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FDP Forum / The Chop Shop / What is the structure of "Rhythm Changes" ?

Contributing Member


Feb 22nd, 2017 03:14 PM   Edit   Profile  


The "Rhythm Changes" are a standard of jazz music but what is the theory behind the chord progression particularly in the B section.

And why is it regarded as a jazz staple ?

What is so special about it all ?

Any information or thoughts will be gratefully accepted.


Contributing Member


Albino Blue
Feb 22nd, 2017 05:24 PM   Edit   Profile  

Explained pretty good here on YT. Lots more on YT too about it if you need more.

Basics of RC


LA-la-land, CA

Insert clever comment here
Feb 23rd, 2017 12:46 PM   Edit   Profile  

It's a standard because so many songs have been based on a chord progression like it. It's certainly not the first to use the progression, but appeared in a popular song, so the name is just a shortcut. And it's not just jazz, but all over Western music where this progression is used.

It's so prevalent because it's based on diatonic chords of a key that resolve to the tonic (vi-ii-V-I). This is something that we have long been trained to "accept" in Western music. Our ears are ready for it, and so it's pleasing to them. It feels "resolved" when it lands on the I. Composers like Beethoven were instrumental (pardon the pun) is making the progression common. They were interested in how long they could maintain tension in the listener before it was finally resolved. So the chords used got more sophisticated than from, say, J.S. Bach's time, when certain chords and substitutions were just not used. The theory simply did not exist yet.

And it's an easy starting point for songwriting. The video above talks a lot about all the different ways you can substitute some or all of the chords, and modify the basic structure to your liking. This also allows other players to be able to understand your structure easily, and improvise over it.

There isn't a lot of theory to the B section. It's basically a cycle of dominant Vs, each chord leading your ear to the next, with the whole point of the B section being to end on the V7 chord of the key, so that it will lead your ear back to the I chord starting the A section. So, it's kind of reverse-engineered from the last chord backwards.

Does this help answer your question? Tell me if I've used too much jargon or a concept you don't get.

(This message was last edited by gdw3 at 02:59 PM, Feb 23rd, 2017)


LA-la-land, CA

Insert clever comment here
Feb 23rd, 2017 05:42 PM   Edit   Profile  

(This message was last edited by gdw3 at 07:43 PM, Feb 23rd, 2017)

Contributing Member


Feb 24th, 2017 02:14 AM   Edit   Profile  

Thanks for your response but the version of the B section I am looking at is a cycle of IVs ending on the V of the key

Te 52

Laws of Physics

strictly enforced
Feb 24th, 2017 10:52 AM   Edit   Profile  

"...but the version of the B section I am looking at is a cycle of IVs ending on the V of the key..."

Cycle of IVs and cycle of Vs are really the same thing, just depending on whether you think of going clockwise or counterclockwise around the circle of keys.

G7 leads naturally to C, right? But you can think or that as either leading up a perfect fourth or down a perfect fifth from G to C.

(This message was last edited by Te 52 at 03:47 PM, Feb 24th, 2017)


LA-la-land, CA

Insert clever comment here
Feb 27th, 2017 01:26 PM   Edit   Profile  

The term "fifth" is being used in more than one context here. The difference is between talking about an interval of a 5th (the distance between 2 notes), and a chord built on the 5th degree of a key. This chord relationship is what the cycle of 5ths is referring to, not the distance between the chords.

So, when you're using a cycle of 5ths in a song, what you're really talking about is using a chord that is the 5th (or V, usually V7) of the key/chord you're trying to get to. In other words, using the V chord of the key to get to the tonic (I). In Te 52's example, G7 is the V7 (or 5th) in the key of C (I).

The reason the cycle of 5ths works is because it leads your ear to the tonic. In the key of C, the major 3rd in the G7 chord is the note B. This note happens to be the 7th degree in the C scale. When playing the C scale, the B strongly leads your ear to want to hear the C (tonic) note next. So this is why the G7 leads your ear to the C. Because it has the B note in it, and your ear anticipates the C next.

Plus, this will work for getting to any major chord, not just the tonic of a key you're in. That's what is happening in Rhythm Changes "B" section, and why it's a technique that is also often used to modulate or change keys in a song. In C, change the ii chord (D minor) to a dominant 7 (D7), and now you're leading the ear to G, because D7 is the V7 of G.

Jazz does this constantly. And players will throw in the 5th of a chord beforehand, just to make it more interesting, before landing on the chord itself. You often hear people say a chord is the "five of" another chord, and they mean that it's using a cycle of 5ths to lead to that chord.

(This message was last edited by gdw3 at 12:39 AM, Mar 3rd, 2017)


What It Was!

cross-dressing for Rodan
Feb 28th, 2017 01:07 PM   Edit   Profile  




LA-la-land, CA

Insert clever comment here
Feb 28th, 2017 02:39 PM   Edit   Profile  

It is, isn't it?

Contributing Member


Mar 2nd, 2017 05:49 PM   Edit   Profile  

Thanks for all of the above.

I have spent some time going through the video Woodall linked to and it is very good explaining the chord subs.

Appreciate your help


FDP Forum / The Chop Shop / What is the structure of "Rhythm Changes" ?

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