord progression as a whole.

M. 1-4

Looking at the first four bars is a relatively simple I-VI-ii-V progression. The first common deviation we have is the first chord in bar 3, which is D minor 7. This is a common and simple substitution. If we look at the notes in D minor 7, we have D, F, A and C. If we take Bb major 7 and add the 9 on top, we have Bb, D, F, A and C. All of the same notes from D minor 7 are contained in Bb major 9, so we can easily justify D minor 7 as a substitute for Bb. 

As far as interesting, or involved substitutions here, we can make each minor chord a dominant chord.

M. 5-8, 13-16

Moving on to the next four bars of the A section, we start by playing a ii-V to the IV chord, Eb major. The chord directly after Eb can be one of a few different chords. I’m partial to Eb minor, but depending on the melody of the tune, or how you’re feeling that day, it could also be played as E diminished, because that leads nicely to Dm7. Or more specifically Bb/F, which we substitute with Dm7.

Another hip idea over the fourth chord of this section, is to play Ab7. If we think of Ebm7 as a ii chord, then Ebm7 to Ab7 is a ii-V. If we omit the ii chord, we just have V, which is Ab7, so that is our justification for using Ab7

The last two bars of these sections, are different depending on which part of the form you’re in. It’s just a simple turnaround iii-VI-ii-V that spans 2 bars in the first A secton, and 1 bar in the second and third A sections.

M. 17-24

The B section is four chords over the span of 8 bars, so we can look at it all at once. Now, up unitl this point, we’ve pretty much only seen chords that move quickly. Primarily 2 chords per measure. You finally get a breather to play your 2 bar dominant lines you have saved up. Or, we could just add some more chords for tension.

This is an easy one. We’re just preceding each dominant chord with its corresponding ii chord. This is a common move whenever you have a dominant chord that hangs around for an extended period of time. Using this knowledge, we can add even more chords with another simple move.

Now, look at this mess. We started with four chords, and now we have 16. How did we get here? Well, this is a technique I like to use for ii-Vs that are played across 2 bars. Squish the ii-V that you’re playing into the second bar, and precede it with a ii-V a half step above. Superimposing this monstrosity over a rhythm section that’s playing the standard bridge of III-VI-II-V is a quick way to get an outside sound, while still having a method to the madness. 

We could look at the last A section, but it’s so similar to the second A, that we can just move on from here. 

We’ve just taken an in depth look at the chords to “I Got Rhythm”. To reiterate, you should know how to play these chords on the guitar before you think about taking a solo. If you’re having trouble with finding these chords, feel free to reference my post “Easy Voicings for Jazz Guitar” for some ideas on how to voice these chords. 

Then, learn the arpeggios for all of the chords, as well as where the chord tones move between each other. If you’re still confused, no problem. Check out jazzandgrass this month as we go through two choruses of rhythm changes, slowly. Learn the lines, then come back to this post, and maybe some of the secrets will unlock themselves. 

Happy Practicing.


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