Giant Steps Bass Lesson: Mastering the 2-5-1

John Coltrane's "Giant Steps" is a cornerstone of jazz music, known for its challenging harmonic structure and rapid chord changes. For bassists, mastering this classic is a significant milestone, offering a deep dive into the Coltrane Matrix and the intricate harmony that defines this standard. In this lesson, we’ll explore the essential elements of "Giant Steps," focusing on the 2-5-1 progression and the harmonic framework that has made it a timeless piece in jazz history.

Scroll down for the free PDF with the chord changes, harmonic analysis, and bass arpeggio shapes.

The Coltrane Matrix: A Revolutionary Approach

The Coltrane Matrix, or Coltrane Changes, is a harmonic progression that Coltrane used extensively in his compositions. It’s characterized by a series of chords moving in major thirds, creating a cycle that challenges traditional jazz harmony. This approach revolutionized jazz and provided musicians with new ways to navigate complex chord changes.

For bassists, the Coltrane Matrix presents both a challenge and an opportunity. Understanding these changes requires a strong grasp of theory and the ability to move fluidly through different keys. The progression in "Giant Steps" moves quickly, often at a tempo exceeding 250 beats per minute, requiring precision and agility. The chord progressions are, however, simple with major 2-5-1 progressions throughout (and sometimes just 5-1 progressions).

Harmony in "Giant Steps"

At the heart of "Giant Steps" lies a series of rapid 2-5-1 progressions in three different keys. The song modulates between B major, G major, and Eb major, creating a sense of constant movement. Each 2-5-1 progression serves as a stepping stone to the next key, forming a complex but beautifully structured harmonic sequence.

For bass players, this means mastering the root movement and understanding how to connect these chords seamlessly. It’s crucial to internalize the sound of each 2-5-1 progression and practice them in various keys. This will not only help in playing "Giant Steps" but also enhance overall jazz improvisation skills.

Giant Steps for bass guitar harmonic analysis

The chart above is colour coordinated (or check out the borders or lack thereof if you are colourblind!). It represents the three different key centres and the different 2-5-1 chord progressions in B, G, and Eb Major. 

Giant Steps Chord Chart, Harmonic Analysis & Bass Arpeggios

Practical Tips for Bassists

  1. Learn the Chord Changes: Start by memorizing the chord changes of "Giant Steps." Break them down into smaller sections and practice slowly, gradually increasing the tempo.
  2. Focus on 2-5-1 Progressions: Isolate the 2-5-1 progressions in each key. Practice these sequences separately to build familiarity and muscle memory.
  3. Use Arpeggios and Scales: Incorporate arpeggios and scales to navigate the changes smoothly. This will help in outlining the harmony and creating melodic bass lines.
  4. Practice with a Metronome: Given the fast tempo of "Giant Steps," practicing with a metronome is essential. Start slow and incrementally increase the speed to ensure accuracy.
  5. Listen and Transcribe: Listening to Coltrane’s original recording and other interpretations can provide valuable insights. Transcribe bass lines to understand different approaches to the song.

"Giant Steps" is a demanding but rewarding piece for any bassist looking to expand their jazz vocabulary. By delving into the Coltrane Matrix and mastering the harmony behind this classic, you’ll not only improve your technical skills but also deepen your understanding of jazz theory. Remember, the key to success lies in consistent practice and a willingness to push beyond your comfort zone. Happy practicing!


  • Music Theory For Bass Players. This course goes deep into music theory and how you can use it to create bass lines, fills, solos, and a lot more.
  • Fretboard Knowledge. This free course will help you master all the notes on your fretboard. That's crucial for navigating chord charts.

For more on walking bass lines:

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