I’ve been practicing for a while on Robert Hartig’s The Giant Steps Scratch Pad Complete,whose subtitle –155 Licks and Patterns in Every Key to Help You Master John Coltrane’s Challenging Tune –gives quite a precise idea of what it’s all about.
What the title and subtitle don’t say is how well the book is organized. Unlike most other pattern books,which take a pattern and transpose it along all twelve keys,this book takes the opposite approach:it contains twelve chapters,one for each key. The material is basically the same for each chapter,except that highest or lowest notes might be altered to fit the sax range.
Each chapter is 20 pages long and is further subdivided in two sections,which reflect Giant Steps’A-B structure,where A and B sections are 8 measures each. (Section A is what is usually referred to as the “Giant Steps cycle”.) Patterns in the “A”section of each chapter are 4-measure long and must be manually transposed by a major third down to cover the 8 measures,whereas patterns in the “B”section of each chapter are 8-measure long and require no manual transposition.
Both “A”and “B”chapter sections end with one page devoted to patterns over the augmented scale. This is interesting because you can play the augmented scale over the entire Giant Step progression without sounding too dissonant. (You can also sound too boring,if you play the augmented scale long enough,but that’s another story…).
My experience with this book is quite positive. Most patterns aren’t the kind of 1-2-3-5 pattern that you can find in other similar books and are more musical and less predictable than most Giant Steps pattern seen elsewhere. I should add that I haven’t practiced over it for as long as I wished. Even if the author explains that the book is the result of his own studies over many years,he himself admits he hasn’t practiced all those patterns in all possible keys,and in fact I doubt that many sax players in the world can ever play Giant Steps in any key. At any rate,if you want to be among that small elite,than this book surely gives you years of studying.
The unusual A-B structure of the book is intriguing,even though in some cases I found myself wishing I had all possible transpositions of a given pattern in one page,something that may make sense if you want to play “outside”or want to superimpose the Giant Steps sequence over a modal tune or a tune with a different harmonic progression.
The pages devoted to the augmented scale are welcome,for me at least,because I never practiced this scale as intensely as I wished. To be true,I would have liked to see more rhythmic variety,as most patterns just straight 8th notes,but tweaking a pattern to make it look like an original musical idea is part of every musician’s bag of expertise and it isn’t the goal of this book.
The author recommends to practice these patterns along with an Aebersold,however it is very impractical to do so,because the A-B structure of the book means that you can’t practice a pattern over an entire chorus. Instead,you should use a Band-in-a-Box file,which allows you to repeat portions of the songs. (Of course,this latter piece of advice assumes that you own BIAB.)
As a saxopedia reader,you have a third,better choice. To practice on Giant Steps I created a chord sequence with ChordPulse,and you don’t need to buy anything because you can download the free ChordPulse Player. You can now practice any portion of Giant Steps,in any key and at any tempo,without spending a dime,by just download this ZIP file. (I have described ChordPulse in this post and also prepared some common chord sequences,which you can download from here.)
You can order The Giant Steps Scratch Pad Complete e-book from Robert Hartig’s Stormhorn web site,where you can also find many other interesting articles related to sax playing and specifically on Giant Steps,such as this one.
Happy reading and happy practicing!