Improvising on Sweet Georgia Brown chord grid
Level : intermediate
Prerequisite : being able to bend and count on fingers.
Let’s go through quite a simple chord grid although not basic: Sweet Georgia Brown.
According to Real Book (a kind of Bible gathering Jazz standards scores), this piece should be played in the key of D, but actually you’ll find many versions of this tune in many other keys.
I’ve chosen the key of G, with a C harmonica. If you want to play the piece in another key, up to you to choose the harmonica you need according to this key (cf footnotes).
NB : tabs below to be played on a C lydian tuned harmonica.
Sweet Georgia Brown, chord grid in G
As you can see, this piece features 32 bars.
The tune has two parts (here, for example, in this version by the great Ella Fitzgerald), the first one on the 16 first bars, then it seems to repeat on the following 8 bars, and eventually there is a change on the 8 last bars.
This is quite usual, Blues and Jazz musicians often use series of 4, 8, 16, 32 bars to compose their tunes.
My goal here is not to go through a comprehensive explanation, I’ll only try to give you some tips to undestand how it works.
As any Jazz standard, Sweet Georgia Brown allows many different paths, from the simpler to the very complicated one. Of course, the more paths you know, the greater your chorus will sound.
We’re going to work on some of these paths, focusing on the first 16 bars.
My first advice : go slowly, work one option at a time, play around, try to mentally integrate it before moving forward.
And try to see the change when you move to the other track. Underline the added notes from one option to the other.
First option: the simpler way : G minor pentatonic scale
If you play the G minor pentatonic scale all along the tune, no doubt you’ll cope with it.
Caution : the last line is tougher, so listen carefully, keep it simple stupid and it’ll work.
G minor pentatonic scale on a C harmonica :
You can add the fifth flat, so D flat (holes -1′-1’, -4’, 7° et 10° for you, freaks) from time to time, to give a blues flavor to your playing (or if you just think it should sound well according to the chord).
Here, the 6° is particularly important : this is the note that will make the link between medium and low ranges on your harmonica. Harp players are often reluctant to play high notes because they don’t feel comfortable in making this link from the medium range. So here is the ready made solution, in this key : the 6° is your savior ! And if you add the 7°, you’ve the complete toolkit !
Second alternate option : D minor pentatonic
Interesting thing about this tune : you can play it either on Dm pentatonic or Gm pentatonic. Of course, you’ll get different sounds according to the scale you choose to play.
It’s also funny to mix both scales as you wish. And the beauty is these two scales are the most commonly used by harp players !
However, this will be a bit tricky here, more than the previous track. Focus on the notes of each chord (so spot them, the keynote at least….)
D minor pentatonic :
Third option : begin to follow chords
You keep on playing the Gm pentatonic all the way, except on the second chord, which is a C7.
On this chord, keep the Gm penta in mind (G Bb C D F), but replace F by E (E is in the C7 chord, while F isn’t)
So you play the F when you’re playing the G7 chord, then the E when you’re playing the C7 chord. It sounds great, you’re fully in line with the guys playing banjo and mandolin with you, who stare at you thinking how clever and relevant you are ! Bravo!
Alternate C pentatonic :
So, on a C harmonica, instead of -2” and -5’, you’re going to play +2 et des +5
All along the tune : -2 -3′ +4 -4 -5’ +6
except on the second chord : +4 -4 +5 +6 +6°
NB 1 : by the way, you can also play the same way on any kind of Blues, since any blues piece starts by these two same chords !
NB 2 : actually, we’ve already gone through this penta before, in the previous issue of Planet Harmonica cf Improvising on a dominant seventh chord
Fourth option : move from major to minor
This tune leverages the difference between major and minor, even if it’s a bit hidden by harmony.
The end of the tune looks like a chord progression in G minor.
But the beginning is rather in G major (the G minor pentatonic is ok because we use 7th chords, which work pretty well in this kind of tension). Moreover, this part is absolutely major (you can find major B third instead of minor Bb).
To make it short, on the G7 chord, you can also play the G major pentatonic.
G major pentatonic :
So we can use the following pentatonic scales to improvise :
1rst line, major G pentatonic : -2 -3 ‘ ‘ -3 -4 +5 +6
2nd line, we use the second option, the C major pentatonic : +4 -4 +5 +6 +6°
3rd line : I use the Major F pentatonic : -2 ‘ ‘ -2 -3 ‘ ‘ +4 -4 -5
and the G minor pentatonic on all the remaining part of the tune : -2 -3’ +4 -4 -5’ +6
Fifth option :
Ok, now, let’s go back to the fourth option, and let’s add something else on the third line, in order to better stick to the grid.
1rst line : major G pentatonic : -2 -3 ‘ ‘ -3 -4 +5 +6
2nd line : second path, maj C : +4 -4 +5 +6 +6°
3rd line : I play the major F pentatonic : -2 ‘ ‘ -2 -3 ‘ ‘ +4 -4 -5
minor G pentatonic till the end of the tune : -2 -3’ +4 -4 -5’ +6
Quite a nice agenda, isn’t it ?
Of course, you can mix every most of the options above (for instance, play the tune in Gm, except the third line of the 4th option, nice way to get used to this change before playing the fourth option as a whole).
EVEN SIMPLER : just think of the changing notes (keeping in mind the minor G penta behind, of course).
For example : mainly play the -3 on the first chord, then +5 on the second chord, then -6 on the third, and, in between, play the usual minor G pentatonic.
As you can see, I’ve chosen options based on pentatonic scales, it requires some intellectual effort in the first place, but it is really effective on a musical standpoint.
Despite appearances, this tune is less easy than it seems, however you always have the opportunity to go back to option 1 if you don’t feel comfortable, and then it turns really easy.
And no doubt you’ll feel on top of the world if, from time to time, you can play -3 on the first chord, +5 on the second, or -6 on the third !
So good luck, and keep blowing !
Note on the key change.
I proposed to play this piece in G on a C harmonica.
What if your friend the guitar player wants to play this tune in another key ? No problem, you just have to use the same tabs and change the key of the harmonica.
C (harp key) is the fourth to G (tune key). So if you want to play this piece with the same options than the ones above in another key, you just have to find the fourth to the desired key.
For example, if you want to play the tune in F, you need a Bb harmonica (Bb is the fourth to F).
If you want to play this tune in D, you need a G harmonica etc..