In this article I'll present 3 tips for playing "Rhythm Changes." What are "rhythm changes," you ask? The expression "rhythm changes" in jazz-speak refers to the chord changes that were used in Gershwin's classic Broadway hit "I Got Rhythm." The catchy, jazzy chord progression has been used by many other jazz artists who write their own melody over the same set of chords, resulting in a large number of what are referred to as "rhythm changes tunes." Notable songs using this chord progression include:
For this reason, knowing the chord progression from "I Got Rhythm" is an important area of study for all jazz musicians and is a topic that contains a wealth of harmonic information and possibilities. The tips presented here are meant to help jazz musicians develop improvisation ideas, as well as comping ideas for pianists and chordal players.
"Rhythm Changes" Tip #1: Memorize the Form.
Ok, this might seem like kind of an obvious tip but it's incredibly important and therefore needs to be included here. Check out the lead sheet below showing just the chord changes before reading on.
A few things to consider that will help you memorize this form quickly:
"Rhythm Changes" Tip #2: Turn the bridge into a series of ii-V progressions.
Instead of simply playing the bridge as two measures of one chord, practice inserting the "ii" of each "V" chord in the first of the two measures. For example, instead of playing (two measures each) D7, G7, C7, F7 try playing (one measure each) Am7 - D7, Dm7 - G7, Gm7 - C7, Cm7 - F7.
While approaching the bridge this way doesn't really change the chords or the harmonic progression, it does give you more options for comping and soloing.
Rhythm Changes Tip #3: Try some chord substitution using chromatic motion.
This is a fancy way of saying that we can slightly re-write the chords in a way that creates half-step (i.e., chromatic) motion in the chords and bass line. Let's take measures 1-4 of the 'A' section. Check out what we can do to the chords:
How are we able to do this? Let's talk through the chord substitutions above.