John Proulx
Quick Tip

Learning Focus
  • Accompanying
  • Composition
  • Improvisation
Music Style
  • Jazz Ballads
  • Jazz Swing
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Have you ever noticed that the last chord on many lead sheets isn’t the 1-chord? In fact, most jazz tunes in a fake book contain no endings at all. Instead, you’ll usually find that the final two chords are the 2-chord and the 5-chord (frequently in parenthesis). The ii-V progression at the end is there to take you back to the top of the form to launch into the solo section. So how do land the plane and bring everything to a close? Of course, you could simply end with a 2-5-1 progression. However, endings are frequently a place where jazz musicians like to display some harmonic innovation. Adding unanticipated chord colors to the final cadence grabs the audience’s attention. It also helps create a stronger sense of closure. In today’s Quick Tip, John Proulx breaks down 7 Beautiful Endings for Jazz Tunes. You’ll learn:

  • 7 Beautiful endings for any tune
  • Beautiful jazz piano chord voicings
  • Final arpeggio techniques
  • Music theory analysis supporting each ending

No ending? No problem. After today’s lesson, you’ll be able to confidently select one of several beautiful endings for all of the jazz tunes you encounter.

Overview on Creating Alternate Endings for Jazz Tunes

Today’s lesson topic is important for two reasons. Firstly, out of sheer necessity! As we mentioned, if you’re looking for the ending on a typical lead sheet, good luck—it simply isn’t there. Secondly, your ending is the last thing that an audience hears. Like an Olympic diver’s entry into the water or a gymnast’s dismount, an error here can drastically detract from an otherwise strong performance. So let’s take the time today to help you nail the ending on every tune, every time! Today’s lesson will be in the key of E♭ major. However, you can easily transpose this material to fit any key using our Smart Sheet Music. Also, the complete lesson sheet is downloadable and appears at the bottom of this page after logging in with your membership.

Before we present the 7 Beautiful Endings for Jazz Tunes, let’s first consider a typical harmonic structure that you will find at the end of a jazz tune. Borrowing terminology from the scientific method, the ending below represents our control group (the participants in an experiment that are not exposed to independent variables…in this case, the alternate endings). In today’s lesson, our control group is based on the turnaround progression (1-6-2-5). However, this turnaround has some particularly beautiful extensions and alterations followed by a concluding 1-chord.

Eb Major Ending - Control Group Melodic Harmonization Jazz Tunes Endings
Control Group: Typical jazz tune ending featuring ascending major scale harmonized with the turnaround progression.

While this ending is adequate “as is,” there are some opportunities to make it more aesthetically pleasing. Firstly, many jazz pianists prefer to end on a 1-chord featuring the rich color of the Major 7th or the Major 9th in the melody. However, our control group is not without reason for using an E♭6/9. Did you notice that the melody features ascending major scale motion?

Eb Ascending Major Scale Melody
Notice the melody draws from an ascending E♭ major scale.

The major 6/9 sound is necessary on the final chord in this case because the root of the 1-chord (E♭) is in the melody.  To simply swap the E♭6/9 for an E♭Major 7 would create the interval of a minor 9th (½ step + 1 octave) between the major 7th (D) and the root (E♭) in the melody. Minor 9th intervals create an undesirable dissonance that is to be avoided.

Avoiding the minor 9th interval
Major 7th chords are to be avoided when the root is in the melody to avoid the dissonance of the minor 9th (½ step + 1 octave).

Of course, it’s possible to change the final melody note (see below) but this lacks faithfulness to the original melody. As jazz pianists, our harmonizations should support the melody, not the other way around. Besides, the ear really desires to hear the completion of the ascending scale.

Don't Change the Melody! jazz piano arranging
As jazz pianists, our harmonizations should support the melody, not the other way around.

So are we simply stuck with the E♭6/9 at the end? If only there were a way to complete the ascending scale motion and end with the major 7th (D) in the upper voice without any unwanted dissonance. Great news—there is! Actually, there are several ways. The 7 Beautiful Endings for Jazz Tunes of today’s Quick Tip each address this specific issue.

Insert Chord Substitution Here Jazz Piano endings tunes
If only there were a way to complete the ascending scale motion and end with the major 7th sound without any unwanted dissonance.

7 Beautiful Endings for Jazz Tunes

In the previous section, we outlined the common problems associated with ending jazz tunes. These problems include:

  • Missing Endings in Fake Books
  • Harmonic Treatment of the 1-chord when the Root is in the Melody

The solution is to reharmonize the E♭ in the melody using chord substitution. Afterward, you can close with a final E♭ Major 7 chord. Note, the final chord can also be an E♭ Major 9 or E♭ Major 13 (as in the example above) depending on the voicing you select. The main point is to get that beautiful major 7th sound in the upper voice. So then, what are our options for reharmonizing the E♭? We can use almost any chord that contains an E♭ (or D♯ enharmonically). Here are 7 of the most common solutions to create beautiful endings for jazz tunes.

Ending 1: ♭II Major 7 – I Major 7

The simplest option is to precede the final 1-chord with the major 7th chord a ½ above the tonic. With respect to our key of E♭ major, this chord is identified as a♭II Major 7 because is is built on the lowered 2nd scale tone (F♭ = E♮).

Ending 1~bIIMaj - IMaj7 reharmonization chord substitution jazz tune beautiful endings
Beautiful Ending #1: precede the final 1-chord with the Major 7th chord a 1/2 step above the tonic.

Does this sound familiar to your ear? Of all the endings we’ll examine today, this one occurs most frequently. Did you notice that the ascending major scale climbs all the way to E♭in measure 3? However, in this case, it is spelled enharmonically as a D♯. It is important to note which chord tone the E♭/D♯ melody note is with respect to the chord substitution. In this example, the melody note D♯ is the major 7th of the E major 7 chord. In each of the subsequent endings, the E♭/D♯ will be treated as a different chord tone (3rd, 5th, 9th, etc). This is the essence of reharmonization.

Let’s look at another possibility for endings of jazz tunes.

Ending 2: ♭VI Major 7 – ♭II Major 7 – I Major 7

Our second ending expands on Ending #1. We are still approaching the final E♭Major 7 chord from a ½ above (E Major 7). Remember, this is the ♭II Major 7 chord. However, we’ve added an additional Major 7th chord prior to the E Major 7 using counter-clockwise movement around the circle of 5ths. On the circle of 5ths, E is in the 4 o’clock position. Since we want to approach E Major 7 using counter-clockwise movement, we will precede it from the 5 o’clock position—B Major 7. With regard to our key of E♭ Major, B Major 7 is the♭VI Major 7 chord.

Circle of 5ths Circle of 4ths
The Circle of 5ths is a tool that helps illustrate related keys and chords. Moving clockwise around the circle adds 1 # to the key signature. Moving counter-clockwise around the circle adds 1 ♭ to the key signature. Each point on the circle when viewed as a I chord is adjacent to its own Dominant (V) and Sub-dominant (IV) chords on either side.

You may be wondering, “Why counter-clockwise movement?” Jonny explains this common chord movement in detail in our Major 7th Chord Exercises (Level 2) course. In short, adjacent chords on the circle are closely-related. In fact, adjacent chords share several common tones resulting in chord movement that is smooth and satisfying to our ears. For example, take a listen to Ending #2 below featuring counter-clockwise movement from the B Major 13 (♭VI ) to E Major 13 (♭II) before the final resolution to E♭ Major 13.

Ending 2~bVI - bII - I
Beautiful Ending #2: precede the final 1-chord with ♭VI Major 7 going to ♭II Major 7.

Beautiful! Now, let’s check out some additional endings for jazz tunes.

Ending 3: ♭III Major 7 – ♭II Major 7 – I Major 7

Our third ending precedes the ♭II Major 7 chord of the previous examples with a different option. We can use the ♭III Major 7 chord instead to lead to the ♭II Major 7 chord. Let’s consider that one step at a time. For example, the 3rd scale tone in E♭ Major is the note G. Therefore, the ♭3 note is G♭. Consequently, the ♭III Major 7 chord is G♭ Major 7. However, keep in mind that we still want to preserve the E♭melody note.  Therefore, we will voice the G♭ Major 7 with an E♭ in the upper voice resulting in a G♭ Major 13 sound.

Ending 3~bIII - bII - I endings for Jazz tunes piano standards ballads jazz arranging
Beautiful Ending #3: precede the final 1-chord with ♭III Major 7 going to ♭II Major 7.

Wow! So far it’s difficult to pick a favorite. Each ending is so beautiful on its own. Let’s check out another classic jazz ending option in the next section.

Ending 4: ♭VII7 – I Major 7

Each of the previous examples used the major 7th sound to approach the final 1-chord. Our fourth ending uses a dominant chord quality instead to precede the final 1-chord. This example, however, does not draw upon primary dominant. For example, in the key of E♭ Major, the primary dominant is B♭7. While that certainly works, today’s lesson focuses on less-obvious options that still sound amazing. Therefore, our fourth ending uses a D♭7 to resolve to the final E♭Major 7. With reference to the key of E ♭ Major, D♭7 is the ♭VII7 chord. However, we still want to preserve our melody note of E♭, so we’ll need to add the 9th to the ♭VII7 chord. In the example below, we’ve opted for a hip quartal structure in the right hand that also includes the 13th. Therefore, the ♭VII7 is voiced as a D♭13 in this case.

Ending 4~bVII7 - I Maj 7
Beautiful Ending #4: precede the tonic from a whole-step below using the ♭VII dominant.

What a great sound! Be sure to check out the next ending too, which expands on this approach.

Ending 5: iv7 – ♭VII7 – I Major 7

In Ending #5, we’ll expand the ♭VII dominant approach of Ending #4. In order to do so, we have to work backwards here. For example, we want to put ourselves in the major key in which D♭7 is the primary dominant. Another way to phrase this question is what follows D♭ on the circle of 5ths using counter-clockwise motion? In either case, we gather that D♭7 is the 5-chord in G♭ Major. Next, we want to determine what is the 2-chord in G♭ Major? The answer is A♭ minor 7. Now, we have a 2-5-1 progression in G♭ Major. However, Ending #5 only uses the 2-chord (A♭ minor 7) and the 5-chord (D♭7) of G♭ Major. Then, we’ll resolve the D♭7 up a whole-step  to E♭ Major 7 as in Ending #4. Check it out.

Ending 5~iv7 bVII - I jazz endings jazz tunes backdoor chord substitution misty erroll garner just friends yardbird suite
Beautiful Ending #5: precede the final 1-chord with iv7 going to ♭VII7. Jazz musicians call this the “backdoor progression.”

The final three chords of Ending #5 represent what jazz musicians frequently refer to as “the backdoor progression.” An easy way to build a backdoor progression in any key is play the minor iv7 followed by the dominant ♭VII7 resolving the I Major 7. Alternatively you, can think of it as a ii7-V7 approach from the key of the ♭III. This progressions occurs frequently in jazz standards including “Just Friends,” “Yardbird Suite” and “Misty.”

Now, let’s explore some additional endings for jazz tunes.

Ending 6: ♭VII7 – VII13(♭9) – I Major 7

Just like the previous example, Ending #6 expands on the ♭VII7 to I Major 7 concept of Ending #4. As you recall, the ♭VII7 (D♭7) resolves up by a whole step to the I Major 7 (E♭ Major 7). This time, we’ll insert a chord in between resulting in root movement that ascends chromatically (D♭–D♮–E♭). We’ll use a crunchy altered dominant sound on the 7th tone (D) which allows us to keep the E♭ in the melody. The resulting chord sequence for Ending #6 shown below is voiced  D♭13–D13(♭9)–E♭ Major 7.

Ending 6~bVII - VII13(b9) - I Maj 7
Beautiful Ending #6: approach the final 1-chord with ascending chromatic root-movement from ♭VII7 to VII13(♭9).

That sounds fantastic! Now, let’s briefly take a closer look at that D13(♭9) altered dominant chord. What happens if we spell the E♭ melody note enharmonically as a D♯? Did you notice that the right hand is simply a B Major triad over a D7 chord shell (root + 7th)? This type of chord construction is called an upper structure triad. You can take a deep dive on this topic in our course Coloring Dominant Chords With Upper Structures (Level 3).

So far we’ve covered six beautiful endings for jazz tunes. You might have even identified which ending is your favorite. But hold on! You’ve gotta hear our final option before you decide!

Ending 7: ♯iv7(♭5) – iv7 – I add2/III – ♭III°7 – ii7 – ♭II Major 7 – I Major 7

For our final ending, we’ll use six different passing chords between the 5-chord and the the 1-chord to create a truly unforgettable ending! This chord progression is called a tritone down because is descends chromatically down to the tonic from a tritone above. The term tritone refers to an interval spanning 3 whole steps. This interval sound can be notated as an augmented 4th (ie: E♭–A♮) or as a diminished 5th (ie: D♯–A♮). Regardless of the spelling, the sound and distance is the same, even when inverted (E♭–A♮ = A♮–E♭). Therefore, the term tritone is commonly used to refer to this interval.

Now, let’s take a listen to Ending #7 using the tritone down progression.

Ending 7~Tritone Down Jazz Chord Progression Tunes Endings
Beautiful Ending #7: use a “tritone down” chord progression that descends chromatically from the ♯ivø7 to the I Major 7.

Wow, that sounds incredible! Let’s break down each of these chords. Ending #7 begins on the half-diminished chord that is tritone above our tonic chord of E♭ Major 7. With reference to our key, this chord is the ♯iv7(♭5), or Am7(♭5). This is followed by the minor iv7 chord (A♭ minor 7). Next, we have a I add2/III chord which refers to the 1-chord with an “add2” sound in first inversion (E♭add2/G). This is followed by a ♭IIIº7 “fully diminished” chord (G♭º7). Next, we get the ii7 (F minor 7). This is followed by the ♭II Major 7 sound (E Major 7) that we’ve come to know in Endings #1 through #3. Finally, the progression comes to rest on the I Major 7 chord (E♭ Major 7).

Final Arpeggio Techniques for Jazz Tune Endings

Congratulations, you have just learned 7 different endings for each of the jazz tunes in your repertoire. You’ll find that these endings will come in handy again and again for years to come. In this final section, we’ll show you how add a final arpeggio regardless of which ending you choose.

The idea of adding a final arpeggio over a chord symbol such as E♭ Major 13 can seem a bit intimidating. For example, you might be asking, “How do I arpeggiate all of those notes?” Actually, most final arpeggios draw upon simple triadic shapes. The trick is to know which triad to use. Ironically, it’s not typical to arpeggiate the tonic triad itself (ie: E♭–G–B♭). Instead, we’ll use the major triad built on the 5th tone (B♭) of the tonic chord for a final arpeggio. Therefore, our final arpeggios is a B♭ major triad (B♭–D–F). This triad contains the 5th, 7th and 9th of  E♭ Major 13 and works any time your final chord is a Major 7, Major 9, or Major 13. Now, let’s take a look at Ending #1 with a final arpeggio.

Final Arpeggio Technique Jazz Piano Endings
Final Arpeggio Technique: add a final touch with an ascending major triad built on the 5th of the tonic chord.

Well done! You have come to the end of today’s lesson. If you enjoyed this content, then you’ll love the following resources from our library:

Thanks for learning with us. We’ll see you again next time!


Blog written by Michael LaDisa / Quick Tip by John Proulx

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