The Ultimate Shortcut to Rhythm Changes

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What does “Rhythm Changes” mean?

We refer to “Rhythm Changes” to a chord sequence made famous by George Gershwin’s tune “I Got Rhythm”. The A section of this tune features a two bar phrase with chords changing every other beat, like this:

I chord, VI chord, II chord, V chord.

In the key of C:

|| Cmaj7 Am7 | Dmin7  G7  |etc.

This sequence typically repeats and then varies in a myriad of ways for the rest of the A section.

I like to look at these chords as a “slice out of the cycle… look at just the roots: A – D – G – C! Can you find it in the cycle?

Why is it important?

This sequence shows up in a myriad of songs in a variety of styles. From “Anthropology” to “Straighten up And Fly Right” and “You and me and a Bottle Makes Three!”, rhythm changes are a formula we need to have under our belts!

Ultimate Short Cut?

Because these songs are often on the faster side with two beats per measure, it is considered a bit of a harder exercise for bass players. I do, however, have you covered… Start with the roots, and if need be, repeat them to create a “walking” feel. You can also do roots and fifths and roots and approach tones, but start here, with my ultimate mnemonic….

Make an X!




  • Thejohnnewton
    September 6, 2017, 09:24  Reply

    Have you ever played Cake’s version of “I Will Survive”? I believe it walks down the cycle plus it’s a really funky, fun, bass line to play.

  • September 8, 2017, 08:08  Reply

    Fantastic mnemonic! Especially helpful for jazzers who like to play it beyond the speed of most metronomes … and in 2! On behalf of 99% of the bass world 😉 THANK YOU!

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