Analysis of “Satin Doll” - Introduction
Satin Doll is a great jazz standard that is an excellent example of a song that contains many II - V
and II - V - I progressions. You can improvise over the chord progression using mainly only five major scales.
Analysis of “Satin Doll” - Structure of the Form
The song is an A A B A form. The A sections are mainly in C concert and the B section is in F and G concert. This is a good example of a song that begins on the II chord of the key rather than
the I chord.
Analysis of “Satin Doll” - The A sections
The first A section (the first eight measures of the tune) is comprised of the following progression:
//Dmi7 G7 /Dmi7 G7 /Emi7 A7 /Emi7 A7 /Ami7 D7 /Abmi7 Db7 /Cma7 F7 /Emi7 A7//
The first two measures can be analyzed as IImi7 - V7 - IImi7 - V7 in C Major. The second two measures are IImi7 - V7 - IImi7 - V7 in D Major. Measure 5 is a IImi7 - V7 in G Major and measure 6 is a IImi7 - V7 in Gb Major.The easiest way to improvise over the IImi7 - V7 progression is to use the Major scale of the key which is found a perfect 4th above or a perfect 5th below the V chord. The Major scale of the key is used with both the IImi7 and the V7 chords. So the scales needed would be:
Dmi7 - G7: C Major Scale
Emi7 - A7: D Major Scale
Ami7 - D7: G Major Scale
Abmi7 - Db7: Gb Major Scale
Of course, you must give emphasis to the chord tones to identify each chord but you can more or less just move around in the key and you will be getting the general sound. Even better, try to use some digital patterns to get good melodic motion over the progression! You can find some ideas about digital patterns in my blog about the II - V - I progression.
Measures 7 and 8 can be analyzed as Ima7 - IV7 - IIImi7 - VI7. This is a turnaround progression that leads back to the IImi7 that begins the A section. The Ima7 uses the Major scale of the key and only one note has to change when you move to the IV7. The 3rd of the Ima7 needs to be lowered a half step to become the 7th of the IV7 chord. This creates a Lydian, b7 scale on the IV7. The last measure is a IImi7 - V7 in D Major.
The last two measures of the second A section simply stay on the Ima7 and use the major scale of the key. The first A and last A sections are identical.
Analysis of “Satin Doll” - The B section
The chord progression of the bridge (B section) is:
//Gmi7 C7 /Gmi7 C7 /Fma7 /Fma7 /Ami7 D7 /Ami7 D7 /G7 /G7 //
The first four measures are II - V - II - V - I in F Major and the second four measures are a II - V - II - V in G Major leading to a V7 in C Major. So use an F Major Scale on the first four measures and a G Major Scale on the next two. The G7 in the last two bars can be played using C Major (G Mixolydian).
Analysis of “Satin Doll” - A more complex treatment
Up to this point, I have been recommending “bracketing” chords with a single scale to simplify the process because there are less different scale colors to navigate. In a song like Satin Doll that changes key frequently, just playing diatonically in the keys may be the best treatment. There is enough harmonic interest in the key changes themselves without using any alterations. And V7 chords that don’t resolve generally sound better if they are not altered! However, chromatic embellishment may be used to create more melodic interest. Passing tones and single or double approach tones can add a lot of color and harmonic interest!
The two dominant 7th chords in the bridge do resolve up a 4th (down a 5th) so they present a good opportunity to try some different dominant 7th scales like Lydian, b7, Whole Tone, Diminished or Super Locrian.
When embarking on this more complex treatment, be sure to start at a slower tempo and try to emphasize the 3rds and 7ths of chords. These are the most important chord tones in any chord and bring out the quality of the chords (ma7, mi7, dom7,half-diminished, etc.). Listen to recordings by great artists, copy ideas that you like and incorporate them into your solo!
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