Giant Steps for Inverted Keyboard: A New Harmonic Challenge

After the highly positive reactions my inverted Bach video had garnered, I decided to go for another "inverted keyboard" exploration and of course, jazz must come next. I've come across so many interesting sounds playing across the jazz repertoire but I decided to showcase a composition by the incomparable John Coltrane (whose 90th birthday is coincidentally today). When Coltrane brought Giant Steps to the studio in 1959, nobody could really play it except for him. It had a unique and fast-paced harmonic progression that would later be dubbed as the "Coltrane Changes" and until today, the Coltrane Changes are still considered a challenge for the emerging jazz musician and mastering them requires tons of practice. They have also been highly analysed and rendered mathematically due to their distinctive symmetrical nature.
In this video I perform Giant Steps on an inverted keyboard which brings out an entirely different harmonic function (the exact opposite to be exact) and therefore a completely different sound (yet very familiar).

ps: For those interested in the theory behind the inverted Coltrane Changes, a modest explanation with lead sheets will follow.

Inverting the Coltrane Changes

I have to admit that it's so damn brain-hurting to figure out what goes on when the keys are inverted. Try it for yourself and you'll see that after a while you'll start confusing the melody with the bass of the inverted melody and vice versa. As if Giant Steps' patterns aren't already confusing in different keys. Anyway, I finally got my head together and came out with 2 lead sheets. Why two?

(here's the trick):

  • Because when the melody notes become bass notes, they naturally affect the quality of the triads so the lead sheet with slash chords is the direct result of inverting the keyboard. In the video my right hand is playing the melody but the sound coming out is the root of the chords. (fig.1)


Fig. 1 [with slash chords] (click to enlarge)

Fig. 2 [lead sheet, best for upside down improvisation]

Fig. 2 [lead sheet, best for upside down improvisation]

  • The lead sheet without slash chords doesn't let the Giant Steps melody-turned-into-bass affect the nature of the chords and therefore depicts the exact inversion of the original chords regardless of the melody. This lead sheet is a better representation of the harmonic inversion of the keyboard and is the one to be used to study (and improvise) over the Inverted Coltrane Changes (that's if you accept the challenge). (fig.2)

Fig. 4 (click to enlarge)

Fig. 3 (click to enlarge)

Regarding II-V-I progressions, it is interesting to note that on an inverted keyboard a IIm-V7-I inverts into a bVII-IVm-I which makes total sense: the former goes up in fourths and the latter goes down in fourth (fig. 4). Minor becomes Major, Major becomes Minor.
As you can see in fig. 3, the voice leading in the inverted II-V-I is the opposite and therefore makes it resolve equally well.

If you ever found yourself using bVII-IVm-I progression because it simply sounded good to you, at least now you could pretend you have a brain that automatically mirrors things (unless you can prove it, obviously). 

- Tarek Yamani


Feel like getting challenged with some upside-down Coltrane Changes? 

Send me a request using this form and you will receive PDFs of both charts in the mail
(trust me, it's fun).

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