Standards

Autumn Leaves Chord progression

February 8, 2009

Autumn Leaves is a classic jazz standard that everyone will come across at some point. This is one of the most popular jazz standards of all time and it is typically one of the first standards people learn to play. The song itself follows a simple 32 bar AB structure. The song features both a major and minor 2 5 1 progression and offers you a fairly gentle introduction into the world of jazz improvisation.

Let’s take a look at the autumn leaves chord progression.

A section (16 bars)

Cmin7 | F7 | Bbmaj7 | Ebmaj7

Am7b5 | D7b9 | Gm7 | Gm7

Cmin7 | F7 | Bbmaj7 | Ebmaj7

Am7b5 | D7b9 | Gm7 | Gm7

B section (16 bars)

Am7b5 | D7b9 | Gm7 | Gm7

Cmin7 | F7 | Bbmaj7 | Ebmaj7

Am7b5 | D7b9 | Gm7 | C9

Eb9 | D7b9 | Gm7 | Gm7

As you can see the tune can be divided up into two sections. The first eight bars of the A section are repeated making it easy to remember. The first four bars of the A section are a major 2 5 1 4 progression in the key of Bb and bars 5 to 8 are a minor 2 5 1 progression in Gm.

I will use this lesson to show you the easiest way to play over this chord progression, breaking each section down into the appropriate scale choice. Let’s start by taking a look at the first 4 bars of this song.

Cmin7 | F7 | Bbmaj7 | Ebmaj7

If you know your theory, you should spot that all of the chords in the first four bars are taken from the Bb major scale. In fact most of this tune is based on the Bb major scale.

The chords of the Bb major scale are:

Bbmaj7 Cm7 Dm7 Ebmaj7 F7 Gm7 Am7b5

As you can see most of the chords in autumn leaves are taken from the Bb major scale and so we can use Bb major to improvise over a lot of this tune. We can improvise using the Bb major scale over all of the chords in the first four bars. Like I mentioned, this is the easiest way to play over the progression. You can think in terms of arpeggios or modes if you like but I find it easier to think of this as being just four bars of Bb major scale.

The next four bars are slightly trickier due to the presence of the D7b9 chord. The easiest way to play over this part of the song would be to use the G harmonic minor scale over the first two bars and then revert back to the Bb major scale for the bars 7 and 8. Playing the G harmonic minor scale over the D7b9 chord yields the D phrygian dominant mode which brings out the b9 sound nicely.

Am7b5 | D7b9 | Gm7 | Gm7

The only tricky part is the B section is the turnaround which looks like this:

Am7b5 | D7b9 | Gm7 | C9

Eb9 | D7b9 | Gm7 | Gm7

The only two chords that we have yet to cover are the C9 chord in bar 28 and the Eb9 chord in bar 29. The easiest way to play over a dominant 9 chord is to use either the mixolydian scale or the dominant 7 arpeggio. You can play C mixolydian over the C9 chord and Eb mixolydian over the Eb9 chord.

Once you have mastered playing over the autumn leaves chord progression using the simplest scale choices then you can start to experiment with chord tones and arpeggios to bring out the sound of the progression even more. I will expand on this idea more in a future lesson and look at more ways to play over the autumn leaves chord progression. Good luck and enjoy this great jazz standard.

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