Learning Traditional Jazz Chord Progressions

Traditional jazz, like every musical genre, has its own set of patterns that help distinguish it from other styles of jazz. Getting into the chord changes of traditional jazz tunes shows that there are common patterns that a lot of this music starts with. Ivan, from Playing Traditional Jazz, identifies fifteen of them. Becoming familiar with these patterns will not only help you memorize tunes more easily but also help you improvise over these changes as you develop strategies for blowing over similar changes in the context of new tunes and different keys.

1. THE RED ROSES PATTERN
Definition: Tune begins on the tonic (usually two bars) and then moves on to the 7th (also two bars), meaning that in the Key of F the first chord would be F major and the next E major (or E7th).

2. THE SALTY DOG PATTERN
Definition: The tune begins (usually two bars) on the chord of the 6th note in the scale (e.g., a tune in the key of G starting on the chord of E or E7th). This is normally followed by the chord on the 2nd note of the scale, and then on the 5th note of the scale, thus continuing the ‘circle of fifths’.

3. THE GEORGIA PATTERN
Definition: The tune starts on the tonic, proceeding to the chord of the 3rd and then on to the 6th. So in the key of C, this would mean C major, followed by E7th and then A7th (sometimes A minor).

4. THE SWEET SUE PATTERN
Definition: Begins on the Dominant 7th, with the Tonic as the next chord. (Often this pattern is then repeated before further developments.) To put it simply, if you’re in the key of C, you begin these tunes on G7th (usually two bars) and then move on to C.

5. THE BYE BYE PATTERN
Definition: Begins on the tonic. This is followed by the 6th flat major, then tonic again, and then 6th. So in the key of C this would be: C – Ab – C – A.

6. THE MAGNOLIA PATTERN
Definition: The tune starts on the Tonic, then moves to the Tonic 7th; then the chord of the 4th note in the scale; and then the 4th minor (or sometimes dininished). So, in the Key of C, this would mean: C : C7 : F : Fm .

7. THE MY OLD MAN PATTERN
Definition: The tune starts on the Tonic chord and then follows this with the commonest chord progression of all – known to musicians as 2 – 5 – 1. So a tune beginning on the chord of C major, for example, would progress on to D major (the chord of the second note of the scale), followed by the chord of G7th (the dominant seventh – the fifth note of the scale) before returning to C major. A very satisfying 8-bar musical phrase can be built on two bars each of these four chords.

8. THE DRAGON PATTERN
Definition: The tune starts on the chord of the Tonic and then follows this with the minor chord on the third note of the scale.

9. THE SAINTS PATTERN
Notes: Everybody knows When the Saints. Its progression is instantly recognisable and fairly simple. But, as far as I know, it has not been widely used.
Definition: Starts with (what could be easier?) six bars on the Tonic chord. Then briefly the Dominant 7th. Then it uses the Magnolia progression (see above).

10. THE APPLE TREE PATTERN
Definition: Start on the chord of the Tonic; then move on to the chord of the 4th note of the scale; and then back to the Tonic. So in the key of C, the first three chords would be C – F – C.

11. THE LOVE MY BABY PATTERN
Definition: Begin with 4 bars on the Dominant 7th and then 4 bars on the sixth note of the scale. To put it simply, if you play the tune in the key of G, the first 4 bars will be on D7th and the next 4 on E7th.

12. THE BILL BAILEY PATTERN
Definition: First six bars on the Tonic, next eight on the Dominant 7th. Next two on the Tonic. Start second sixteen on the Tonic, etc. End 4 – 4 minor – 1 – 6 seventh – 2 seventh – 5 seventh – 1 – 1. The tunes listed below do not all stick to it 100%, but they do so as nearly as makes little difference.

13. THE TWELVE-BAR BLUES PATTERN
Definition: Twelve bars, essentially:
1 1 1 17th 4 4 1 1 57th 57th 1 1
Subtle variations within that pattern are encouraged.

14. THE FINAL EIGHT PATTERN (also known as THE SUNSHINE CHORD PROGRESSION)
Definition: In the Key of C, the eight bars would be:
F major F minor C major A7 D7 (or D minor) G7 C major C major
In other words:
Chord on the 4th of the scale
Chord on the 4th Minor (or diminished)
Chord on the Tonic
Chord on the 6th seventh
Chord on the 2nd seventh
Chord on the 5th seventh
Major Chord on the Tonic
Major Chord on the Tonic

15. THE MINOR PATTERN
Definition: Much of the tune (sometimes just the first part) is in a minor key.

For more information about these common chord changes, including extensive lists of tunes that use them, check out Traditional Jazz Chord Progressions. Special thanks to Mick, cornetist with the Low-Down Sires, for finding this excellent resource.

Chris

Thanks so much! It’d be great to see some examples/song titles along with these patterns, for example I know the Bye Bye pattern is for “Bye Bye Blues” but are there other songs based on that chord pattern? I couldn’t think of any. Also, are these names of these patterns names that are in the trad jazz vernacular? I know I’ve heard changes referred to as “rhythm changes” , “blues”, “Sears Roebuck”bridge, etc. but all these nicknames are new to me. Wonderful post, thank you very much!

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