Instructor
John Proulx
Quick Tip
Intermediate
21:14

Learning Focus
  • Songs
Music Style
  • Blues
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The classic tune “Georgia On My Mind” by Hoagy Carmichael and Stuart Gorrell is widely associated with vocalist and pianist Ray Charles, who made the tune his signature song. In today’s Quick Tip, Play Georgia On My Mind on Piano, John Proulx helps you get beyond the lead sheet when performing this beloved standard. You’ll learn:

If you enjoy bluesy, soulful piano playing, then you’ll love this lesson!

Georgia On My Mind: Song Facts

“Georgia On My Mind” was composed in 1930 by Hoagy Carmichael (1899–1981), with lyrics by Stuart Gorrell (1901–1963). According to Carmichael’s biography by Richard Sudhalter, the idea for the tune came from saxophonist Frankie Trumbauer. “Why don’t you write a song called ‘Georgia’? Nobody ever lost money writing songs about the South.”¹ Trumbauer even offered an opening phrase: “It ought to go ‘Georgia, Georgia…'” To which Carmichael sarcastically replied, “That’s a big help.”²

Carmichael took Trumbauer’s advice and even incorporated his suggested lyrics. The remaining lyrics were written by Gorrell, who was also Carmichael’s roommate. However, whether or not the song is actually about the Peach State is another story. Both Carmichael and Gorrell were born in Indiana, and Trumbauer was born in Illinois. Furthermore, the name of Carmichael’s younger sister was Georgia Elizabeth Carmichael. In fact, the song had no discernable ties to the South until 1960, when it was recorded by Ray Charles, a native of Albany, Georgia.

Ray Charles’ 1960 recording of “Georgia On My Mind” rose to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and earned him two Grammy Awards. In 1979, the state of Georgia adopted the tune as its official state song, replacing “Georgia” by Robert Loveman and Mrs. Lollie Belle Wylie.³

Georgia On My Mind: Song Analysis

In this section, we’ll examine important structural and harmonic considerations for students who want to learn to play “Georgia On My Mind” on piano. Understanding these compositional elements enables jazz musicians to more easily memorize and personalize tunes.

If you are a PWJ member, you can download the chord changes for “Georgia On My Mind” from the bottom of this page after logging in with your membership. Need a different key? No problem! PWJ members can use our Smart Sheet Music to easily transpose the chord chart to any key. Due to publisher’s restrictions, the lead sheet which appears in today’s featured Quick Tip video is available from our partners at MusicNotes.com.

Song Key

Even though Ray Charles usually performed “Georgia On My Mind” in G major, The Real Book published the tune in F major. Consequently, jazz musicians typically play “Georgia On My Mind” in the key of F major.

Like most jazz standards, the B section of “Georgia On My Mind” explores a contrasting key center—in this case D minor, the relative of F major.

🔎 If you are a beginner pianist, you can explore playing in different major and minor keys in our dedicated “Key Courses” inside our Beginner Foundations Learning Tracks (Levels 1–3).

Song Form

The formal structure of “Georgia On My Mind” follows the standard 32-bar AABA song form in which each section of the song is 8 measures long. However, in a performance setting, jazz musicians typically create their own personalized intros and endings, just like John Proulx demonstrates in today’s lesson. In fact, we’ll breakdown John’s intro and outro latter in this lesson.

To learn how to create your own song intros and endings using the same  techniques employed by professional jazz musicians, check out the following PWJ courses:

🔎 Jazz Intro & Outro Runs (Int/Adv)

🔎 32 Colorful Jazz Endings (Int)

Chord Changes & Harmonic Function

After identifying a song’s structure and tonal center, the next step is to begin to analyze the chord progressions. In this step, we use Roman numerals to identify the relationship of each chord to the parent key. These Roman numerals represent the harmonic function of each chord. In other words, the Roman numeral analysis explains how each chord is behaving in the context of this song.

Play Georgia On My Mind on piano (Chord Changes & Harmonic Analysis)
Chord changes and harmonic analysis for “Georgia On My Mind” in F major.
Understanding Secondary Dominants & Tonicization

Throughout the song, there are several instances of tonicization, an occurrence in which the composer introduces an element of harmonic variety by momentarily making a chord other than the 1-chord sound like a tonic chord. This is accomplished by resolving chords from outside the key to a diatonic chord that is inside the key.

We see the first example of tonicization in measure 2 where we find an A7 chord, which is not native to F major. However, the subsequent chord, Dm7, is the native Ⅵ chord in F major. Since A7 is the Ⅴ7 chord in the key of D minor, the movement of A7→Dm7 sounds pleasing in F major even though it uses a non-diatonic chord. In music theory, we describe the occurrence of A7 in this context as a secondary dominant.

In fact, there is even a bit more at play here in measures 2–3, harmonically speaking. The chord that precedes A7 is Eø7 (aka Em7♭5). Even though Eø7 is the Ⅶø7 chord in F major, it also has an important relationship to the key of D minor. Specifically, Eø7 is the Ⅱø7 chord in D minor. Therefore, the chord progression Eø7→A7→Dm7 sounds like a minor 2-5-1 progression (or ⅱø7→Ⅴ7→ⅰ7) in D minor. In our analysis, a straight arrow indicates that a given chord is behaving like a Ⅱ chord in another key. Similarly, an arched arrow indicates that a given chord is behaving like a Ⅴ7 chord in another key.

Throughout the song, there are a few occurrences where we have the progression B♭m7→E♭7→F▵7, or Ⅳm7→♭Ⅶ7→Ⅰ▵7. The inverted arched arrow (⤻) here that connects E♭7 to F▵7 indicates that this is a backdoor dominant resolution (aka: backdoor progression or backdoor 2-5-1 progression).

Georgia On My Mind: Piano Techniques

In this section, we’ll take a closer look at some specific piano techniques that John Proulx employs while playing “Georgia On My Mind” in today’s featured Quick Tip video. In particular, we’ll examine piano techniques in five categories:

  1. Thematic Intro
  2. Triplet Feel with Chromaticism
  3. Blues Piano Walkup
  4. Piano Riffs & Licks
  5. Bluesy Outro

Note: The examples in this section are not all exact transcriptions. In some cases, the melody has been omitted or simplified due to publisher’s restrictions. Also, John sometimes executes the same basic approach to a particular passage in more than one way as the song form repeats. In such cases, the notated examples that follow provide the essence of John’s approach, perhaps even combining aspects from multiple occurrences of the same passage. Finally, in some cases the rhythmic complexity of John’s performance has been simplified to allow for more accessibility.

Thematic Intro

As we mentioned earlier in our discussion of the form of “Georgia On My Mind,” intros and endings are not usually considered part of a song’s form. Therefore, these elements are usually not included on a lead sheet. However, an exception may occur when a song has a particularly iconic intro, such as “Take the A Train.” Otherwise, it’s up to the individual performer to come up with a suitable introduction for their performance.

One common technique that jazz pianists use to create an introduction is to use the turnaround progressionwhich features the chord progression Ⅰ→Ⅵ→Ⅱ→Ⅴ. In today’s performance, John’s intro uses a modified turnaround progression in which he swaps out the typical Ⅰ chord for a Ⅲ7 instead. Since the progression Ⅲ→Ⅵ→Ⅱ→Ⅴ occurs in several places throughout the form, this makes it a suitable choice for the intro. In addition, John incorporates a melodic motif that is reminiscent of the melody. This creates sense of continuity between the intro and the actual song. Furthermore, it subtly cues the listener as to what the tune might be. Then, when the melody arrives, the listener’s suspicious is confirmed, creating a gratifying feeling.

Let’s take a listen…

Intro

Play Georgia On My Mind Piano Introduction

This thematic intro incorporates aspects from the melody of “Georgia On My Mind” over a Ⅲ→Ⅵ→Ⅱ→Ⅴ progression.

To learn this left-hand stride accompaniment pattern, check out our course on:

🔎 Slow Blues Left Hand Accompaniment (Int, Adv).

Triplet Feel with Chromaticism

Two defining characteristics of the slow blues piano style are a triplet feel and chromaticism. In fact, these characteristics are woven throughout John’s solo piano performance of “Georgia On My Mind.” In this section, we’ll examine two representative excerpts.

Let’s take a listen to our first example…

Example 1

Play Georgia On My Mind Piano Triplet Feel With Chromaticism - Example 1

John plays a sweet fill in parallel 10ths over B♭m6 which reinforces the triplet groove while adding a touch of chromaticism.

As you can see, Example 1 incorporates chromaticism right from the start by leading into Dm7 with C♯º7, a secondary diminished 7th chord. This C♯º7 chord essentially functions as the ♯Ⅶº7 of Ⅵ. In our Quick Tip on Diminished 7th Chords–5 Essential Piano Techniques (Int), Jonny May calls this a “Lift -In Diminished Chord.” Another way to understand this chord is as an A7(♭9), albeit without the root (A–C♯–E–G–B♭). From this perspective, the rootless A7(♭9) functions as a secondary dominant. Therefore, secondary dominants and “lift-in” secondary diminished 7th chords behave quite similarly.

Example 1 also contains a bit of chromaticism in the 2nd measure over the B♭m6 chord. For example, on beats 3–4, consider the notes D♭→C→B♮→B♭ in the treble clef which move in parallel 10ths over the notes B♭→A→A♭→G in the bass clef. The underlying scale here is B♭ melodic minor (B♭–C–D♭–E♭–F–G–A). Therefore, the B♮ in the right hand and the A♭ in the left hand are chromatic passing tones. These chromatic passing tones serve both a rhythmic and a melodic purpose. Rhythmically speaking, these notes fill out the triplet grid.  From a melodic perspective, the chromatic passing tones strengthen the melodic character of the parallel 10ths gesture by allowing the melodic minor scale fragment to terminate with a scale tone in each hand on the downbeat (beat 4). To reproduce this tasty lick over any minor 6th chord, play ♭3→9→♭9→1 in the right hand over 1→♮7→♭7→♮6 in the left hand.

Now let’s listen to Example 2, which also contains the slow blues characteristics of a triplet feel with chromaticism…

Example 2

Play Georgia On My Mind Piano Triplet Feel With Chromaticism - Example 2

At the close of the first A section (0:59), John adds chromatic passing chords by “sidestepping” from C13 to A7(♯9♭13). He also reinforces the triplet feel with chromatic approach tones in the left hand.

In this example, the chromaticism is much more exposed as C13 moves chromatically down to A7(♯9♭13) through B13 and B♭13. The movement of C13→B13→B♭13 employs a technique that jazz musicians call sidestepping, where a voicing slides up or down in half-steps.

Rhythmically speaking, Example 2 uses chromatic approach tones in the bass line to fill out the triplet grid.  Notice that chromatic approach tones may move either upward or downward.

Blues Piano Walkup

At the close of the second A section of “Georgia On My Mind,” John plays a bluesy piano walkup progression. Let’s take a listen…

Blues Piano Walkup

Blues Piano Walkup in Georgia On My Mind

This bluesy walkup progression is a great way to signal the close of the A section and to prepare the listener for the contrasting B section.

Walkup progressions like the example above represent an essential harmonic convention of the blues genre. In addition, walkup progressions are also common in traditional gospel music. Not only do walkup progressions sound great, they help to punctuate the form, signaling the close of one section and preparing for the start of another.

For a deep dive on classic blue piano licks to play over a walkup progression, check out the following PWJ course:

🔎 10 Essential Jazz & Blues Endings (Int, Adv)

Piano Riffs & Licks

Next, we’ll explore some additional piano riffs and licks that John plays throughout his performance of “Georgia On My Mind.”

First, we’ll consider a bluesy piano riff that we call parallel Mixolydian triads. Another name for this technique is parallel modal shapes. Chances are you’ve heard this sound before, even if you’ve never known what to call it. Let’s take a listen…

Parallel Mixolydian Triads

Blues Piano Parallel Mixolydian Triads

In the B section, John uses parallel Mixolydian triads in second inversion (Fm→E♭→Dº) to evoke a bluesy flavor over B♭7.

Parallel Mixolydian triads are often used to form a bluesy riff over dominant 7th chords, in this case, B♭7. The riff involves adjacent triads from the Mixolydian mode, especially the ⅲº, Ⅳ and Ⅴm triads (Dº, E♭ and Fm). The riff often begins or ends on the ⅲº triad because it contains the 3rd, 5th and ♭7 of the dominant sound. When the ⅲº, Ⅳ and Ⅴm are placed in 2nd inversion, the melodic line moves through the 5th, 6th and ♭7 of the Mixolydian scale. In our example here, the parallel Mixolydian triads occur in descending order (Ⅴm→Ⅳ→ⅲº), therefore the melodic line descends (♭7→6→5)

🔎 For a deep dive on the Mixolydian mode, check out How to Improvise a Solo with the Mixolydian Mode (Int, Adv)

Next, we’ll look at another example that uses chords in parallel motion, except with parallel minor 7th chords. In this example, the parallel minor 7th chords (Em7→E♭m7→Dm7) represent another example of sidestepping that we mentioned earlier. Let’s take a listen…

Parallel Minor 7th Chords

Blues Piano Parallel Minor 7th Chords

John also uses parallel minor 7th chords (Em7→E♭m7→Dm7) in the B section to descend back into the minor tonic after the end of a phrase.

Finally, let’s look at a captivating reharmonization technique that involves a descending 2-5 sequence. This sequence is introduced in place of the original Ⅲ→Ⅵ→Ⅱ→Ⅴ progression. Let’s take a listen…

Descending Ⅱ→Ⅴ Sequence

Jazz Piano Descending 2-5 Sequence

In his final pass through the B section (3:36), John increases the excitement by reharmonizing the last two bars with a descending Ⅱ→Ⅴ sequence.

Bluesy Outro

Finally, let’s check out the climactic bluesy ending that John plays to culminate his piano performance of “Georgia On My Mind.” This gripping outro combines a walkup progression, altered dominant chords, slides, a rolled chord, tremolo and a reference to the melody. Check it out…

Outro

Play Georgia On My Mind Piano - Outro Ending

John’s climatic ending to “Georgia On My Mind” tastefully combines jazz and blues piano techniques including altered dominant chords, a walkup progression, slides, a rolled chord and tremolo.

In the final section of today’s lesson, we’ll survey some wonderful recordings of “Georgia On My Mind” throughout the years.

Georgia On My Mind: Recommended Listening

Listening is an essential step in the process of learning a tune in any style. Therefore, the final section of today’s lesson includes a carefully curated collection of recordings that will specifically benefit the student who is seeking to play “Georgia On My Mind” on piano.

Early Recordings

The first recording of “Georgia On My Mind” was recorded in 1930 by Hoagy Carmichael and His Orchestra, featuring Bix Beiderbecke on cornet and Jack Teagarden on trombone. In the recording, Carmichael himself sings the melody. The following year, the tune was recorded by several others, including The Mound City Blue Blowers featuring Red McKenzie on vocals and Colman Hawkins on tenor saxophone. This recording moves at a noticeably more relaxed tempo. Louis Armstrong also contributed an early recording of the tune in 1931, although his later recordings of the tune are more popular today.

Carmichael / Beiderbecke

“Georgia On My Mind” (1930)
Mound City Blue Blowers

“Georgia On My Mind” (1931)
Louis Armstrong

“Georgia On My Mind” (1931)

Standout Recordings

The most widely-known version of “Georgia On My Mind” is Ray Charles’ 1960 recording from The Genius Hits the Road.  Ray Charles’ recording rose to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and earned him two Grammy Awards (Best Vocal Performance, Male; Best Pop Performance, Single Artist).⁴ In 2003, Rolling Stone ranked Charles’ version as #44 on their list of “500 Greatest Songs of All Time.”⁵

With over 1000+ known recordings of “Georgia On My Mind,” narrowing down additional essential recordings is rather difficult. This is compounded by the fact that the beloved song is embraced by jazz, blues and pop artists alike. However, we’ve included two additional vocal recordings that are likely to appeal to jazz piano students. First, we have a live rendition by the Ray Brown Trio from the 1979 Concord Jazz Festival. This recording features Ernestine Anderson on vocals, Monty Alexander on piano, Ray Brown on bass and Jeff Hamilton on drums. Next, we have a recording by Shirley Horn from her 1993 album Light Out of Darkness (A Tribute to Ray Charles).

Ray Charles

“Georgia On My Mind” (1960)
Ray Brown Trio

“Georgia On My Mind” (1979)
Shirley Horn

“Georgia On My Mind” (1993)

Piano Trio Recordings

Here are three additional piano trio recordings of “Georgia On My Mind” that are sure to inspire jazz piano students who desire to play this tune. First, we have Oscar Peterson’s 1963 recording from Night Train. Next, we have Keith Jarrett’s 1985 live performance at the Jazz Jamboree in Poland. Finally, we have a recent 2022 recording from a trio entitled 3 More Sounds, which features Robert Turner on piano, Henry Franklin on bass and Carl Burnett on drum. The group 3 More Sounds pays tribute to the legendary 1960s trio The Three Sounds, which was led by soul jazz pianist Gene Harris. In fact, Carl Burnett played with The Three Sounds from 1968–1973 as did Henry Franklin from 1969–1970.

Oscar Peterson Trio

“Georgia On My Mind” (1963)
Keith Jarrett Trio

“Georgia On My Mind” (1985)
3 More Sounds

“Georgia On My Mind” (2022)

Incidentally, if you haven’t heard the solo piano cover of “Georgia On My Mind” by Jonny May, then be sure to check that out as well!

Conclusion

Congratulations, you’ve completed today’s lesson on Play Georgia On My Mind on PianoWith the tips and tricks that you’ve learned in today’s lesson, you’re well on your way to performing this classic standard with a professional sound.

If you enjoyed today’s lesson, then you will also enjoy the following PWJ resources:

 

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

 

 

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¹ Sudhalter Richard M. Stardust Melody : The Life and Music of Hoagy Carmichael. Oxford University Press 2004.

² Gioia Ted. The Jazz Standards : A Guide to the Repertoire. Oxford University Press 2012.

³ “Georgia on My Mind.” State Symbols USA, 1 Sept. 2023.

“Artist: Ray Charles.” Grammy.com, Recording Academy.

⁵ Rolling Stone. “500 Greatest Songs of All Time (2004).” Rollingstone.com, Penske Media Corporation, 11 Dec. 2023.


Writer
Michael LaDisa

Michael LaDisa graduated from the University of North Texas with a major in Music Theory & Composition. He lives in Chicago where he operates a private teaching studio and performs regularly as a solo pianist. His educational work with students has been featured on WGN-TV Evening News, Fox 32 Good Day,...

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