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Discussion Starter #1
I've been plunging into the depths of jazz standards recently. And browsing through all the information in my books and online. It seems that all information on tonal centers is focusing on the circle of fifths. And it's a great tool but how do I find the tonal center in songs where the circle of fifth method do not apply?

The circle of fifth method I'm referring to is where you find the dominant chord and back counterclockwise. Or try to spot chords clockwise and counterclockwise and the chord in the middle is your tonic. But after looking at a song like stella by starlight it's hard to apply that. or does the song change key every other measure?
 

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Absolutely a tune can change key centre every couple of bars. It helps if you can find a IIm7 V7 I, or at least a V7 I because that is a perfect cadence and signals a new key centre. Sometimes there isn't a I, the V7 can go to a substitute for a I (IIm7 or VIm7 being popular candidates. In classical music that's an interrupted or "surprise" cadence. Sometimes a IIm7 V7 just slams straight into another IIm7 V7 of a different key centre, so yes, it can be a bit of a minefield.

When you get an extended cycle of dominant 7s though, you can either think of a whole load of quickly changing key centres, but every often it is just a collection of secondary dominants, so A7, D7, G7 C, can be considered all in the key centre of C. However if each bar goes on for quite a while (e.g. for two bars as in the bridge of I Got Rhythm) then it can be easier to think of four different key centres.

A bit of a minefield isn't it?
 

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Discussion Starter #3
Haha. It's a bit daunting when I'm struggling with keeping all the scales in my head at the same time. I've managed to mask when I play guitar using a whole bunch of triads and safe bets.

But I'm not that safe with the saxophone yet. Plus I've never been that into standards before, I used to play mostly my own songs. But I guess I just have to sit down and brake stuff down measure by measure for a while.

Learning is always fun afterwards.
 

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Pete's advice is right on the money. IMO better not to think about the chords themselves, but to consider them in the context of what is happening musically. In order for me to be comfortable soloing and have something to say other than a bunch of cliche's, I have to have the melody ingrained and the harmonic structure down cold. That doesn't necessarily mean one has to know theory cold (although for me it is helpful) but the ear/brain connection must understand where one is and where one is going musically otherwise .......

Even Trane's "Giant Steps" seems daunting at first but once one thinks about the key and the changes of same then it becomes quite straightforward.

I find it very useful to practice slowly with scales in mind at times but completely and utterly counterproductive to think of scales or chords or even key signatures when I am playing. If my attention is not 100% focussed on what is going on around me I tend to rely more and more or cliched phrases and arps instead of restating the melodic idea.

I hasten to add I am not a million note a minute guy although I do enjoy a fast gliss or phrase when applicable so take that into consideration if any of my thoughts strike a chord. (sorry)
 

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collection of secondary dominants, so A7, D7, G7 C, can be considered all in the key centre of C.
Well said. All the ink on the page makes it look more intimidating than it really is. Same goes for all chord progressions. Eg: D- G7 C I just am thinking "going to C or have arrived at C".

All the quick chords are just colors that come and go and can be interesting.
 

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The D7 has an f# chord tone which while being an accidental in C major is #4 or b5 which is a pretty cool bluesy note

In the A7 there is a c# chord tone which is the flat 9 in c major. Definitely a handle with care note in c major
 

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The D7 has an f# chord tone which while being an accidental in C major is #4 or b5 which is a pretty cool bluesy note

In the A7 there is a c# chord tone which is the flat 9 in c major. Definitely a handle with care note in c major
I'm tempted to aim straight for those 3rds, but I don't think of their function in the "home" key centre at all. They are mostly just leading notes, so

instead of Am7 Dm7 G7 C, it's Am7 D7 G7 C and I would be tempted to land straight on the F# from the G of the Am7 use it (F#) to lead to the G of G7.

Mind you it's also a cool idea to use blues phrases over the whole lot, if appropriate so yes, the b5 of a C blues riff will fit nicely in that situation. You are correct, if the secondary dominate cycle extends back further to A7, more care would be required.
 

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Ahhhh Pete you are an artist and in Naked City CD I hear you moving tonal centers around implying one thing and teasing my ears by going somewhere else.

IMO any time I find a third or a seventh of one chord acting as a leading tone for another chord there is one of the golden accidental tension release moments that is so natural. Please accept my apology for the poor pun.
 

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Discussion Starter #10
I always get confused when music theory is discussed at forums hehe. But Since I posted I have worked ALOT and what I do is I usually write out all the chords on sheet paper and then I write the numbers under. I'm not that far into sight reading that I can spot all II V I's in real time. So when it's time for improv I look at my paper and It's a bit easier to track.

The further I get and the more I grasp I try to think less and less of the theory. For instance I usually play one chorus with my paper and paying alot of attention to the chords. And the second chorus when I feel a bit more confident I try to close my eyes and just go. I think the second method is really developing my sense of time and my ears.

I really like this forum btw!
 
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