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Rhythm Changes

In In jazz, rhythm changes are a modified form of the chord progression of George Gershwin's song "I Got Rhythm", which form the basis of countless (usually uptempo) jazz compositions. Rhythm changes were popular with swing-era musicians they are used in "Shoe Shine Boy" (Lester Young's 1929 breakout recording with Count Basie) and "Cottontail" (Ellington, 1940), for instance. But their enduring popularity is largely due to their extensive use by early bebop musicians. "I Got Rhythm" was already a popular jazz standard, and by writing a new song over its chord changes (a type of composition known as a contrafact), the tune could be copyrighted to the artist instead of requiring that royalties be paid to the Gershwin estate.

"Rhythm changes" are a thirty-two-bar form. In Roman numeral shorthand, the actual chords used in the "A" section are I-vi/ii-V (tonic-submediant-supertonic-dominant) repeated twice, then I-I7/IV-#iv(dim)/I-V/I (or I-I7/IV-iv, which is what Gershwin originally wrote). In C major, for example, these chords would be C-Am/Dm-G (twice), then C-C7/F-F#dim/C-G/C (or C-C7-F-Fm). The "bridge" consists of a series of dominant sevenths that follow the circle of fifths, sustained for longer intervals and thus conveying the sense of a shifting key center. In our example, we begin with an E7, followed by an A7, then D7 and finally G7, bringing us back to the original key for a final reprise of the A section. A two-bar "tag" at the end of the Gershwin tune is generally omitted. While rhythm changes can be played in any key, they are most commonly played in concert B-flat and sometimes E-flat.

Variant versions of the A section changes are legion: often the beboppers, for instance, would superimpose series of "two-fives" (passing sequences of minor-7th and dominant-7th chords) on the A section in order to make things interesting for themselves (and in order to discourage lesser musicians from sitting in on the bandstand).

The component A and B sections of rhythm changes were also sometimes used for other tunes: for instance, Charlie Parker's "Scrapple from the Apple" uses the chord changes of "Honeysuckle Rose" for the A section, but replaces the B section with "Rhythm"'s III7-VI7-II7-V7 bridge. Other tunes, such as Sonny Stitt's "The Eternal Triangle", or "the Muppet Show Theme", use the A section of "Rhythm" but have a different bridge. Often in rhythm changes tunes, the B section is left free for improvisation even during the head (e.g. in Sonny Rollins' "Oleo").

Examples of Rhythm Changes Tunes

Here are copious Rhythm Changes tunes. This list is adapted from http://abel.hive.no/oj/musikk/trompet/tpin/rhytm-changes.html

Allen's Alley (AKA Wee) by Denzil Best 
Almost by David Baker 
Anthropology (AKA Thrivin' From a Riff) by Charlie Parker/Dizzy Gillespie 
Apple Honey by Woody Herman 
Bop Kick by Nat Cole 
Boppin' a Riff by Sonny Stitt 
Brown Gold by Art Pepper 
Bud's Bubble by Bud Powell 
Call the Police by Nat Cole 
Calling Dr. Jazz by Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis 
Celerity by Charlie Parker 
Chant of the Groove by Coleman Hawkins 
Chasin' the Bird by Charlie Parker 
Cheers by Charlie Parker 
Constellation by Charlie Parker 
Coolie Rini by Howard McGhee 
Coppin' the Bop by J.J. Johnson 
Cottontail by Duke Ellington 
Delerium by Tadd Dameron 
Dexter's Deck by Dexter Gordon 
Dexterity by Charlie Parker 
Don't Be That Way by Edgar Sampson 
Dorothy by Howard McGhee 
The Duel by Dexter Gordon 
Eb Pob by Fats Navarro/Leo Parker 
Fat Girl by Fats Navarro 
Father Steps In by Dixon/Randall/Hines/Fox 
Fifty Second Street Theme by Thelonius Monk 
The Flintstones by Hoyt Curtain 
Fox Hunt by J.J. Johnson 
Goin' To Minton's by Fats Navarro 
Good Queen Bess by Duke Ellington 
The Goof and I by Al Cohn 
Hamp's Paws by Hampton Hawes 
Harlem Swing by Nat Cole 
Hollerin' and Screamin' by Eddie Davis 
I'm an Errand Boy for Rhythm by Nat Cole 
In Walked Horace by J.J. Johnson 
Jay Jay by J.J. Johnson 
Jaybird by J.J. Johnson 
The Jeep is Jumpin' by Duke Ellington 
Jug Handle by Gene Ammons 
Juggernaut by Gene Ammons 
Juggin' Around by Frank Foster 
Jumpin' at the Woodside by Count Basie 
Lemon Drop by George Wallington 
Lester Leaps In by Lester Young 
Lila Mae by Nat Cole 
The Little Man on the White Keys by Nat Cole 
Miss Thing by Count Basie 
Moody Speaks (original version) by James Moody /Dave Burns 
Moody's Got Rhythm by James Moody 
Moose the Mooche by Charlie Parker 
Mop, Mop by Gaillard/Stewert/Tatum 
Newk's Fadeway by Sonny Rollins 
No Moe by Sonny Rollins 
Northwest Passage by Herman/Jackson/Burns 
O Go Mo by Sonny Rollins 
Oleo by Sonny Rollins 
On the Scene by Gillespie/Fuller/Roberts 
One Bass Hit by Dizzy Gillespie 
Opp-Bop-Sha-Bam by Dizzy Gillespie 
An Oscar for Treadwell by Dizzy Gillespie 
Ow by Charlie Greenlea 
Passport by Charlie Parker 
Raid the Joint by Erskine Hawkins 
Red Cross by Charlie Parker 
Rhythm in a Riff by Billy Eckstine 
Rhythm Sam by Nat Cole 
Rhythm-a-ning by Thelonius Monk 
Salt Peanuts by Dizzy Gillespie 
Seven Come Eleven by Charlie Christian 
Shag by Sidney Bechet 
Shaw Nuff by Dizzy Gillespie 
Shoo Shoo Baby by Phil Moore 
Solid Potato Salad by DePaul/Prince/Raye 
Sonnyside by Sonny Stitt 
Squatty Roo by Johnny Hodges 
Stay On It by Tadd Dameron 
Steeplechase by Charlie Parker 
Straighten Up and Fly Right by Nat Cole 
The Street Beat by C. Thompson / Robert Mellin 
Strictly Confidential by Bud Powell 
Swedish Schnapps by Charlie Shavers 
Swing Spring by J.J. Johnson 
Swingin' With Diane by Art Pepper 
Syntax by J.J. Johnson 
Ta-de-ah by Nat Cole 
The Theme by Miles Davis 
Tiptoe by Thad Jones 
Turnpike by J.J. Johnson 
Wail by Bud Powell 
Webb City by Bud Powell 
Wee (AKA Allen's Alley) by Dizzy Gillespie 
Who's Who by Art Farmer 
Wire Brush Stomp by Gene Krupa 
XYZ by Budd Johnson 
Yeah Man by J. Russel Robinson
(Courtesy of Wikipedia)

The Rhythm Changes consist of a 32-bar harmonic structure following the A-A-B-A song form. The standard rhythm changes are shown below in the key of C.

A section

C / Am7 / Dm7 / G7 / C / Am7 / Dm7 / G7 /
C / C7 / F / F#o7 / C / G7 / C / / /

B section

E7 / / / / / / / A7 / / / / / / /
D7 / / / / / / / G7 / / / / / / /


Hear a midi of a typical Rhythm Changes progression by clicking here.

Click below for the best in free Rhythm Changes lessons available on the web as well as links to various examples.

Lessons

Rhythm Changes (A Jazz Improvisation Primer)
Rhythym Changes
Rhythm Changes (jazzguitar.be)
Rhythm Changes (Peter Thomas)
Rhythm Changes (Tomas Karlsson )
Rhythm Changes (WholeNote)
Working The Changes (WholeNote)

Song Examples

I Got Rhythm (MoneyChords)
Rhythm Changes Chart #1
Rhythm Changes Chart #2


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