In simple terms, the tune is in three keys: B, G, and Eb (major 3rds apart, outlining an augmented triad), with each tonic led to by either V or II-V. Each melody note corresponds to a new chord. For getting vocabulary together, begin with 1235 patterns on each chord, and move to variations on those (5321, 3521, etc.)
I know this may seem obvious, but, memorize Coltrane's solo...at least the first couple of choruses. You'll see that his playing is very simple chord-outline stuff. You can tell very clearly what chord he is on at all times, making the memorization of the chords a by-product of learning the solo. It's also revealing to see how often he repeated his ideas. Doing this made the tune much more approachable for me.
Also if you haven't already done so, take note of all the ii-Vs in there. Once you see that it's just a bunch of ii-Vs it gets easier. The "only" thing unconventional is the movement by thirds.
I think you should be playing everything by ear. As long as you're playing music, anyway....
Giant Steps is just one of those things that you have to live with forever to start getting comfortable with it. Sing the triads when you're walking around, have them going in your head while you're in the shower, just live with them for a long time and they'll start to make sense.
A tune with similarly difficult changes that I'm trying to internalize like that is Inner Urge. The second half of that tune is craaaaazy hard to hear, at least at first, but after a while the progression starts to make sense. Joe was another brilliant idea man.
With Giant Steps you have to practice it very slowly. Use the patterns on each chord, 1-2-3-5, 1-3-5-3, 1-3-5-7, etc. Just work it out very slowly and after a while you will get the sound of the major third key relations in your head. When you get the sound in your head you will become more comfortable with the tune and can play it with some speed. Remember work very slowly at first and it will come.
And definatley transcribe solos on the tune. Obviously start with Trane but also check out how other players tackle this tune. check out Michael Brecker and Bob Mintzer on the album Twin Tenors there are two cuts of Giant Steps both are really cool. Also Kenny Garret on his CD Persuance and Mike Stern on his CD Give and Take come to mind right off. but there are lots of recordings of Giant Steps. Freddie Hubbard's tune Dear John is a contrafact on Giant steps. Good luck.
Play it SLOW! You just don't jump into an Indy car without having knowledge of every possible situation or how to drive it, do you? I have been working on it for a little while, I have the first minute and a half of the song memorized.
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