Rhythm Changes – How You Use Chord Substitution for New Lines

It can be difficult to have a large vocabulary of lines when improvising over fast moving chord progressions like Rhythm Changes. One way to access some more ideas is to solo over substitute changes and then get some more options by thinking the substituted chords on top of the normal turnaround.

In this video I will go over 5 variations and show how you can use those to generate new ideas for your solos.

The Basic Turnaround in Rhythm Changes

The basic turnaround in Rhythm Changes is usually a I VI II V. In the key of Bb major that would be something like this: Bbmaj7 G7 Cm7 F7

A line on this turnaround could be:

The line is using a Bb6 (or Gm7) arpeggio on the Bb chord and continues with a G7 arpeggio. The melodic idea is using that the Bb can be moved to B and for the rest stay the same. On the Cm7 it’s a descending scale run targetting the A on the F7. The F7 line is using the F7 arpeggio that resolves to D.

A few Dom7th Substitutions – Tritones and Diminished Chords

Two common devices are substitution are using tritone substitutes and diminished chords.

In this example a Bdim replaces the G7 which is the chord on the 3rd of a G7(b9). The F7 is repalced with a B7.

The line is first a descending Bbmaj7 arpeggio. On the Bdim it is an Abdim triad.The Cm7 the melody is a Cm cliche melody built around a Cm minor triad with an added 9. The final B7 line is a B major triad.

Tritone substitutes and altered dominants

On the Bbmaj7 it is also possible to use the arpeggio from the 3rd which is a Dm7 arpeggio. In this example the first part of the line is a descending Dm7 arpeggio. A tritone substitution  replaces the G7 with a Db7. The melody is a descending 1st inversion Db7 arpeggio. On the Cm7 the arpeggio used is a descending Ebmaj7 arpeggio. In this way the first part of this line is an ascending series of descending arpeggios. The F7alt line is a scale run in the F altered scale.

Reharmonizing beyond the original chords

Of course with a fast moving progression like the Rhythm changes it is possible to also use some chromatic passing chords. In this case the idea is to use a chromatic passing chord between the 1st and 3rd chord. It seems obvious that a Dbm7 would work well as a passing chord between Dm7 and Cm7. 

In the line I am connecting the chords across octaves to disguise the way that the arpeggios are actually moving down in half steps.

Making the tonic a secondary dominant

A great variation is to get a feel of suspension in the turnaround is to replace the tonic chord with a dom7th chord. This takes a way the feeling of starting home and replacing it with an altered dominant. The dominant is making sure that the line is moving. 

The melody here is first a stack of 4ths on the D7 altered. This is followed by a Bdim arpeggio on the G7. On the Cm7 the line is based around a Cm triad. It is in fact an inversion of the Cm line in the first example. The F7 line is a familiar F7alt/Gbm cliché

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Rhythm Changes – Substitution for New Lines

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