LJS 105: Analyzing Jazz Standards With Roman Numerals for Max Results

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Welcome to episode105 of the LJS Podcast where today we are jumping head first into “Jazz Standards Month.” This month on the podcast we will be focusing on learning jazz standards and extracting everything we can out of them. To kick it off, we talk about analyzing jazz standards with Roman Numerals for max results. Listen in!

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In today’s episode, I’m happy to announce we are jumping into “Jazz Standards Month” here on the LJS Podcast. Jazz Standards Month is all about learning jazz standards and then digging deep into them to extract as much info as we can.

It goes without saying, learning jazz standards is pivotal to all of our jazz studies. Regardless of whether you compose your own music or not, jazz standards are the foundations that we need to build our jazz education on. They embody the tradition of the music and the language that has continued to present times.

To launch this series, we are starting by learning how to analyze jazz standards with Roman Numerals. This practice isn’t new or ground-breaking, but it’s an important one for understanding how the harmony within a tune works.

Here are some of the things I go over in this episode:

1. 3 preliminary questions to ask when analyzing a jazz standard.

2. Understanding Roman Numerals in chord progressions by harmonizing major and minor scales with 7th chords.

3. 2 main harmonic lessons “Autumn Leaves” teaches us.

4. A full Roman Numeral chords analysis of Autumn Leaves.

To help you as a visual aid throughout this episode, take a look at some of the resources below. You will find several examples that I mention in the show that may be of use to you.

The Major and Minor Diatonic Series of 7th Chords

Chords Analysis of Autumn Leaves

Autumn Leaves Chords Analysis 1

Autumn Leaves Chords Analysis 2

Note that these examples come from our upcoming eBook The Jazz Standards Playbook which will be coming out in April 2018. This is an eBook and companion course that goes through 10 jazz standards studies that will level-up your jazz playing.

Enjoy the episode!

Important Links

The Jazz Standards Playbook

Read the Transcript

Brent: Hey hey, what’s up? My name is Brent. I’m the jazz musician behind the website learnjazzstandards.com, which is a blog, a podcast, and videos all geared towards helping you become a better jazz musician. That’s right, I just said videos. Now we’re coming out with weekly videos on YouTube and on our blog, so if you have not subscribed to our YouTube channel, go to youtube.com/learnjazzstandards.

Every Thursday, we’re coming out with a new video, jazz tutorials, tips and advice, so if you … this podcast is obviously not going anywhere, but if you want to enjoy a little bit of that content too, you can.

All right, hey listen. I’m so excited that you’re here. I’m really amped up. I’m really thankful that you’re spending part of your day listening to me talk, and I hope that in return, I can give you as much value as possible and help you become a better jazz musician, even if it’s in just some small way. So thank you so much for listening.

Now, last week we had our two year birthday episode, episode 104, which we had 11 special guest listeners, like you, on the show to give us their tips and advice, and I really enjoyed that show. If you haven’t listened to that one, after you’re done listening to this one, listen back to that one. That was so special and really important.
But now we’re starting a new month, and if you’ve been listening to this show for a while, you know that sometimes I like to do themed months, and so for this month, we are going to be doing Jazz Standards Month. It is Jazz Standards Month for the month of March on the podcast, and I’m really excited to dive into this.

We’re going to be talking all about learning jazz standards and when we learn them, how to get the very most that we can out of them so that we can become great jazz improvisers, and I’m really excited about this series. It’s going to be lasting the entire month.
And I’m excited because we are coming out with a brand new e-book that we’ve been working on. Me and the team have been working on this for the last, wow, almost six months now, and it’s called The Jazz Standards Playbook. It’s an e-book. It’s also a companion course as well, and it’s all about these ten in-depth jazz standard studies that will help you level up your jazz playing just by really diving deep into them. And I’m so excited about this book.

I actually just got the final draft back from my designer. Wow, it looks so great, but not only that, the content inside is … maybe I always say this every single time, but I think it’s some of the best stuff that we’ve come out with to date on Learn Jazz Standards, so I’m really excited about that.

So to lead up to that book launch, which is going to be coming up in the very first week of April, we’re going to be doing this month of jazz standards, and I’m just going to be showing you a lot of what’s going on in this book and some really important lessons that you’re just going to want to pay attention to. So definitely stay tuned with us this entire month. This is going to be really an important month.
If you also want to get notified early when The Jazz Standards Playbook does come out, want to be one of the first people to know about that, you can sign up for our list. Go to thejazzstandardsplaybook.com and just sign up there, and you’ll be one of the first people to know when that’s coming out.

Today we’re going to be talking about analyzing jazz standards, how exactly to do that and how important it is to actually get inside and understand what you’re dealing with, and how much you can really learn by just taking the time to accurately analyze a jazz standard that you are learning. So without further ado, let’s jump in today’s show.

All right, first things first. I always talk about on this podcast how important learning jazz standards is, so if you’re new, just know that. I always talk about that, and our website is called learnjazzstandards.com. And when we first started in 2010, we really just started as a resource for learning jazz standards, chord charts, backing tracks, all that stuff. Of course, over the years it grew into something a lot more than that.

It’s really now a jazz educational resource, through this podcast, through our videos, through our blog, but still at the heart of all of that, jazz standards are key for our jazz education. We need to learn them, we need to study them, regardless of whether you want to compose your own music in your own style and go off on your way, at the basis of everybody’s jazz education, the cornerstone has to be jazz standards. That’s where the tradition lies, and that’s where we get jazz language from.

What goes without saying, learning jazz standards is important, and that’s why we want to talk about this, and that’s why I’m dedicating this whole month to this, but over and above actually learning them, once you actually have learned them, it’s now about actually really digging into them and getting to know them better.

So we’re going to really hone in today on Roman numeral analysis, and I’m going to talk a little bit more about that in a second, and how incredibly important that is. But I want to start by just stating a few things when you first learn a jazz standard, what you should be looking for.

I’m going to name three things that you should look for right away, off the very top. All right. Number one, what is the form? What’s the form? Take a good look at the song, and this is where I always encourage people to learn jazz standards by ear. I think that’s really the tradition. That’s really the best way, and ears are important in jazz, so it’s good to do it that way, but this is where it might be helpful to take out a chord chart to really take a look at things.

What is the form? Is it an AABA form? Is it a 12-bar form? Is it a 32-bar form? Look at the basic overarching structure of the tune. That’s a really important starting place, and you may overlook that. You may look past that. I don’t really need to do that, but you know what? It’s really important to start off on the right foot by defining what the form is. It’s important to know how many bars there are. It’s important to look at the A sections and the B sections or are there even B sections? It’s important to look at how the song is structured, so that’s number one, what is the form?

Number two, what are the defining characteristics? What are the defining characteristics? In other words, what makes this particular jazz standard unique from other jazz standards? Now obviously, every jazz standard’s melody is unique, so there’s always going to be uniqueness in a melody. But over and above that, what in the harmony makes it unique?

I want to use a song that a lot of people know. It’s a great beginner’s tune. It’s called Blue Bossa, probably heard of it, by Kenny Dorham, and if I’m to look at that tune, and whether or not you’re familiar with it or not, if I’m to look at that tune, what is the defining characteristic of it? Well, it’s in C Minor, concert C Minor the whole tune, and it pretty much stays in the key of C Minor except for when it goes to the bridge, it goes to D Flat Major.

Now that’s odd, that’s different. That’s what makes that song unique is that key change during the B section. So that’s the defining characteristic of that song. So look at the overarching tune and look, what is the defining characteristics of the song? There may be more than one, but you need to identify them.

Now, number three, how are jazz musicians historically approaching it? This is where it comes down to the research. You’ve got to be listening, and at the end of the day, listening is the most important thing. I’ve said that. It’s like a … I should just make a recorded message of that, but it’s really important. So listen to a lot of records of the particular song that you’re listening to, but don’t just listen to it and put it on in the background.

Intentionally listen to it, and look and listen to hear what the musicians that have played it before you have done. And if you really listen, you’ll hear different tempos. You’ll hear different arrangements. You’ll hear different voices, different styles, and it’s important to key in to all that stuff so you can be educated going forward in that song.

So those are my three preliminary things I want you to ask. Number one, what is the form? Number two, what are the defining characteristics? Number three, how are jazz musicians historically approaching it?

All right. Now let’s get in to the meat of today’s episode, which is focused around Roman numeral analysis, analyzing jazz standards through Roman numerals. And this is really important to do because, at the end of the day, if we really want to understand functional harmony, even non-functional harmony, understanding it on a numerical basis, and in music we often do Roman numeral analysis, it’s going to be really helpful for a multitude of reasons.

It’s going to help us take the names of chords out of the equation and simply focus on the function of each chord in a given key center. And this goes even further than just analyzing and understanding. This could really help you if you want to transpose songs into different keys. If you just understand the function of the chords in the first place, you don’t really have to think too hard about what the names of the chords are, because you just already know what chords are in the chord progressions because of the Roman numeral analysis. So many reasons why this is important.

Now, we’re going to start from the very beginning, because I like to be thorough, and I know that not everybody listening to this show understands how to build chord progressions or what the Roman numerals are and how they work with chord progressions. So we’re going to start from the very basics, and in order to do that we have to discuss how to harmonize major scales and minor scales with seventh chords, how to harmonize them with seventh chords.

And so the reason we do that is because if we can do that, we can understand what chords are functional in a major key center, and what chords are functional in a minor key center. So I call these two the major and minor diatonic series of seventh chords, and this is the key to understanding how to harmonize these scales and ultimately, how to know what the Roman numerals are in each given key center.
Let’s start with harmonizing a major scale with seventh chords. This is the major diatonic series of seventh chords. Now, if you go to the show notes today, learnjazzstandards/episode105, this can be really helpful, because I’m going to have all of this laid out for you so you can see it. If you’re not by your computer or your phone, don’t worry about that. Maybe check this out later, but you’re going to be able to follow along if you just listen to me here.

Let’s first … I’m going to really quickly go through this. For example’s sake, we’re going to use everything in the key of concert C. So we’re going to start with a C Major scale. Here’s a C Major scale. (plays musical example), C-D-E-F-G-A-B, back to C, right? We all know that. (plays musical example), C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C. Now any scale, as long as you understand what flats and sharps are in each scale, you can build any major scale and apply this same concept to it, so what we’re essentially going to do is harmonize major scales with each note in the scale, so each scale tone.

We’re starting with C, okay? Our chord is C Major Seven, (plays musical example). What’s the next note in the C Major scale? It’s D. There’s a lot of reasons for this, but essentially, when you harmonize this particular chord with this scale, it becomes a minor seven chord. The main thing that you want to get out of this is what quality of chord represents each scale tone? The first one is major (plays musical example), so C Major Seven. The second one is D Minor Seven (plays musical example, so C Major Seven, D Minor Seven.

The next note on the scale is E, and when you harmonize the scale with the seventh chord, it becomes (plays musical example) a minor seventh chord, so C Major Seven, D Minor Seven, E Minor Seven. The next note if F, F Natural. When you harmonize that, it becomes (plays musical example) a major seventh chord, (plays musical example).

Moving right along, what’s the next note? G, and when you harmonize that, it’s a dominant seventh chord, (plays musical example). What’s the next note? A, harmonize that, (plays musical example), it’s a minor seventh chord, so A Minor Seven. Now the seventh tone is what, it’s B, half step above C, and it is a half diminished chord, or a minor seven flat five chord, (plays musical example). That’s what happens when you harmonize it. Now we’re just going to end, (plays musical example), on C Major Seven. So in total, C Major Seven, D Minor Seven, E Minor Seven, F Major Seven, G Seven, A Minor Seven, B Half Diminished/B Minor Seven Flat Five, back to C Major Seven, okay? That’s how you harmonize a major scale with seventh chords.

I know I skipped out on the process of that, and you could do that by simply, if you want, notating out a C Major scale and then just simply stack thirds on top of each one of those scale tones, so you’d stack the third, stack the fifth, stack the seventh on top of each one of those scale tones, and you’re going to come up with those exact qualities, so quickly let’s go through all the chords and say which quality they are.

First chord, first scale tone, (plays musical example) is major. Second scale tone, (plays musical example), is minor. Third scale tone, (plays musical example), is minor. Fourth scale tone, (plays musical example), is major. Fifth scale tone, (plays musical example), is dominant, so that flat seven. Sixth scale tone, (plays musical example), is minor. Seventh, (plays musical example), is half diminished, and then finally, (plays musical example), we go back to the eighth tone, it’s major, the one chord is major.

You heard me just say that. I just said the one chord, and this is where we’re going next, and this is going to be pretty obvious if you’re following along here. Each one of these scale tones is numbered. How many scale tones are there in a major scale? There’s seven, 1-2-3-4-5-6-7, C-D-E-F-G-A-B, and we’re even repeating and going to the eighth note, the octave higher, but there’s really just seven tones, so for each one of these scale tones, if we can number them, then we can also number the chords as well.

C Major Seven, (plays musical example), is the one chord in the key of concert C. D Minor Seven, (plays musical example), is the two chord. E Minor Seven, (plays musical example), is the three chord. F Major Seven, (plays musical example), is the four chord. G Seven, (plays musical example), is the five chord. A Minor Seven, (plays musical example), is the six chord. B Minor Seven Flat Five, (plays musical example), is the seventh chord. That’s the seven chord.

When we talk about Roman numerals, ’cause if you went to … I think everybody probably understands Roman numerals to its basic if you went to basic elementary school and all that stuff when you were growing up, but in our particular case in music, when we have a major chord, it’s an upper case Roman numeral, so the one chord is an upper case I. For all minor chords, they’re lower-cased, so for example D Minor Seven is a lowercase ii, so two ii’s if we’re looking at Roman numerals, and again, if you go to the show notes, learnjazzstandards.com/episode105, you’ll see what I’m talking about there.

Half diminished chords is the same thing. It’s still a minor chord. There’s a flat five in there, but it’s going to be lower-cased. The dominant seventh chord, so in this case, (plays musical example), it’s the five chord, G seven, it’s also upper-cased. Some people like to put uppercase and a seven next to it just to indicate that it’s a dominant seventh, but in general, major and dominant chords, upper-cased Roman numerals. Minor, half-diminished, diminished, all that stuff, lower-cased Roman numerals. If you want to identify it further, you can.

So now we essentially have identified all of the Roman numerals and all of the chord qualities in the key of concert C, so the very classic, if I wanted to go through this and just start building a chord progression by using this series, is for example, let’s do the classic 2-5-1. What’s the two chord in concert C? It’s D. We know that D is a minor chord. We just went through that process, (plays musical example) so it’s D Minor Seven. Now what the five chord? Well, we went through that process as well. It’s G Seven, so (plays musical example) G Seven is the five chord. And what’s the one chord? That’s easy, we started with that one. It’s C Major Seven (plays musical example), right?

We could do this with a 1-6-2-5 as well. What’s the one? (plays musical example) C Major Seven. What’s the six? It was A Minor, (plays musical example) right? What’s the two? We just went over that. (plays musical example) D Minor Seven. What’s the five? G Seven (plays musical example), okay?

So that’s the very basics of understanding how Roman numerals work, how to build chord progressions. Now, really quickly you … You know, you’re probably asking this question right now, “Great, Brett, we know how to do major keys now, what about minor keys?” Well, that’s really important, we wanna go over that. Now, the minor keys is a little bit more complicated because, at the end of the day, we’re combining different scales together. It’s not just the major scale.

We’re combining the relative minor scale, we’re combining elements of the half … Sorry, the melodic minor scale, and the harmonic minor scale together to create the minor diatonic series of seventh chords. Don’t get to hung up on it.

The notes that we’re dealing with is C (plays musical example), D (plays musical example), E Flat (plays musical example), F (plays musical example), G (plays musical example), A (plays musical example), B Flat (plays musical example), back to C (plays musical example). So C (plays musical example), D (plays musical example), E Flat (plays musical example), F (plays musical example), G (plays musical example), A (plays musical example), B Flat (plays musical example), C (plays musical example), okay? That’s the notes we’re using for the scale to harmonize this.

The one chord … Again, I’m not gonna explain the Roman numerals ’cause I think you get it at this point. The one chord is (plays musical example) obviously a minor seventh chord. It’s the minor key, the key of concert C Minor. (plays musical example) The two chord is a minor seventh flat five chord, so a half-diminished chord. (plays musical example) In this case, it’s gonna be D minor seventh flat five, right? So (plays musical example) C Minor Seven, (plays musical example), D Minor Seven Flat Five. The next note is E Flat, that’s the minor third, and if you harmonize it, it is a major seven chord. (plays musical example) Now we have E Flat Major Seven. So (plays musical example) C Minor Seven, (plays musical example) D Minor Seven Flat Five, (plays musical example) E Flat Major Seven. The four chord … What’s the next note? It’s F (plays musical example) and if we harmonize that it’s just a basic minor seven chord. So far, (plays musical example) C Minor Seven one chord, (plays musical example) D Minor Seven Flat Five two chord, (plays musical example) E Flat Major Seven three chord, (plays musical example) F Minor Seven, the minor four chord.

Now we have, for the five chord, (plays musical example) our root note is G (plays musical example) and it’s a dominant seventh chord, right? That five chord, by the way, is always a dominant seventh. This is where we’re going away from the natural minor scale and we’re borrowing chord tones from the harmonic and the melodic minor scale, because the five chord is always, always, always, always a dominant seventh chord, so keep that in mind. (plays musical example) Five chord is G Seven. (plays musical example) C Minor Seven, (plays musical example) D Minor Seven Flat Five, (plays musical example) E Flat Major Seven, (plays musical example) F Minor Seven, (plays musical example) G Seven.

The six chord is another half-diminished chord. (plays musical example) A Minor Seven Flat Five. (plays musical example) Now the final cord, here’s the flat seven of the scale, is B Flat Seven (plays musical example). It’s a dominant seventh chord. Finally, if you wanna cap it off, go to the eighth tone, (plays musical example) back at the one chord, C Minor Seven.

So one chord, (plays musical example) C Minor Seven. Two chord (plays musical example) D Minor Seven Flat Five. Three chord, (plays musical example) E Flat Major Seven. Four chord, (plays musical example) F Minor Seven. Five chord, (plays musical example) G Seven. Six chord, (plays musical example) A Minor Seven Flat Five. Seven chord, (plays musical example) B Flat Seven, dominant seven.

That is the minor diatonic series of seventh chords. Again, to use the same example as we used before, what’s a 2-5-1 chord progression in a minor key? In this case, concert C Minor? What’s the two chord? It’s D, and it’s a minor seven flat five, so (plays musical example) two chord is D Minor Seven Flat Five. What’s the five chord? It’s G Seven. Now oftentimes, in a minor key, you’re gonna alter that five chord, so I’m gonna do a G Seven Flat Thirteen (plays musical example). Okay? And then the one chord is C Minor Seven (plays musical example). So (plays musical example) D Minor Seven Flat Five, (plays musical example) G Seven, (plays musical example) C Minor Seven. Make sense? That’s how you can find out any chord progression in any minor key. That should be a thorough explanation. Again, if the audio doesn’t help you, go to the show notes and check that out so you can kind of see the chart I have for you there for a more visual picture of what’s going on here.

Now let’s put this musical knowledge into practice. We’re gonna use a tune, for example, a jazz standard. This one, it’s common, everybody knows about it, it’s “Autumn Leaves.” You probably either know this song or you’ve heard this song. Either way, you should know this is one that everybody needs to know. And I like to start this one … In fact, this is the first jazz standard study in the new book, The Jazz Standards Playbook, because it can teach us so many basic elements of jazz harmony that we need to know. I’m gonna go over what those basic elements are in a second, but first, what I wanna start out by doing is just so we can get this sound into our ears, hear the chord progression. I’m just gonna have these basic, really basic piano voicings going on in the background. These are recordings taken straight from the book, so you can get these into your ears. I’m gonna play the melody over top, just so you can hear it, then we’re gonna discuss it and see how every single chord functions.

Let’s do this. (plays musical example) All right, so that is the basic melody, just the watered down, genuine, probably the purest form version of that melody I can play, along with some very basic piano chords. Probably not the most musical example there, but the point … What I wanted to accomplish here is so that you really were listening to those chord qualities without all … Any bass drums, any mess of anything going on, and be able to hear that in the context of the melody very clearly.

As I said, there’s some really big, important harmonic lessons that “Autumn Leaves” teaches. These are fundamental lessons, so listen very closely here. The first lesson is … It’s a lesson in relative keys, okay? It’s a lesson in relative keys. Maybe you’ve heard the term “relative keys” before, and maybe you understand it, but maybe you don’t, so here’s a great definition for you. What are relative keys? Major and minor keys that share the same key signature are called relative keys. Essentially, they share the exact same notes as each other. One more time, major and minor keys that share the same key signature are called relative keys. They basically have the exact same notes as each other.

“Autumn Leaves” is in the key of concert G minor. I’m talking concert here. If we have a G minor scale, a G relative minor scale, sounds like this (plays musical example). The notes in it are G (plays musical example), A (plays musical example), B Flat (plays musical example), C (plays musical example), D (plays musical example), E Flat (plays musical example), F (plays musical example), (plays musical example) back to G. In the key signature, there’s two flats. B Flat, E Flat. That’s the key of concert G minor. If we take a look at the relative minor … The relative major, rather. Basically, what we can do to find that is just move a minor third up.

That’s a little quick tip for you. If you’re not sure what the relative to the major or the minor key … If you’re starting at the minor key, move a minor third up, and that is the relative major key. In this case, B Flat, if we move a minor third up from G, it’s B Flat. B Flat Major is the relative major to G Minor. Same with B Flat Major. If we wanna find from B Flat Major, the relative minor, just go a minor third down. Or, from a major key, just think, “What is the sixth tone of a major scale?” We also call this Aeolian. So if you think about what the sixth tone of a B Flat Major scale is, it’s G.

Let’s go over that really quick. The B Flat Major scale, (plays musical example) B Flat, (plays musical example) C, (plays musical example) D, (plays musical example) E Flat, (plays musical example) F, (plays musical example) G, (plays musical example) A, (plays musical example) back to B Flat. Again, in they key signature, there’s two flats, B Flat and E Flat. So we’re dealing with the exact same notes here. That’s why we call them relative keys. And you’re gonna see this come up time and time again in jazz harmony, so it’s important that you take note of that right away.

Now, “Autumn Leaves”, it’s pretty simple, because it is only moving, essentially, between the keys of B Flat Major and G Minor, which all share the same key signature. It’s moving in and out of the relative minor and the relative major keys. That’s the first lesson.

The second lesson to be learned is in 2-5-1 chord progressions. I’ve talked about 2-5-1 chord progressions on this show a lot. 2-5-1 chord progressions are the essential chord, the most basic, most common chords … The chord progression, rather, that you will find in jazz harmony. And we just went over that when we were doing the harmonic series, right?

So if we’re gonna go into the key of B Flat Major, we’re gonna do the same thing we did with the harmonic series. We’re harmonizing a B Flat Major scale with seventh chords. The two … What’s the second tone of the B Flat Major scale? It’s C Minor Seven. So, C, I just gave it away … C, what is the quality of chord, of the two chord, in a major series? It’s minor. So we have (plays musical example) C Minor Seven. What’s the five chord? What’s the fifth tone of the B Flat Major scale? It’s F. And the five chord is what? It’s a dominant seventh chord. (plays musical example) It’s an F Seven chord, and then the one chord is of course B Flat Major (plays musical example). B Flat Major Seven, okay? So (plays musical example) C Minor Seven, (plays musical example) F Seven, (plays musical example) B Flat Major Seven.

Quickly, let’s go to the relative minor. Let’s go to G Minor now. What’s a 2-5-1 in G Minor? What’s the second tone of a G Minor scale? (plays musical example) A. And if … We already discussed this, we harmonized minor scales with seventh chords, what’s the two chord? It’s a half diminished chord, that’s the quality. We have (plays musical example) A Minor Seven Flat Five. What’s the five chord? What’s the fifth tone? It’s D of the G Minor scale, the D. Now we discussed that it’s a dominant seventh chord, but oftentimes it’s altered, so I’m gonna play a flat nine really quick. D Seven (plays musical example) Flat Nine, and what’s the one chord, of course? It is G Minor Seven (plays musical example). (plays musical example) A Minor Seven Flat Five, (plays musical example) D Seven Flat Nine, (plays musical example) G Minor Seven.

Guess what? This is … There’s a separate one section that I’m gonna talk about. That’s basically the entire song. It’s basically … You have 2-5-1 chord progressions moving between the relative major and the relative minor key. Now there’s a few exceptions I’m gonna go over. Again, if you go to the show notes … It’s okay if you’re not able to do this right now, but if you go to the show notes, I actually have a really cool color-coded chart for you where you can … I’ve color-coded, basically, the different sections of this song, and I’ve also labeled the Roman numerals underneath them. Basically what I’ve done is I’ve taken the relative major and I’ve color-coded it in blue, so any chords that are in the relative major are color-coded in blue. Any chords that are in the relative minor, or the parent minor key, are in red. So G Minor’s in red and B Flat Major is in blue. If you look at this chart, and it’s okay if you can’t, it’s basically only those colors. We’ll talk about the one section where it’s not, I have it color-coded green there.

Let’s just start from the very beginning, really fast here. We actually start with the relative major. Start with relative major, so we start with a 2-5-1 chord progression into B Flat Major. We already know what that is, right? We already went over it. It’s C Minor Seven (plays musical example) is the two chord, (plays musical example) F Seven is the five chord, (plays musical example) B Flat Major is the one chord.

The next chord after this … This is kind of, like, a chord that’s going to connect the relative major and the relative … The parent minor together. That’s E Flat Major Seven. What is E Flat to a B Flat Major key center? E Flat to B Flat Major key center. E Flat Major is the four, it’s the fourth tone. What’s the fourth tone? It’s a major seventh chord. That’s how you harmonize that, right? It’s an … E Flat Major Seven (plays musical example) is the four chord. So we have (plays musical example) two, (plays musical example) five, (plays musical example) one, and then (plays musical example) four. Four Major Seven. It’s E Flat Major Seven in the key of B Flat.

Here’s where we go from the relative major into the parent minor scale. Now we go into a 2-5-1, a minor 2-5-1 into G Minor. So it’s, like we just discussed a second ago, (plays musical example) A Minor Seven Flat Five, (plays musical example) D Seven, (plays musical example) G Minor Seven.

Now some people put this next change in, some people don’t, because now we’re essentially gonna repeat those first eight bars here, but we’re gonna throw in a turnaround chord. That’s G Seven, okay? So we’re turning that G Minor Seven (plays musical example) into a G Seven (plays musical example), and what we call this is a five of two. Think about it. What’s the first chord of this song? It’s C Minor. Now we call it a five of two because if you think about it … If we’re thinking about C Minor Seven, which is acting as the two chord, we can think of it as a one chord for a second. So in the key of C Minor, what is the five chord? What’s the fifth tone of the C Minor scale? It’s G (plays musical example), which is a dominant seventh chord, right? (plays musical example) So basically that five chord is going to resolve into the C Minor Seven chord.

We call this a turnaround chord because it’s taking us from where we just were at the end of these eight bars here … In this case, the seven bars, and we’re gonna turn it around back to the top, ’cause there’s a repeat sign. So it goes (plays musical example) 2-5-1 (plays musical example) into G Minor Seven (plays musical example), and then we’re gonna turn it around, and the way we’re gonna connect that G Minor Seven to that C Minor Seven is (plays musical example) a G Seven chord. You can also think of this as the six dominant chord of the relative major. What’s the six chord of B Flat Major Seven? It’s G. Now, in a diatonic sense, the six chord is a minor chord (plays musical example), but jazz musicians are always turning minor chords into dominant seventh chords.

Either way you wanna think about it, the five of two or the six chord of the relative minor turning around into the C Minor chord at the top of the form again.

Then we go through it again. (plays musical example) C Minor Seven, two, (plays musical example) F Seven, five, (plays musical example) B Flat Major Seven, one, (plays musical example) B Flat Major Seven, four. Now into the parent minor. (plays musical example) Two, A Minor Seven Flat Five, (plays musical example) D Seven, the five, (plays musical example) G Minor Seven, the one. The second ending, you don’t play that G Seven, just … You hang out on the G Minor Seven.

Does that make sense? Again, we’re not just analyzing all these chords from the parent minor key center, or the parent major key center. It’d be really tough to do that, which is not the most efficient way to do it. But, you know, like I said, these are relative keys to each other. For example, the A Minor Seven Flat Five, that’s the two chord in G Minor, right? But (plays musical example) what is A Minor Seven Flat Five to B Flat Major, the relative major? It’s the seventh chord, right? The seventh chord is a half-diminished in a major key center. (plays musical example) So A Minor Seven Flat Five is the seventh tonal center, seventh chord of B Flat Major.

That makes sense, but the thing is … We discussed earlier, when you harmonize minor scales with seventh chords, we have to borrow notes from the harmonic and melodic minor scales, right? We needed to make that five chord into a dominant seventh chord. So a D Seven, which is the five chord in G Minor (plays musical example), right, now that note is in the B Flat Major scale, D is. It would normally be a minor seventh chord, but it’s a dominant seven in this particular case, because we’re borrowing those chord tones.
That’s where things start to get a little bit different when we’re talking about major and minor keys.

At the end of the day, you can relate a lot of these chords to each other, but it’s best to think about them separated into major keys and relative minor keys, and vice versa. I hope that makes sense. Now if any of that confused you, don’t get freaked out or anything. It’s nothing to get worked up about.

Now when we get into the bridge … This is the part that goes, “And since you went away, the days grow long.” Learn the lyrics, great lyrics. Then it’s just a … We start the bridge out with a minor 2-5-1 into G Minor Seven, the parent scale. (plays musical example) A Minor Seven Flat Five, two, (plays musical example) D Seven, five, (plays musical example) G Minor Seven is one. All right? Then we go back into the relative major. (plays musical example) “And soon I’ll hear old winter’s song.” I’ll stop singing for you guys, it’s gonna hurt you. (plays musical example) So that’s just a 2-5-1 into the relative major. Then we go back into the minor key. (plays musical example) “But I miss you most of all.” (plays musical example) Promised I’d stop singing but I’m still doing it. (plays musical example) “My darling.” (plays musical example) 2-5-1 into G Minor.

Here is the one part that I’ve separated out. Oftentimes, musicians are doing these chord changes. Right here, it goes, (plays musical example) G Minor Seven, (plays musical example) C Seven, (plays musical example) F Minor Seven, (plays musical example) B Flat Seven. And then it finishes off the song (plays musical example) with a 2-5-1 (plays musical example) into G Minor. (plays musical example) A Minor Seven Flat Five, D Seven, G Minor Seven.

Those two bars there, the (plays musical example) G Minor Seven, (plays musical example) C Seven, (plays musical example) F Minor Seven, (plays musical example) B Flat Seven. If you are able to look at the show notes, I’ve color-coded that green.

How to make the best sense of this is just to think of it as a cycle of fourths. All the time, in jazz, we’re cycling in fourths. Think about a 2-5-1 chord progression really quick. Let’s think about the relative major. C Minor Seven, F Seven, B Flat Seven. The roots of all those notes, of all those cords, C, F, B Flat. What are the moving in, what’s the interval they’re moving in? Fourths. Pretty much most functional harmony in jazz is moving in fourths. Not always, but most of the time, it’s all cycling in fourths.

That’s simply all this is doing. It’s trying to connect us from that G Minor Seven back around to get back to the A Minor Seven again, but in a more creative way. So it’s (plays musical example) landing on the one chord there, and you can think of that (plays musical example) C Seven as the minor … Basically a four seven of the minor key, but that’s kind of confusing, so it’s best to just think of it as, like, two fives. So, (plays musical example) G Minor Seven, (plays musical example) C Seven, that’s like a two five into F, but we’re not going there, we’re going to F Minor (plays musical example), and then to (plays musical example) B Flat Seven, which you can think of as a two five to E Flat.

If you’re totally lost right now, don’t worry about this. It’s okay. Just think of it as two fives cycling in fourths. We start (plays musical example) A Minor Seven Flat Five, “But I miss you most of all,” (plays musical example), “my darling,” (plays musical example), (plays musical example) five, (plays musical example) two, (plays musical example) five, “When autumn (plays musical example) leaves (plays musical example) start to fall (plays musical example).” Okay, does that make sense? Maybe, maybe not. Don’t get to hung up on it. Again, if you can go to the show notes, it looks a little bit more clear there, what’s going on.

Otherwise, think about it. This song is just 2-5-1 chord progressions – maybe with the exception of that four chord in the major, the E Flat Major – in the parent minor and the relative major. What an easy song. If you understand what the relative keys are, if you understand how to harmonize major scales and minor scales with seventh chords, if you understand the Roman numeral system, and you understand 2-5-1 chord progressions, I mean, this song is a piece of cake, right?

That’s why I always start with this song when I deal with students and stuff like that, because it’s so easy to understand, but at the same time, if you know these fundamentals right here, it’s gonna set you up for success for every single jazz standard you learn after this. Guarantee it. Throughout the rest of the book that I was just telling you … The Jazz Standards Playbook, it’s gonna be coming out in April, we dig deeper into jazz standards after that that get even more complex. So we can start understanding more harmony. But this is a great starting point.

What I want you to have gotten from today is understanding relative keys, understanding 2-5-1 chord progressions, and understanding how we come up with the Roman numeral system in the first place. Again, those three basic elements that I went over earlier that you need to analyze. I’ll review those. Number one, what is the form? Number two, what are the defining characteristics of the song? Number three, how are jazz musicians historically approaching it? If you can do all those things, you’re gonna be setting yourself up on the right foot.

All right, that’s all for today’s show. I wanna thank you so much for listening. Thank you for tuning in. Remember, if you need a little more visual on some of this stuff, go to the show notes at learnjazzstandards.com/episode105. As I always say, if you got value out of today’s podcast episode, leave us a rating and review on iTunes, say some nice words. Or Stitcher, whatever you listen to your podcasts on. Helps other people find this show. So thank you in advance for doing that if you got some help from the episode today.

Next week, I’m excited to continue on Jazz Standards Month. Once you’ve learned a jazz standard, once you’ve analyzed it like we just did, you understand how the harmony functions, where do you go from there? You wanna start being able to improvise over it, and how do you do that? So we’re gonna be going over exactly that, how you can start mapping out that jazz standard for improvisational success.

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12 COMMENTS

  1. Hi Brent, I'm listening to the podcast and looking the table of the minor diatonic series of seventh chords, and I don't understand why the first chord is an upper-cased notation ? C-7… shouldn't it be i ?

  2. Hi Bret, I would like to come back to Marion's question.
    If the Cmin is Dorian (as you confirmed) then I run into a problem playing the second scale Dm7-5, because there the fifth is an A flat and not an A. I thought the point of harmonising is to move up the scale but keep using the same notes (as is the case in major). Does this mean that harmonising in minor is a whole different ball game ?

    • Hey Robert,

      Great question. Note that I did mention to Marion that the root notes in the Minor Diatonic Series do make up a Dorian scale. But I'll take a stronger stance now, and clarify that this is not the best way to think of the Minor Diatonic Series. You are entirely right that harmonizing in minor is a different ball game. The reason why this gets complicated is there are three minor scales to draw from, the natural, harmonic and melodic minor. Whereas the Major Diatonic Series is easy, because there is only one major scale to draw from.

      It's important to understand how to harmonize each one of these scales with 7th chords, and even triads. But the Minor Diatonic Series of 7th Chords picks the most common chord choices, at least in jazz harmony, and borrows notes from the different scales. It is largely based on the natural minor as you may observe, but to make the V chord dominant instead of minor (which would result if harmonizing a natural minor) you need to swap out the Bb for a B natural. This would imply notes from the harmonic and melodic minor scales.

      Same goes for the vi chord. I find the most common choice is a half diminished chord. So instead of an Abmaj7 as the vi, we borrow notes from the melodic minor, including the A natural, to make it a minor 7(b5).

      I understand this is confusing, and perhaps I could have done a better job explaining. I'll probably do a podcast episode just on this in the future.

      Here is also a post I've done in the past and maybe this will help clarify even more: https://www.learnjazzstandards.com/blog/learning-jazz/jazz-theory/harmonize-minor-scales-7th-chords/

  3. Thanks for replying Brent. My question was a bit cumbersome. In a nutshell: the C minor scale used to demonstrate the diatonic seventh chords has a sixth chord based on a major sixth (A) rather than a minor sixth (Ab). Why borrow from the melodic minor scale for this, when the natural minor uses a minor sixth. Does this depend on the context of the song?
    I am looking forward to your book on analysing standards and will certainly listen to the video you mention. Thanks so much for all your excellent teaching. Cheers, Marion

    • Hey Marion,

      Copying and pasting what I just wrote to Robert Troosts question. Hopefully this helps:

      Great question. Note that I did mention to Marion that the root notes in the Minor Diatonic Series do make up a Dorian scale. But I'll take a stronger stance now, and clarify that this is not the best way to think of the Minor Diatonic Series. You are entirely right that harmonizing in minor is a different ball game. The reason why this gets complicated is there are three minor scales to draw from, the natural, harmonic and melodic minor. Whereas the Major Diatonic Series is easy, because there is only one major scale to draw from.

      It's important to understand how to harmonize each one of these scales with 7th chords, and even triads. But the Minor Diatonic Series of 7th Chords picks the most common chord choices, at least in jazz harmony, and borrows notes from the different scales. It is largely based on the natural minor as you may observe, but to make the V chord dominant instead of minor (which would result if harmonizing a natural minor) you need to swap out the Bb for a B natural. This would imply notes from the harmonic and melodic minor scales.

      Same goes for the vi chord. I find the most common choice is a half diminished chord. So instead of an Abmaj7 as the vi, we borrow notes from the melodic minor, including the A natural, to make it a minor 7(b5).

      I understand this is confusing, and perhaps I could have done a better job explaining. I'll probably do a podcast episode just on this in the future.

      Here is also a post I've done in the past and maybe this will help clarify even more: https://www.learnjazzstandards.com/blog/learning-jazz/jazz-theory/harmonize-minor-scales-7th-chords/

  4. Great Brent…..can't wait until the ebook comes out in April.. it is a subject of great interest to me, and promises to be a great idea also for a gig book . Thanks again, and awaiting your notification Neil

  5. Good session, thanks Brent. Am looking forward to your new book on analysing standards in more detail. I am interested to learn more about how minor scales are dealt with in terms of the diatonic 7th chords, by borrowing from the melodic and harmonic scales. In the C minor scale you have included in the notes, the sixth note is a major sixth, so the diatonic chord is a minor 7 flat 5. The scale looks like its in Dorian mode. In the context of Autumn Leaves, the minor scale is a natural minor, with a minor 6th (and diatonic chord would be a major 7th)? How do we know how and when to make the distinction? Can you point me in a direction for how to find out more about this please, or does your new book expand on this?
    Thanks and cheers, Marion

    • Hi Marion, glad you enjoyed it! It's true, those notes used in the Diatonic series of 7th chords make up a Dorian mode.I don't think of it in terms of a mode, but I suppose whatever helps you understand it best! Autumn Leaves is in the key of concert G minor. I'm not sure I entirely understand your question regarding the scales, but the important thing is to understand the harmonization of 7th chords in major and minor keys. As far as what scales to play over different kinds of chords, there are many options. I do a video tutorial on that here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N-a0t-Y1mWc

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