Seeing jazz chord progressions in a tune

Question by Fred

Not having played guitar for many years, I’ve picked up my guitar again with the idea of learning some music and jazz theory this time around. I’m finding myself neck deep in theory and enjoying it, but also finding myself sinking deeper as I try connecting theory with practice.

For starters, I understand your discussions of chord progressions (II-V-I, etc.), but when I pick up a chord melody sheet — say your “Stella by Starlight,” for example — I see a lot of chords but don’t see the jazz chord progression as explained in the theory. Let’s say I want to improvise on a Chet Baker lick, playing it over a taped chord progression. In short, how can I ‘see’ the jazz chord progressions of a piece of music?

Does this make sense or am I missing something basic here?

M-A’s Answer:

Hello Fred,

Yes, your question makes total sense.

I believe what you have to do now is make sense of “small parts” of the tune you’re working on.

For instance, when dealing with “Stella by Starlight” you have to look at the first two chords Em7(b5) to A7 and think … “allright, this is a minor II-V in D minor” … and you have to do it even if the D minor chord is not present at the moment. Same goes with the next two chords (Cm7 to F7) and the next two (Fm7 Bb7). What parents keys do they belong to? Do you know where the melody is in regards to those chords? Can you play decent “chord grips” for each of those… in my opinion, that’s connecting the theory with the practice.

Here’s some more stuff for you to look at:

Using Stella as a example, here’s “What is a II-V” … the first 16 bars of the tunes are covered.

Even better: listen to PODCAST #3 on … at about 3 minutes I go through the entire tune “Stella by Starlight” in harmonic analysis. (Seeing how the chords how related to one another in the structure of the song).

I hope this helps. Please feel free to comment or ask further questions using the comment for below.


Marc-Andre Seguin
“Improve Your Jazz Guitar Playing with a Real Teacher”

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