• The Coltrane Changes

    in Chords & Progressions,Jazz music,Piano

    coltrane changes images

    Coltrane Changes refers to substitute chord progressions in jazz harmony made popular by jazz musician, John Coltrane.

    You can hear the changes in songs like “Countdown,” “Giant Steps,” and others.

    It consists of a chord progression essentially moving in “THIRDS” by using the dominant chord of the key a third away to transition there.

    My chord guide introduces intervals, but here’s a quick refresher:

    Half step = key to key with no keys in between. (Example: C to Db, or E to F, or Bb to B).
    Whole step = skips a key with one key in between. (Example: C to D, or E to F#, or Bb to C).

    Major third = 4 half steps. (Example: C to E or G to B or D to F#).
    Minor third = 3 half steps. (Example: C to Eb or F to Ab or Bb to Db).

    In C major, here’s what the Coltrane Changes look like moving down in major thirds:

    C >>> Ab >>> E

    C down to Ab = 4 half steps

    (C to B is 1, B to Bb is 2, Bb to A is 3, A to Ab is 4).

    Ab down to E = 4 half steps

    (Ab to G is 1, G to Gb is 2, Gb to F is 3, F to E is 4).

    This equally divides the octave, which brings us back to C:

    C >>> Ab >>> E >>> C

    Coltrane Changes – Explained

    Instead of going from a C major chord straight to the Ab major chord, straight to the Eb major chord, Coltrane introduces the dominant chord of each key.

    The dominant degree is the 5th tone of every scale (or a perfect fifth up from the “tonic,” or first tone of the scale). Because of its instability, it provides the strongest resolution to the tonic.

    *Tonic = home base, the key you’re in, the 1st tone of the scale.

    In C major, the dominant is G.
    coltrane changes C major scale C D E F G A B C

    G is the fifth tone of this scale, and thus the dominant scale degree.

    In Ab major, the dominant is Eb.
    coltrane changes Ab major scale Ab Bb C Db Eb F G Ab

    In E major, the dominant is B.
    E major scale E F# G# A B C# D # E

    It just so happens the most popular chord to play on the dominant degree is the dominant 7th chord. (You can learn all your dominant 7th chords in my free chord guide).

    G dominant 7
    G dominant 7 G B D F

    Eb dominant 7
    Eb dominant 7 Eb G Bb Db

    B dominant 7
    B dominant 7 B D# F# A

    When you put this all together, you get:

    C > “5 of Ab” > Ab > “5 of E” > E > “5 of C” > C


    C > Eb > Ab > B > E > G > C

    The main chord tones are C major, Ab major, and E major (all separated by major thirds).

    The dominant chords leading to each are Eb 7 (leading to Ab major), B 7 (leading to E major), and G 7 (leading back to C major).

    Coltrane Changes – Putting It All Together

    Here are the actual voicings of the Coltrane Changes:

    C major (I)
    C E G C

    Eb 7 (V of ♭VI)
    Eb Bb Db G

    Ab major (♭VI)
    Ab C Eb Ab

    B 7 (V of III)
    B F# A D#

    E major (III)
    E G# B E

    G 7 (V of I)
    G D F B

    C major (I)
    C E G C

    It’s interesting when you look at the circle of fifths (something we use a lot around here), the keys “C,” “Ab,” and “E” (all major thirds apart) create a triangle. If you keep sliding this triangle a note over, you will get the major third relationships for all 12 keys and thus the “Coltrane Changes” in all keys.

    coltrane changes circle of fifths triangle

    These recordings aren’t in the same key as the examples above, but you can hear the general idea below:

    “Giant Steps”


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    Hi, I'm Jermaine Griggs, founder of this site. We teach people how to express themselves through the language of music. Just as you talk and listen freely, music can be enjoyed and played in the same way... if you know the rules of the "language!" I started this site at 17 years old in August 2000 and more than a decade later, we've helped literally millions of musicians along the way. Enjoy!

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    { 4 comments… read them below or add one }

    1 Joel

    Nicely done! Good, clear explanation!


    2 Braz

    Hi Jermaine

    I like it very much. It is a real jazz like way of playing. This is what I like most.



    3 Jackolyn L Williams

    I had song tutor a few years ago and the computer it was downloaded on crashed and is longer available. In order to access it do I have to repurchase the software again?


    4 Jermaine Griggs

    You can always find your past purchases at http://www.hearandplay.com/digitalcenter

    You’re probably referring to Song Robot as Song Tutor just came out a few months ago. If you want Song Tutor, it can be purchased. Song Robot, on the other hand, should be waiting for you in the digital center.


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