Satin doll miniature 1

Satin Doll - Chords and Scales For Guitar - Lesson For Beginners

Satin Doll by Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn, witten in 1953, is one of the most famous jazz tune. It has been recorded by many jazz musicians as Wes Montgomery, Ella Fitzgerald, Mc Coy Tyner, Oscar Peterson and of course Duke Ellington himself. It has become a classic jazz standard, a must-hear, very popular at jam sessions.

This guitar lesson with chord shapes and scale charts explains how to play easy jazz chords and what basic scales to choose for improvising over Satin Doll.

Form and Chord Changes

Firstable, let's talk about the basic structure of Satin Doll. This jazz standard is what we call a 32 bar AABA form. This means that it is composed of two parts (A and B) each containing 8 bars. 

The A part is played twice (with two different tunrnarouds at the end of each part), the B part (the bridge) is played once, then the A part once again.

According to the real book chord changes, the original progression would be:

Dm7 G7  |  Dm7 G7  |  Em7 A7  |  Em7 A7  |

Am7 D7  |  Abm7 Db7  |  C   |  Em7b5  A7b9  || 


Dm7 G7  |  Dm7 G7  |  Em7 A7  |  Em7 A7  |

Am7 D7  |  Abm7 Db7  |  C  Dm7 |  D#dim7  Em7  || 


Gm7  C7  |  Gm7  C7  |  Fmaj7  |  Gm7  C7  |

Am7 D7  |  Am7 D7  |  Dm7 G7  | Em7 A7  | 


Dm7 G7  |  Dm7 G7  |  Em7 A7  |  Em7 A7  |

Am7 D7  |  Abm7 Db7  |  C   |  (Em7b5  A7b9)  || 

Please note that during the improvised solos, at fast tempo, the chords are sometimes not doubled giving the following changes:

Dm7 | G7 | Em7 | A7 | D7 | Db7 (or Am7 | Abm7) etc.

II V Sequences

The main feature of Satin Doll is that it contains several iim7 | V7 sequences (not resolving), making it a very interesting tune for practicing this progression found in many jazz standards. Here they are :

  • Dm7 | G7 | (key of C)
  • Em7 | A7 | (Key of D)
  • Am7 | D7 | (G major)
  • Abm7 | Db7 | (Gb)
  • Gm7 | C7 | (Fmaj)
Satin doll sheet music

Basic Chords - 3-Note Shell Voicings

What Are Shell Voicings?

Shell voicings represent the most basic type of guitar chord shapes used in jazz, they contain the essential tones, namely root (R), third (3 or b3) and seventh (7 or b7). The bass note is generally played on the sixth and fifth string. These 3-Note chords are very popular among jazz guitar beginners because they do not require the use of too many fingers, they are very easy to play and outline easily the harmony.

Here below you can see eight guitar diagrams related to the shell voicings used in Satin Doll : two minor 7 chord shapes, two dominant 7, two major 7, one diminished 7. Notice that the chord shape with the third in the bass (F/A in the tab below) has no seventh but a fifth. This is an inverted open triad as explains in this PDF.

All these shapes are movable, meaning that you can play them anywhere on the guitar neck.

Shell voicings guitar satin doll

Satin Doll - Chord Study

The following tab show how to play Satin Doll using 3-note shell voicings. The rhythm has been intentionally simplified to work better as a beginner tutorial. Don't hesitate to experiment you own comping rhythms. Let's start with the A part that has some slight differences with the chord progression of the real book (previously discussed) in the first and second ending.

Satin doll basic jazz guitar chords
Satin doll easy guitar chords

In the B part, the only one difference with the real book version is the ascending progression implying four chords Fmaj7, Gm7, G#dim7 and F/A to make the link with Am7 (bar 15). 

Satin doll guitar tab

Scales For Improvising

Now you know how to play easy jazz guitar chords over Satin Doll, it's time to tackle easy melodic lines that will give you some ideas for improvising over. 

A Part - Dorian and Harmonic Minor

In the A part we will be using two scales, the Dorian mode and the harmonic minor scale.

The Dorian mode is the second mode of the major scale, this is generally to first choice when you want to build effective minor lines as explained in this guitar method. The formula is tonic (1), second/ninth (2/9), minor third (b3), fourth/eleventh (4/11), perfect fifth (5), sixth/thirteenth (6/13) and minor seventh (b7). We will then be playing notes from D Dorian (D-E-F-G-A-B-C) over Dm7 | G7 and notes from E Dorian (E-F#-G-A-B-C#-D) over Em7 | A7.

The harmonic minor scale is used to play over minor  2 5 1 chord progressions. The formula is  tonic (1), second/ninth (2/9), minor third (b3), fourth/eleventh (4/11), perfect fifth (5), flat sixth/flat thirteenth (b6/b13) and seventh (7). You can also see it as the Aeolian mode with a major seventh. So, in bar eight of Satin Doll, you will hear notes of the D harmonic minor scale (D-E-F-G-A-Bb-C#) over Em7(b5) | A7b9, including a half-diminished arpeggio (Em7b5) and a diminished seventh arpeggio (C#dim).

Here are some shapes for a first approach of the Dorian mode and the harmonic minor scale.

Dorian mode guitar chart
Harmonic minor scale guitar chart

Satin doll guitar scales

B Part - Dorian Bebop

The following requires the use of the Dorian bebop scale, what can be seen as the Dorian mode with a passing tone between the minor third (b3) and the fourth (4). The formula is 1 - 2 - b3 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - b7 making it an octatonic scale (eight notes). Notice that there are two types of Dorian bebop scales, one with a passing tone between the b3 and the 4th and one with a passing tone between the b7 and the tonic (1).  Here are some basic Dorian bebop shapes to practice on guitar.

Dorian bebop guitar scale charts

In the B part of Satin Doll, we will be using G Dorian bebop (G-A-Bb-B-C-D-E-F) and A Dorian bebop (A-B-C-C#-D-E-F#-G). In bar 11 and 12 we can hear the G Dorian bebop scale (descending) starting on the b3 of Gm7 (Bb) with an extra note to make the link with the seventh (E) of Fmaj7. The same line is played 2 steps higher over Am7 and D7 (A Dorian bebop). It resolves on the fifth (A) of Dm7.

Satin doll guitar solo
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