Cycle of 4th's

The cycle of 4th’s is movement based on the interval (distance) of a 4th.

On the guitar, that distance is 2 ½ steps (or 5 half steps).

When starting on the note C, the cycle progresses as follows : C - F - Bb - Eb - Ab - Db - Gb - B - E - A - D - G

Remember about enharmonic equivalents which are notes that sound exactly the same, but spelled differently.  Bb/A#,  Eb/D#,  Ab/G#,  Db/C#,  Gb/F#

This cycle is an important fundamental of Western harmonic motion. Most jazz standards contain harmony that moves with cycle 4 root motion. The common ii-V-I progression is cycle 4 motion.  

Memorizing this cycle and playing it on the 6th and 5th string of the guitar is a great place to start.

Musicians often practice material in all 12 keys by moving through the cycle of fourths. Scales, arpeggios, chord forms, and even entire songs can be taken through the cycle.

3 Note Voicings

In the world of jazz guitar, 3 note voicings refer to 7th chord voicings that have the 5th omitted.

A standard 7th chord contains 4 notes:  Root, 3rd, 5th, & 7th. Because the 5th of a 7th chord is the least important tone, it can be left out and the chord will still retain its quality and function.

Some situations/reasons to use 3 note voicings:

  • They are relatively easy to play
  • They can avoid "muddiness" in the lower register. 
  • They allow more "space" and you don't have to worry about extensions or alterations clashing with the melody or soloist.
  • More complex chords that have extensions and alterations can be reduced/simplified to 3 note voicings, making it easier to sight read chord symbols.

In addition to functioning well on their own, 3 note voicings are a great foundation from which to build more complex chords. I hope you enjoy these essential jazz guitar voicings.

3 Note Guitar Voicing (7th Chords without 5th).png

Ted Greene "Expanded Key" Harmonic Example

I stumbled across Ted Greene briefly talking about this concept in a Youtube lesson posted by one of his students. The lesson was looking at the jazz standard "Watch What Happens" and at the end he played this amazing example that really caught my ear. I had to transcribe it and wanted to share with everyone. It has such a unique sound and makes for a really hip ending. Enjoy!

free PDF download here

Count Basie Ending

The Count Basie ending is one of the most recognizable endings in classic jazz. It is simple, effective and one ending that all gigging jazz musicians must know. There are many variations of this ending; however, the example below is how Basie played it on piano. It is in the key of C major.

This ending works well for songs that finish on a tonic I chord that is preceded by a V chord. The example below shows the ending in the context of a ii-V-I in Cmajor. This progression (Dm7-G7-C) is outlined by a bass line, followed by the Basie ending and resolving to a C chord. There is an audio file for this example.

Tritone Substitutions- What Are They?

Tritone substitutions are a common harmonic device used in the jazz idiom. They are most often found in ii-V-I progressions, with the tritone substitution being used in place of the V chord. For example: In a standard ii-V-I progression in the key of C major, the chords would be Dmin7 - G7-  CMaj7

If we use a tritone substitution the chords become Dmin7- Db7- CMaj7.   (Db7 is the tritone sub for G7)


In these examples we are only looking at the Root, 3rd and 7th of the chord because these are the most important chord tones. Notice in the example below that G7 and Db7 share 2 of the 3 chord tones. The 3rd of G7 (b) becomes the 7th of Db7 and the 7th of G7 (f) becomes the 3rd of Db7.

The only note that is changing is the root, and that note is moving the distance/interval of the tritone (also called an augmented 4th/diminished 5th). This is why it's called a "tritone" substitution. It works because both chords have the same function, to move to resolution at Cmaj7. The tritone substitution adds a bit more tension to the progression and creates a descending chromatic bass line through the ii-V-I (D-Db-C).