The Sharp Four Walkdown Jazz Chord Progression
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What happens when you tell a child, “Guess what, I have a surprise!?” Immediately, their eyes light up as their eyebrow raise. Their attention becomes gripped on experiencing the surprise. That’s because good surprises always bring fun and excitement. This is also precisely why jazz musicians love to play chord substitutions. Chord substitutions have a way of adding irresistible excitement and fun to familiar tunes. In today’s Quick Tip, John Proulx demonstrates how jazz piano students can substitute The Sharp Four Walkdown Jazz Chord Progression on familiar jazz standards like “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” and “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love.” In today’s lesson, you’ll learn:
- What is a Walkdown Chord Progression?
- Example: Substitution with Walkdown Jazz Chord Progression
- How to Apply a Walkdown Chord Substitution
Would you like to see your audience’s eyes light up with childlike delight? Try giving them a surprise!
Intro to the Walkdown Jazz Chord Progression
In today’s lesson, John Proulx teaches intermediate and advanced piano students a favorite chord substitution technique of professional jazz pianists—the Sharp Four Walkdown. However, if you are more of a beginner, John has included a surprise for you too! Just look for the examples with the Root-3-7 label. These examples allow you to play this pro jazz chord progression with voicings that only require 3 notes!
Today’s lesson is in the key of C major. In fact, you can download the complete lesson sheet PDF and backing tracks from the bottom of this page after logging in with your membership. You can also easily transpose this lesson to another key using our Smart Sheet Music.
Now, let’s talk about what the Sharp Four Walkdown jazz chord progression is and hear how it sounds on piano.
A “walkdown chord progression” is any chord progression that features a descending bass line with stepwise motion. In particular, blues, jazz and gospel music make frequent use of walkdowns. Musically speaking, walkdown chord progressions generally approach the tonic chord at the end of a tune or the V chord at a turnaround. Many walkdown progressions make use of chord substitutions, inversions and borrowed chords to achieve the desired bass line movement.
Practically speaking, on many occasions in which a Sharp Four Walkdown is used, the progression is not specifically indicated on the lead sheet. In other words, a Sharp Four Walkdown progression is more commonly introduced by jazz musicians themselves as a means of reharmonization. In particular, the ♯IVø7 chord itself is a chord substitution for the tonic chord.
Jazz musicians commonly apply the Sharp Four Walkdown to the Extended Turnaround progression. You can hear the Extended Turnaround progression in the following clips:
“The Can’t Take That Away From Me”
“You Are the Sunshine of My Life”
Dave Koz & Friends
The Extended Turnaround is also in dozens of other jazz standards, including: “How About You?,” “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love,” “Teach Me Tonight” and “The More I See You.” In fact, we have two full-length courses to help you master this important progression. Be sure to check out Extended Turnaround Improv (Level 2, Level 3) to learn more.
Next, you’ll learn which chords are used in the Extended Turnaround progression. You’ll also get to hear how the Sharp Four Walkdown can give this common jazz chord progression an element of surprise.
Extended Turnaround Progression
Sharp Four Walkdown Progression
Pretty cool, huh? Let’s take a closer look at that ♯IVm7(♭5) chord. The Sharp Four Walkdown begins on a half-diminished chord whose root is the raised 4th tone with respect to the key. We call that note the “sharp four” or “♯4” and the chord built on that note is the “#4 half-diminished.” For example, in C major, the fourth scale tone is F. Therefore, the sharp four note is F♯. To play a sharp four walkdown in C major, we would begin with an F♯ half diminished chord (F♯–A–C–E). Keep in mind, the chord symbol for this chord can appear as F♯ø7 or F♯m7(♭5). This chord shares three common tones with C6 (C–E–G–A) which makes it a great substitute!
So far, you’ve learned what a walkdown jazz chord progression is and where it can be applied. Next, you’ll learn how to apply this chord substitution yourself.
The Sharp Four Walkdown jazz chord progression can be applied with 4 steps on any tune that used the Extended Turnaround.
As John Proulx mentions in today’s Quick Tip video, the Sharp Four Walkdown usually is played on the final “A section” of a tune in AABA form. By placing it later in the form, you are setting up the element of surprise. The audience will need to have already heard the original progression several times to notice the change. So you’ll want to begin your tune with the original extend turnaround progression.
The following examples present the original chord progression for beginner and intermediate levels. The beginner version uses jazz piano chord shells which give an authentic jazz sound with accessible, 3-note voicings. These voicings contain the 7th and 3rd in the right hand with the root in the left hand. On the other hand, the intermediate level includes chord extensions and chord alterations for a more professional jazz piano sound.
Beginner Step 1: Extended Turnaround
To learn more about how to voice 7th chords with chord shells like the example above, check out our Chord Shell & Guide Tone Exercises (Level 2) course.
Intermediate Step 1: Extended Turnaround
If you want to learn how to build jazz piano chords like the example above, check out the following courses:
Once you have the Extended Turnaround progression in your ear and under your fingers, you’re ready for step 2.
The second step to apply the Sharp Four Walkdown is to replace the tonic chord (the I chord) with a ♯IVø7 chord. As we have already discovered, this chord is F♯ø7. Like all half-diminshed chords, F♯ø7 contains a minor 3rd, a diminished 5th and a minor 7th—or as jazz musicians prefer to think, the ♭3, ♭5 and ♭7. These notes are (F♯–A–C–E). To play a chord shell for F♯ø7, we’ll use the Root, 3rd and 7th. However, in order to keep good voice leading, we’ll place the 3rd on top so that it connects smoothly to our F7 chord shell from the previous example.
Beginner Step 2: Sharp Four Substitution
If you are an intermediate level pianist or higher, you might be wondering which chord extensions to add to a half-diminished chord. However, many professional jazz pianists simply play the Root-3rd-5th and 7th on half-diminished chords. This is because the chord already has plenty of internal tension. In this scenario, the R-3-5-7 half-diminished voicing sounds great already. We’ll simply play the root in the left hand and the remaining three notes in the right hand. Therefore, your intermediate level substitution will look like the example below.
Intermediate Step 2: Sharp Four Substitution
The third step to apply the Sharp Four Walkdown is to chose which chords you’ll play for the rest of the progression. You don’t necessarily need to change anything else, but you do have some options. For example, it’s nice to continue the bass line movement with descending stepwise motion. To accomplish this, John employs a tritone substitution for A7 in the original progression.
A tritone is an interval that spans three whole steps. Tritone substitution is a jazz arranging technique in which you swap dominant 7th chords that are a tritone apart from each other. For example, since E♭7 is a tritone away from A7, we can use E♭7 instead. This allows the bass line to continue descending chromatically: F♯–F♮–E–E♭–D.
If this is your first encounter with a tritone substitution, don’t be discouraged if it sounds a bit confusing. In fact, that is pretty much everyone’s experience the first time. Just make note of it for now, and when you are ready, check out our course Passing Chords & Reharmonization 2 (Level 3). However, here’s a quick over view of how the tritone substitution works: both A7 and E♭7 share the same guide tones—a term that refers to the 3rd and 7th of a chord. For example, the guide tones for A7 are C♯ and G. Likewise, the guide tones for E♭7 are G and D♭. Since C♯ and D♭ are enharmonically equivalent, these notes are exactly the same. Therefore, the substitution resolves very smoothly. In fact, if you look closely at our example, you’ll discover that the root is the only note that is different!
Beginner Step 3: Sharp Four Walkdown
Intermediate Step 3: Sharp Four Walkdown
Other Chord Variations & Techniques
In addition to the tritone substitution, you also have some other harmonic options from which to choose. For example, for the IV chord, you can play a dominant 7 chord, a minor 7 chord, or even a minor 6 chord.
In today’s video lesson, John Proulx also demonstrates using a technique that is described as parallel minors or sidestepping. This technique moves each note of Fm7 downward by a ½ step on the descent to Dm7. The resulting chord progression is Fm7→Em7→E♭m7→Dm7 (or IVm7→IIIm7→♭IIIm7→IIm7). For an example of parallel minors, see improv demonstrations 2 and 3 in the next section.
For our final step, let’s apply some jazz piano improvisation techniques to the Sharp Four Walkdown jazz chord progression.
Improv Example 1
Improv Example 2
Improv Example 3
Congratulations, you’ve complete today’s lesson on The Sharp Four Walkdown Jazz Chord Progression. While some of your favorite players may still catch you by surprise with this progression, one thing if for sure—you’ll know how to play along!
If you enjoyed today’s lesson, be sure to check out the following resources:
- Extended Turnaround Improv (Level 2, Level 3)
- O Christmas Tree (Level 2, Level 3)
- Passing Chords & Reharmonization (Level 2, Level 3)
- Play Piano Lead Sheets with Shells & Guide Tones (Level 2)
- Play Piano Lead Sheets with Extensions & Alterations (Levels 2 & 3)
- How to Easily Memorize Hundreds of Jazz Songs (Level 2)
Thanks for learning with us today! We’ll see you next time.
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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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