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Softly, As In A Morning Sunrise

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“Softly, As In A Morning Sunrise” is a tune written by Sigmund Romberg with lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II.
It was written for the 1928 operetta “The New Moon”. The lyrics are bitter and talk of yearning for a lost love. It was originally written as a tango but many different versions of the tune have been performed since.

In the jazz realm, this is a very common jam session tune and is important to know.
This tune is most commonly played in the key of C minor.

Note: We see in this tune a lot of minor ii V7 i’s. You should be aware that jazz musicians will use all kinds of substitutions to get back to the i chord. A very common substitution would be the tri-tone.

Example: Ab7/G7/Cm7 instead of Dm7(b5)/G7/Cm7.
You can also add the vi(b5) chord before the ii and so on.

Note: During the bridge we find a series of diatonic chords connected by diminished passing chords(Ebmaj7/Edim7/Fm7/Gbdim7/G7). We can also substitute minor ii V7’s to get into the chord they are resolving to, replacing the diminished chords.

Example: Ebmaj7/ /Gm7(b5) C7/ Fm7 / Am7(b5) D7/ G7

Videos to learn the melody/changes

Brent Vaartstra
Brent Vaartstra is a professional jazz guitarist and educator living in New York City. He is the head blogger and podcast host for which he owns and operates. He actively performs around the New York metropolitan area and is the author of the Hal Leonard publication "Visual Improvisation for Jazz Guitar." He's also the host of the music entrepreneurship podcast "Passive Income Musician."


  1. Great material…I’m learning for guitar.
    This isn’t clear to me “Example: Ab7/G7/Cm7 instead of Dm7(b5)/G7/Cm7.
    You can also add the vi(b5) chord before the ii and so on.”


    • David,

      Jazz musicians use all sorts of substitutions when they play over these standard tunes. This means that you have a “standard” set of changes that you can work with but there are common things musicians do to elaborate on these chords or get to get to the tonal center in a different way.

      In the case of Softly As In A Morning Sunrise the first four chords are Cm7 Dm7(b5) G7 Cm7.
      Cm7 is the tonic, or the tonal center of the tune. The Dm7(b5) is the ii chord(as if you were going up the scale C D Eb F G…) and the G7 is the V chord. Essentially the Dm7(b5) and G7 are chords that lead back to the Cm7.

      You can substitute the Ab7 chord instead of the Dm7(b5) because of voice-leading. Two of the most important harmonic notes of a chord are the 3rd and 7th. They help define the sound/function of the chord. A Tritone substitution implies substituting for a dominant chord. You can always make the two chord dominant(D7) and if you do that you will notice that the 3rd of D7 is the same note as the 7th of Ab7 and the 7th of D7 is the same as the third of Ab7.

      I hope this doesn’t sound too confusing, sometimes words in writing have a way of doing that. What you really need to do is just try it. You will find that it sounds great and is a familiar sound. I just gave you the theoretical approach to this but really what it comes down to is does is sound good or not?

      Let me know if you have any questions about this


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