Unlocking the Magic of Jobim’s Harmony: A Step-by-Step Guide to ‘The Girl From Ipanema’ Jazz Harmony Lesson

Welcome to this jazz tutorial on Jobim’s timeless classic, The Girl From Ipanema. Let’s take a closer look at the intricate harmony of this song.

In this video we’ll see how Jobim’s use of out-of-the-ordinary dominant chords is simply brilliant. It’s no wonder why Jobim is known for pushing the boundaries of traditional harmony, always keeping us on our toes with unexpected but stunning chord progressions. No matter how much you think you know about jazz harmony, Jobim’s genius will continue to challenge and inspire you.

And stick around until the end of the video where I’ll show you how to download a pdf for today’s lesson.

In this video, we’re going to explore the unconventional chord progressions and clever pivots that make Jobim’s composition a true masterpiece. So get your ears ready and your mind open, because we’re about to reveal the brilliance of one of the greatest composers of all time.

So, what makes “The Girl From Ipanema” so special? Well, let me tell you, it’s all about Jobim’s interesting use of dominant chords! Dominant chords are usually used as primary or secondary V7 chords, but Jobim switches it up by avoiding these functions most of the time. Even when he does use them in the progression, he adds his own unique twist to keep things interesting.

Let’s take a look at measure 6. If you listen closely, you’ll notice that the chord progression is a reharmonization of a typical 2-5-1 progression. But instead of using the V7 (C7), Jobim gets creative and replaces it with the subV7 (Gb7b5), giving us a 2-sub5-1 path. Here’s where it gets even more interesting: normally, the subV7 is paired with the lydianb7 scale, creating a 7#11 chord. However, Jobim turns the #11 into a b5, making it a chord tone, and eliminating the natural 5 altogether. This little trick adds a unique flavor to the progression and sheds light on Jobim’s treatment of dominant chords.

At first glance, the G7 in measure 3 might seem like a V7/V chord. In fact, the V7/V is a great chord to use when targeting a 2-5 progression, which is just a V chord that’s been embellished with an interpolated ii chord.

Let’s take the example of the key of F major. The C7 chord is the V7, and we can target it with its V chord, which is G7. This tonicizes the V7 chord, which then resolves to the I chord, which is Fmaj7. This gives us a standard and effective progression: I – V7/V – V7 – I.

Now, if we interpolate the related ii before the V7, we get Fmaj7 – G7 – Gm7 – C7 – Fmaj7. This turns the progression into a Imaj7 – V7/V – iim7 – V7 – Imaj7.

But here’s where things get interesting. In “The Girl From Ipanema”, the G7 chord sounds much better when paired with the Lydianb7 scale, turning the G7 into a G7#11. This is a dominant chord with a #11, and thus turns the G7 into a II7 chord. And yes, the II7 is a real function!

This II7 chord is very closely related to the V7/V, but it’s a 7#11 chord. You’ll find this chord in many jazz standards, like in “Take The A Train”, and also “Desafinado” (another Jobim song).

So, the path Imaj7 – V7/V – iim7 – V7 – Imaj7 turns into a Imaj7 – II7#11 – iim7 – V7 – Imaj7. And if you listen to great jazz players, you’ll hear how they use a C# in their lines (the #11 of G7) when they improvise over that G7 chord.

But, as we said before, Jobim takes it one step further and reharmonizes the V7 (C7) chord with the subV7 (Gb7), and reinterprets the #11 as the b5 turning the Gb7 into a Gb7b5. This reharmonization turns this: (Imaj7 – II7#11 – iim7 – V7 – Imaj7) and turns it into this: (Imaj7 – II7#11 – iim7 – subV7b5 – Imaj7.)

This is a testament to Jobim’s genius and creativity, as he was able to take a common chord progression and completely transform it into something unique and beautiful.

But things get really interesting in the B section when we analyze the dominant chords B7, D7, and Eb7. At first glance, they seem to not follow any pattern at all, but a clue is hidden in the melody. When we look at the roots of these dominant chords, we see a modulation pattern of a minor 3rd up and then a half-step up, which is exactly the modulation pattern in the melody.

But what’s the function of these dominant chords? And where’s the tonic? The trick is to understand dominant chords as Jobim does. They’re not primary or secondary dominant chords, but rather bVII7 chords borrowed from the minor mode. The bVII7 is a great modal interchange chord that’s usually preceded by the iv minor chord, targeting the I chord in a progression known as the backdoor progression.  In fact, we could just replace the V7 chord with the bVII7 in a 2-5 progression if we wanted to, and that’s exactly what Jobim is doing. We actually have a whole video dedicated to the bVII7 chord so be sure to check that out after you finish watching this.

So, if we consider these three dominant chords in the B section as bVII7 chords, then they should all be paired with the lydianb7 scale, becoming 7#11 chords. By reharmonizing the Gbmaj7 in the first measure of the B section with an Ebm7 dorian, we now have an entire sequence of iim7 to bVII7 chords. Ebm7 to B7#11 is a ii – bVII7 in the key of Db. Modulating a minor third up gets us to F#m7 to D7#11, also a ii – bVII7, but now in the key of E. And if we modulate again, a half-step up, we get Gm7 to Eb7, which is also a ii – bVII7, only back in the original key of F major.

All these dominant chords are functioning as bVII7’s, and the first chords are iim7’s. We just need to reharmonize the first ii in Db major with a Gbmaj7. Don’t forget that the Gbmaj7 is the IV in the key of Db. And the IV chord is a very common reharmonization of the ii chord, both of them belonging to the subdominant region.

Once we understand this interpretation of the harmony, we can see how creative and tricky Jobim is at harmonization. The Gbmaj7 chord throws everyone off at first, because it seems like a modulation a half-step up, but in reality, it’s the IV chord in the key of Db and is actually functioning as a lydian chord.

So, the actual modulation is from F major to Db major, a major 3rd down. And Jobim gets back to the original key by modulating first a minor third up and then a half-step up. When we look at this sequence in the map, it becomes obvious what’s going on in the B section. The harmonic movement is exactly the same in all three iterations of the sequence, from the subdominant to the dominant but never resolving to the Imaj7 of the current key. It’s simply genius!

So there you have it, the genius behind Antonio Carlos Jobim’s harmonic progressions. If you’re fascinated by the intricate details of harmony in music and want to explore it further, I highly recommend getting the Mapping Tonal Harmony Pro app, available for Mac, iPhone & iPad. With its comprehensive features and tools, you can dive deep into the world of tonal harmony and analyze any piece of music you want. So why not give it a try and see where your musical curiosity takes you?

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