Chord progressions and substitutions jazz reharmonization_-_Tonnie Van Der Heide
Reharmonization, also know as chord substitution, is one of the eternal subjects in personalizing the
thousands of standard tunes and originals played by working (jazz) musicians and amateurs all over the world. The
author of this article examines the basis through intermediate reharmonization techniques such as basic chord
progression in major and minor tonality and their primary substitutions, substitutions used in Rhythm Changes,
substitution as chordal embellishments, harmonized bass lines, harmonization of background melody line, and
substitutions of jazz standards. The objective is to provide knowledge of reharmonization techniques associated with
the expanded arrangements and personalized chord progressions for the developing (jazz) musicians.
CHORD PROGRESSIONS AND CHORD SUBSTITUTIONS (ALSO KNOWN AS REHARMONIZATION)
by Tonnie van der Heide
Most users of BiaB will at least have a basic knowledge of chords and some of their functions. It is this last
part I want to concentrate on chord progressions, how chords move from one to the other. These are also called
changes, which means exactly the same thing (changing from one chord to another).
There are some basic progressions that form the “building stones” of thousands of jazz and Broadway tunes.
Some are more popular than others. Most of them will last 2 bars, but there are of course longer ones. Here are some
of the better-known standard progressions in major key (Example 1-7). I have kept the first eleven examples, as you
may find them in songs in the key of C major and C minor. A more technical explanation of the progression in
example 4 is discussed at under example 12.
Example 1. Standard progression
*alternative solution 1.
*alternative solution 2.
Example 2. Standard progression
Example 3. Standard progression
Example 4. Standard progression
Example 5. Standard progression
Example 6. Standard progression
Example 7. Standard progression
Please note that there are many more standard progressions and they do not always start on the “I” chord,
just think of Satin Doll (Example 8).
Example 8. Satin Doll, bar 1-4, section A.
Or a bridge type progression (Example 9).
Here are some of the better-known standard progressions in minor key (Example 10-11)
Example 10. Standard chord progression in minor.
Example 11. Standard chord progression in minor associated with Autumn Leaves.
*analysis of example 11.
Except for the “7“, I have avoided most color tones (9th
, natural, flatted or raised etc.), to keep
things as simple as possible for now. Color tones are also referred to extensions (of the basic triads) of a chord. It all
boils down to the same thing. This also means that any alteration of the basic triad; flatted 3rd
, raised or flatted 5th
not to be considered color tones.
• The “I” chord can be moved to any chord, movements of other chords can be:
• Chromatic: e.g. a dim chord always moves half a step up or down
• In fifths: Am > Dm > G7 are all moves along the cycle of fifths
• Diatonic (up or down along the scale): like | C / Dm / | Em / Dm / |
• Change between two chords with the same root, but of different qualities, major to minor or vice versa, like
F to Fm (happens most of the time in tunes in major), or Cm6 to C7 (happens most of the time in tunes, or
part of tunes, in minor)
• Symmetric movements, move a chord of the same quality and with the same color tones in equal steps up or
down, e.g. ascending in minor thirds | G7b9 / Bb7b9 / | Db7b9 / F7b9 / | or perhaps the most well-known is
moving up or down a dim7 chord in minor thirds
• Any IIm > V7 progression can move to another IIm > V7 progression in any key. E.g. Satin Doll
• The “amen” progression F > C or F > Cm
I have on purpose not included the “so-called” Coltrane changes, as I expect someone to write an article
about that and there are also many good books on the subject a.o. Coltrane A Players Guide To His Harmony,
available from Jamey Aebersold. The same goes for blues progressions
Lets put together the example one with the example fourth and the example 9 (bridge) and voilà we have
some basic 32 bars of Rhythm Changes in C (Example 12).
Example 12. Rhythm Changes in C.
Lets take a closer look at bar 5 and 6 of the A part: Gm7 > C7 > F looks like a Vm7 > I7 > IV, while in
reality it is a IIm7 > V7 > I progression in the key of F (major), which means at this point the progression modulates
from the key of C to the key of F. In the bridge the changes modulate every two bars, as E7 is (in this case) the V7 or
dominant in the key of A (major), the A7 is the V7 in the key of D, D7 the V7 in the key of G and last but not least
the G7 brings us back to the key of C. These modulations have a decisive effect on which scale(s) one can use for
There are of course many books on this subject too, for those of you who want to delve deeper in to this
Having looked at some of the basic chord movements, let have a go and look at some embellishments. The
most basic form of embellishment is adding color tones that create a feeling of movement (Example 13).
Example 13. Chord progression embellished with color tones.
*basic chord progression
Or half step sliding (Example 14).
Example 14. Chord progression embellished with chromatic sliding.
*basic chord progression
Also any V7 chord can be preceded by its IIm7 chord (Example 15).
Example 15. Preceding V7 chord with IIm7 chord.
*basic chord progression
This leads us to a “theory” called minorization or majorization, where e.g. a V7 can be substituted for an
IIm and vice versa. A technique used a lot by the late jazz guitarist Wes Montgomery (Example 16).
Example 16. Yesterdays by Wes Montgomery, bar 17-18.
Here G13 is substituted for Dm. This means that improvisers can play G7 patterns over Dm and Dm
patterns over G7. If you take this one step further and substitute an Fmaj7 for Dm, you can play an Fmaj7 pattern
over a G7.
USE YOUR EARS
Now lets have a look at some substitutions. Beware that in some cases the melody and or bass line will
“prohibit” some of the following suggestions. Therefore always let your ear be your guidance:
1) A I major chord can be substituted by its VI minor chord, or C can be replaced by Am or vice versa.
This also goes for the IV that can be replaced by IIm (F > Dm) or vice versa.
2) A I major chord can be substituted by its III minor chord, or C can be replaced by Em or v.v.
3) Any V7 chord can be substituted by a IIb7 chord. This is also called the tritone (or flat 5 substitution).
For this substitution the embellishment rule a V7 chord can be preceded by a IIm7 chord, can work in three
ways!! The basic progression G7 > C can first be embellished to Dm7 > G7 > C (V7 chord can be preceded by a
Now you have (at least) three possibilities to make a substitution (Example 17).
Example 17. Possibilities of substitution of IIm-V7-I chord progression.
*1st possible substitution
*2nd possible substitution
*3rd possible substitution
In the third possible substitution, we changed the Db7b5 back the original V7, while keeping the substituted
IIm7 of the tritone). If you have a closer look, you will see that this also explains the earlier mentioned half step
The possible substitution solution to in minor (Example 18).
Example 18. Yesterdays, triton substitution used in bar 2.
*original chord progression
*substitution, Eb7 is the tritone substitution of A7.
If chord tones are the letters, the chords are the words and the progressions are sentences. The whole chord
sheet (of a song) is the story.
PURPOSES OF REHARMONIZATION
Some people might argue: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. In modern jazz though reharmonization is more
the rule, than the exception. So why do we reharmonize?
(1) To personalize a tune
(2) To get a bigger or thicker sound (more possible voices and density)
(3) To create variation (different chords, allow different scales)
(4) To harmonize a nice back ground
(5) To harmonize a strong bass line
As numbers 1, 2, and 3 are mostly self-explanatory, lets start with the last one.
HARMONIZED BASS LINES
A standard harmonized bass line (also known from BiaB) that can be used when a dominant 7th
for one or two bars (Example 19).
Example 19. Harmonized bass lines over dominant 7th
*harmonized bass line
Or from Hallelujah I Just Love Her So (Example 20).
Example 20. Harmonized bass lines over partial chord changes of Hallelujah I Just Love Her So.
*harmonized bass line
I have used the slash chords the same way they work in BiaB, in other words the note behind the slash is the
bass note. (G7/B = is a G7 chord, with the B as it’s bass note).
Of course you could do the opposite of harmonizing a bass line by letting the bass note remain the same
(called pedal bass, as shown e.g. in the Chord Options window in BiaB), while moving the chords (Example 21).
Example 21. Harmonizing a bass line by utilizing pedal bass.
*harmonized by utilizing pedal bass
Even greater tension will be created by applying “counter movement”: the bass line descends, while the
melody ascends or vice versa. We will get back to this in example 29.
HARMONIZATION OF BACKGROUND MELODIES
If the reharmonized chords are two subsequent II > V7 progressions, and if the melody allows, you could
perhaps use a chromatic descending background melody to establish a new reharmonization (Example 22).
Example 22. Harmonized with chromatic descending background melody.
*new harmonization by utilizing the chromatic descending background melody
This would bring us to the subject of musical “short hand“. Every progression has some built in little
• Can identify the progression and
• Let you create instant skeleton arrangements.
I just mentioned that the “short hand” for | Em9 / A7#5 / | Dm9 / G7#5 / | could be F# > F and E > Eb, as
shown in example 22, which of course could be embellished in many ways.
For instance, some possibilities of utilizing reharmonization and its associated shorthand in the basic
progression are as followed (Example 23).
Example 23. Basic chord progression and its possible reharmonization with counter-melody.
*basic chord progression
*adding color tones and its associated counter-melodies
*adding more color tones and its associated counter-melodies
The biggest prerequisite for chord substitution is common tones in the original chord(s) and the substituted
one(s). The fewer common tones the more tension, the more common tones the less tension. Take the start of the
tune Misty by Errol Garner in the key of Eb as an example (Example 24). if you use the substitution shown in the
example 24, the only common note in the D chord in bar one is the melody note of D, which you will hear creates a
lot of tension.
Example 24. Common tones in original chord progression and its substitution in Misty, bar 1.
In every tune you will find one or more turnarounds, such as bars 7 and 8 and 31 and 32 in Rhythm Changes
(Example 25). Depending on the melody there are may variations, which also indicate some possible
reharmonizations. Usually you will find one long melody note at the turnaround.
Example 25. Bars 7 and 8 and 31 and 32 in Rhythm Changes.
Possible reharmonization of basic turnaround with G as melody line. Em7 descends chromatically to Eb.
From Eb to Ab and to Db is following the cycle of fifths. Db descends chromatically to C, and Db7b5 is also the
tritone substitution of G7 (Example 26).
Example 26. Possible reharmonization of basic turnaround with G as melody note.
Possible reharmonization of basic turnaround with E as melody line. Bb descends chromatically to A. From
A to D to G and to G is following the cycle of fifths. If you wanted to, you could of course substitute; Dm9 > G13b9
with Abm7 (or Dm9) > Db7b5 (Example 27).
Example 27. Possible reharmonization of basic turnaround with E as melody note.
Possible reharmonization of basic turnaround with C as melody line. Em7#5 contains the same notes as
“Cadd9”. The E descends chromatically to Eb and then we move along the cycle of fifths to Db, from where we
move chromatically to the I chord (Example 28).
Example 28. Possible reharmonization of basic turnaround with C as melody note.
A practical example of how one could reharmonize the Rhythm Changes in C, by the way Rhythm Changes
are almost always played in Bb at Jam sessions, so please learn this and the other progressions, in keys that are used
by you and others you play with (Example 29).
Example 29. Reharmonization of Rhythm Changes in C
*a variation/reharmonization of example 4
Variation is one of the reasons for reharmonizations, it allows different chords and different chord scales.
This is, according to me, one of the main drawbacks in BiaB. Once you have filled in the spreadsheet with chords,
the only variation you will hear, are the ones built into the style you are using. While, when listening to your favorite
jazz records, you will hear that the chords changes may differ from chorus to chorus and from turnaround to
turnaround, this is of course possible in BiaB, if you unfold the tune and then manually change the chords from
chorus to chorus.
LEARN SCALE AND CHORD INTERDEPENDENCE
As mentioned using different chords allows the use of different scales. Therefore I suggest you read one of
the many good books on the relationship between chords and scales from one of the many books on the subject, like
e.g. Jamey Aebersold’s Scale Syllabus. Examples are the use of the Dorian scale over a IIm7 chord and the
Mixolodian scale over a V7 chord. But remember there are often more than one possibilities depending on the color
CHORDS ARE FOR ALL INSTRUMENTS
In closing I would like to mention that chords are for all instruments, also instruments that cannot play
So try to learn the progressions on a keyboard or guitar, even if it is just in the key of C.
Then try to learn those standard progressions in the keys that you normally use on your own instrument by
using the suggested shorthand melodies. Once you know these progression and their substitutions, you will be able to
learn (and remember) new tunes much faster and of course be able to improvise over them with more flair.
Four reharmonized versions of There Will Never be Another You (first four bars only). The first two
examples come from a book by the late Dutch guitar player Wim Overgaauw, called European Jazz Guitar. The last
example is by yours truly (but others might have arrived at about the same reharmonization before) and will let you
hear a very chromatic bass line: Bb > A > Ab > G > Gb > F > E > Eb, which forms a nice counter-movement to the
melody (Example 30).
Example 30. Possible reharmonization for the first four bars of There Will Never be Another You.
ONE LAST WORD OF ADVICE
Remember that changes have their own “rhythm”. So changing chords e.g. every beat (lots of tension),
followed by staying on one chord for two bars or more (hardly any tension), is usually not a good idea, unless it fits
in with the melody, mood or arrangement. On the matter of density: you do not have to use all the notes in a chord,
leaving out a few can often improve it’s sound.
Here and there I might have used words like “basic rules”, “always move up or down a half step”,
“prohibit” etc. Remember that if something sounds OK to you, chances are that it that others will like it too. So nice
changes come first and the so-called rules are only there to explain why!
Now you should be ready to try some stuff on your own!
On the subject of reharmonization there are so many books that below you will just find a very small
selection. I have listed relative inexpensive books, ready available in most music stores and on the Internet. Many of
play-along books by Jamey Aebersold Jazz Inc. contain nice reharmonizations (They include CDs so you can
actually hear the accompaniment resulting from the reharmonization). Many of today’s fake and real books also have
nice examples of reharmonizations. Some even give two or more alternative changes. It is not always necessary to
compare the reharmonizations with the original chords. As soon as you hear something nice or interesting, just try to
analyze how the changes have been put together and why they work in the actual situation. I am sure you soon will
be able to (re)use it in other tunes/situations in the future. Mr. Aebersold and Mr. Liebman’s collaboration The
Scales Syllabus demonstrates the basic theory of chord scales, Mr. Ricker and Mr. Weiskopf’s Coltrane, A Player
Guide To His Harmony demonstrates the harmony structure of John Coltrane’s Giant Steps and Countdown and its
extended uses, Mr. Aebersold’s Nothin’ But The Blues contains information of blues riffs and blues play-a-longs,
and Mr. Jaff’s Jazz Harmony demonstrates harmony and voicings with examples from known tunes.
Aebersold, Jamey. Nothin’ But The Blues. New Albany: Jamey Aebersold Jazz, 1981.
Aebersold, Jamey, and David Liebman. The Scales Syllabus. New Albany: Jamey Aebersold Jazz, 1996.
Jaff, Andy. Jazz Harmony. Tübingen: Advance Music, 1996.
Ricker, Ramon, and Walt Weiskopf. Coltrane, A Player Guide To His Harmony. New Albany: Jamey Aebersold
Tonnie Guitar is my user name in the FSG. My real name is Tonnie van der Heide, born in Amsterdam, the
Netherlands and now living in Bergen, Norway. In the FSG I have contributed some reharmonizations of other
members’ postings and have posted some arrangements of my own as well.
My main instrument is the 7-string guitar and I do sing, mainly through my Digitech Vocalist Studio Ex, to
sound a little like a.o. The Four Freshmen.
I use BiaB for live jobs and for writing arrangements.
In order to let all the instruments from BiaB’s output sound as good as possible I use two MIDI-sound
modules, one for the bass and one for all other instruments. On MIDI-channel #5 I output chords from BiaB to my
Vocalist (The bass voice goes into a bass amp, the rest a PA).
To accomplish this I use the MIDI-mapper in MS Windows 98, as this facility is not found in the newer
versions of Windows (XP & 2000).
For further technical details please visit http://home.no.net/tonnie
Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have comments, advice or questions.