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So What

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This jazz standard is the first tune on Miles Davis’ classic record, “Kind of Blue.”  It’s the top jazz album of all time as measured by sales.  It’s sold over 20 million copies, and still sells about 5,000 copies a week.  And it was recorded in 1959.  You should listen to it.  A lot.  It’s one of the most important jazz albums in existence, perhaps the most important. It even made Rolling Stone’s list of top albums (at #12 all-time).  Rolling Stone can hardly be known for paying attention to jazz, and so it’s an amazing testament to Miles’ album that it would rank at all.

Bill Evans starts this tune out with a nice intro on this tune, but in practice most groups don’t play it exactly like the record.  That would be an interesting thing to do, since most groups don’t seem to go to that effort.  The bass player plays the melody of this tune.  So What has the same changes as John Coltrane’s tune “Impressions,” the latter having a faster tempo and melody.  It makes sense that Coltrane would steal the changes for his own tune, having cut his teeth in Miles’ band and performing So what regularly.

This is perhaps the first recorded example of modal jazz.  It has very few chord changes. It’s an AABA form, using Dorian minor harmony.  The B section is a half-step up from the A section.  Most pianists and guitarists, including Bill Evans, like to use diatonic fourth chords when comping.  For example, DGCFA up to EADGB up to FBEAC is a nice progression on the D-7 using diatonic fourth stacks with a third on top. Even non-guitarists and non-pianists should experiment with this idea on the piano to help understand this idiomatic harmonic movement even when the chord doesn’t change.

I’m including both choruses of  Miles Davis’ solo on this post.  I hope you enjoy!  Learn to play along with the recording, which is also posted.

Miles So What Solo Transcription (pdf)

So What-C Instruments (.pdf)

So What Miles Solo-Bb Instruments (.pdf)

So What Miles Solo-Eb Instruments (.pdf)

Videos to learn the melody/changes

Camden Hughes
Camden Hughes
Camden is a working jazz pianist, multi-instrumentalist, and music educator currently living near Boise, ID. He teaches music at the Idaho Arts Charter School, and is the jazz adjunct professor at Northwest Nazarene University. Check out his music at


  1. Thank you SO much for your awesome web site and for your clear explanation of the So What chord. I’m learning jazz piano.
    For your examples of the So What chord, were you thinking of comping rather than playing the melody ?

    • You are very welcome! Bill Evans “So What” chords are generally used for comping, although you can use them to make melodies as well. Typically the bassist plays the melody on So What, so most cats just use “So What” voicings to comp over this tune.

  2. Hi Macia,

    D Dorian is Good (D E F G A B C D) for D-7 and Eb Dorian (Eb F Gb Ab Bb C Db Eb) is good for Eb-7. Dorian is like a major scale starting on the second scale degree, so it’s like playing the key signatures of C Major and Db Major.

    Notice that when Miles Davis and the other cats on Kind of Blue play this song, they use those notes most of the time-but they DO NOT sound like they are playing scales at all. Make sure you make melodies, and you can use those scales as references for what notes sound consonant with the chord. Play what you hear! That’s why we study solo transcriptions-so we can hear better ideas.

  3. hi,
    i just want to know, in which scales i can improvise over this tune. i get that there are only D-7 and Eb-7 chords, but i have no idea which sacles i can use for each of them.


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