Instructor
John Proulx
Quick Tip
Level 1
Level 2
Level 3
20:54

Learning Focus
  • Accompanying
  • Basslines
  • Chords
  • Reharmonization
Music Style
  • Jazz Ballads
  • Jazz Swing
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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:

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.

What is a Walkdown Chord Progression?

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.

Example: Substitution with Walkdown Jazz Chord Progression

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:

John Pizzzarelli

“The Can’t Take That Away From Me”
Stevie Wonder

“You Are the Sunshine of My Life”
Dave Koz & Friends

“O Tannenbaum”

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

Jazz Chord Progression Original Example

Sharp Four Walkdown Progression

Sharp Four Walkdown Jazz Chord Progression Example

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.

How to Apply a Walkdown Chord Substitution

The Sharp Four Walkdown jazz chord progression can be applied with 4 steps on any tune that used the Extended Turnaround.

Step 1: Original Chord Progression

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

Extended Turnaround Jazz Chord Progression for Beginner Piano
Step 1: Extended Turnaround chord progression with chord shells for beginner jazz piano students.

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

Applying the Sharp Four Walkdown for Intermediate Jazz Piano
Step 1: Extended Turnaround progression with chord extensions and alterations for a professional jazz piano sound.

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.

Step 2: Replace Tonic Chord with ♯IVø7

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

Beginner Step 2 - Replace Tonic with #iv half-diminished
Step 2: Replace the I chord in the Extended Turnaround with the #IVø7 chord.

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

Intermediate Step 2 - Replace Tonic with #iv half-diminished
Step 2: Replace the I chord in the extended turnaround progression with the #ivø7 chord.

Step 3: Choose Remaining Walkdown Chord Qualities

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.

Tritone Substitution

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.

Sharp Four Walkdown Progression + Tritone Substitution
Use tritone substitution to replace A7 with E♭7 to continue the descending chromatic bass line.

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

Applying the Sharp Four Walkdown -Beginner Jazz Piano
Step 3: Sharp Four Walkdown jazz chord progression with chord shells for beginner jazz piano students.

Intermediate Step 3: Sharp Four Walkdown

Applying the Sharp Four Walkdown - Intermediate Jazz Piano
Step 3: Sharp Four Walkdown jazz chord progression with chord extensions for a professional jazz piano sound.

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.

Sharp Four Walkdown Progression Chord Quality Variations for Jazz Piano
You can create different moods on the Sharp Four Walkdown jazz chord progression by varying the chord qualities.

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.

Step 4: Add Piano Improv on Walkdown Jazz Chord Progression

For our final step, let’s apply some jazz piano improvisation techniques to the Sharp Four Walkdown jazz chord progression.

Improv Example 1

Sharp Four Walkdown Jazz Piano Improv Example 1
Step 4–Example 1: Sample improv line over Sharp Four Walkdown progression. This line combines single note treatment with chordal accents that give it a big band flavor.

Improv Example 2

Sharp Four Walkdown Jazz Piano Improv Example 2
Step 4–Example 2: This improv line is based on a catchy 3-note melodic fragment in which the middle note remains on tonic while the first and third notes descend chromatically to match the 3rd of each chord.

Improv Example 3

Sharp Four Walkdown Jazz Piano Improv Example 3
Step 4–Example 3: This improv line features melodic sequence—a technique which repeats a melodic pattern beginning on different notes.

Conclusion

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:

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

 

 

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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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