How To Make Your Jazz Song Endings Sound Cooler

Jazz Song ArrangingIn today’s lesson we’re going to learn a technique you can use to make the endings to your jazz arrangements and songs much more interesting.

Most jazz songs tend to end with the typical II-V-I chord progression (2-5-1). We’re going to mess with this! 🙂

(Video piano lesson, tips, and music notation below).

Now, I love this chord progression just as much as anybody, but if we want to add some interest and uniqueness to our playing we’ll definitely want to find a way to create some variations on this standard ending.

My Inspiration For This Song Ending Lesson

My Sunday night gig had been cancelled and as a result I had a rare Sunday night free. Fortunately for me Barry Harris was playing at The Jazz Showcase in Chicago.

Sometimes misfortune can turn into fortune! 🙂

So, I immediately headed down to Barry’s gig.

It’s kind of funny that I had literally spent hundreds and hundreds of hours of my life transcribing and listening to Barry but I had never seen him live before Sunday night.

Let me tell you it was a treat!

Not only was his playing fantastic but he made sure the audience had a lot of fun too. At 82 years old he is still playing great!

One of the things I noticed while watching was that Barry ALWAYS had a unique or interesting way of ending his songs.

You thought they’d go one way but he always took them to an unexpected place. I loved it and had a lot of fun hearing his creativity!

So, in honor of Barry, in today’s lesson we’re going to learn a way to make your jazz tune endings more interesting.

Let’s get to learning!

I recommend you watch this short video first and then scroll down for more tips and the notation for the chords.

Normal Ending For It Could Happen To YouIt Could Happen To You Jazz Ending

(click to expand)

Reharmonized Ending For It Could Happen To You

It Could Happen To You Reharmonized Outro

(click to expand)

5 Tips To Help You Create Your Own Unique Outros

 1. Find A Common Note

In this lesson above I reharmonize the Eb melody note with a Dbmaj7 chord. The reason this works is because Eb is the 9th of Dbmaj7.

I could have used any chord I wanted there as long as Eb (my melody note) was inside the chord.

This is one of the most fundamental concepts of reharmonization.

Find other chords that feature that note. Then change the chord to one that you like. Simple right? 🙂

2. All Roads Eventually Lead To The I Chord

Even though I changed the last chord of the song to Dbmaj7 I still eventually brought it back to the normal ending (Ebmaj7).

Since the I chord is “the real ending chord” it is the chord that creates the most sense of release or finality.

So, I eventually come back to it at the end to help the listener achieve the sense of harmonic resolution. I just take a bit of a detour before I get there! 🙂

3. You Don’t Have To Reinvent The Wheel Each Time

Once you find a chord substitution you like make sure you understand the theory behind it so you can use it again in other jazz songs.

For example, I really like the sound of the bVII major 7th and I know it will always work as a substitution for the I chord.

So, I’ve practiced to make it instantly available in my “musical toolbox” if and when I want to use it again.

jazz piano lessons4. Be Like Barry Harris

On Sunday night Barry played the famous jazz standard Cherokee. I heard him use a very cool reharmonization for his outro.

Instead of him doing the typical II-V-I ending (Cmin7 – F7 – Bbmaj7) that happens in that song he played:

II- V- bIIImaj7 – bVImaj7- bIImaj7 – Imaj7.

So, in the key of Bb the chords would be:

Cmin7 – F7 –  Dbmaj7- Gbmaj7 – Bmaj7 – Bbmaj7.

Every substitution chord had the note Bb (which is the melody). Very slick and awesome sounding!

5. More Jazz Chords and Musicians For You To Learn

Need to learn more about playing jazz? You’ve come to the right website. 🙂

You can get started by learning this Bill Evans II-V-I piano chords lesson, this Oscar Peterson blues lick,  Chet Baker lick or this lesson on Major 7th jazz improvisation.

My jazz improvisation DVD also goes really in to depth on the licks and chords of 9 different jazz masters. You can check it out here: The Jazz Masters Method.

Did you enjoy this jazz outro lesson? Please leave a comment and share. :)


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  • Piano Dan

    Love this lesson Steve. I like those chords you play at the end 2. Thanks.

  • William Doran

    Hiya Steve I never ever could find out where to :
    ” Keep an Iron Spring ” ( 2nd half of It Could Happen ) , but at least
    I have one thing in common with the clossuss BARR and that is that I will be 82 next birthday . Please wish him a happy birthday hope we both get to 83. He is a fantastic talent and long may it reign !!!
    Regards Bill |Doran
    PS OH , and yours ‘aint bad either my friend

  • Good catch Laura. I was writing too fast 🙂 It’s fixed.

  • Brian1961

    Excellent lesson once more Steve. Keep up the good work and many thanks for your generosity.

  • Nice Rico

  • Marily Rodriguez

    I love the dance betweenclassic theory and intuiitive discovery. What a great article. 

  • William Doran3

    Steve  I can’t  improve on the complimentary remarks other than to wish you a Happy New Year and keep it coming.  Thanks
    Bill Doran( Heathrow UK)

  • Lux

    I love the way you follow the melody within the chords. But how come you can play a B in the right hand over a Bb7 chord? Is this considered to be a b9 then?

    • Thank you Lux. Glad you enjoyed it. Yeah, you’re right. The b is a b9 on the Bb7 chord.

      • Lux

        Well, how do I know when to play a b9 instead of a 9? Cause the b9 doesn’t belong in this scale? Is this what you call an altered scale? If so, same question:) how do I know this correct to play. This still looks like Chinese to me…

        • Hey Lux,
          I talk about this quite a bit more about in 1 of the videos inside the soon to be released premium membership. Nn the meantime really know your major scales inside and out. The V7 chord can accept a lot of different extensions of the chord and alterations…various versions of 9,11, and 13. So, essentially that’s why the b9 works. It’s just one of the extensions of the chord that is acceptable.

  • Newbie Musician


    I would like to know how best to end a song that currently ends with an arpeggio, but I have been told that it ends too abruptly. One chord was added but people seem not to like it. I would like to know what ending suggestion to do you have a song that ends with an arpeggio? Please let me know.

    • Many ballads end with a player improvising up the keyboard or their instrument by playing arpeggios (chord tones).