The term "back cycling" is used when discussing reharmonization in jazz. What does the term mean, and what are examples of its use (preferably real-world examples taken from jazz songs)? Can it be used chromatically with tritone subs? Does it only apply to reharmonizations? To what extent does it require dominant seventh chords?

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    "Sequential dominants" is another term used in the literature. The dominants can be replaced by their tritone subs. Each dominant can be preceded by its related IIm7 chord.
    – Matt L.
    Commented Mar 27, 2018 at 8:11
  • @MattL., this sounds like the start of a really great answer!
    – jdjazz
    Commented Mar 27, 2018 at 12:00
  • I think the answers below basically answer your question. If you feel they don't, you could maybe indicate what you're missing and I can try to provide another answer. Right now I get the feeling that my answer would be mostly redundant.
    – Matt L.
    Commented Mar 27, 2018 at 12:55
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    A I - vi - ii - V - I, or a iii - vi - ii - V - I starts to look like back cycling, especially with some substitutions, e.g. | E9 A7♯5 | Dm9 G7♯5 | C7 / |. I'm not quite sure where to draw the line, or if we even need to draw a line. It seems fine to have more than one way to talk and think about this, but I usually think of back cycling in the context of interpolating dominant 7th chords in a reharmonization.
    – user39614
    Commented Mar 27, 2018 at 15:05
  • @MattL., a couple things that the existing answers don't discuss include ii-V chromatic movement such as | Ebm Ab7 | Dm G7 | Dbm Gb7 | Cm F7 | Bb∆ | to approach a Bb∆ chord. They also don't address scenarios like the bridge of rhythm changes: | Am D7 | Dm G7 | Gm C7 | Cm F7 | Bb∆ |. The two answers actually suggest something different, that the minor chord can serve as a substitution for one of the V7 chords in the sequence. By contrast, the rhythm changes bridge uses ii chords to lead into each distinct V7 chord from the back cycling sequence.
    – jdjazz
    Commented Mar 29, 2018 at 1:57

2 Answers 2


I used to hear it called 'going round the houses', but that was a long, long time ago.

It's basically the circle/cycle of fourths/fifths. Never know exactly what to call that ! it's getting back to the root via each chord going up to the next in fourths.

For example, in C. F#7 B7 / E7 A7 / D7 G7 / Cmaj7 /.

Which can be embellished in a ii-V-I fashion.

F#m7b5 B7b9 / Em7b5 A7b9 / Dm7 G7 / Cmaj7 /.

I guess tts could be used, but don't use them too much myself, although an obvious place could be the penultimate bar, going Dm7 Db7 / Cmaj7 /.

Looking for samples.


Back cycling is finding chords that will lead you to a target chord. This is very useful if you have a chord which lasts for a long duration and you wish to transition to somewhere else. The technique often uses V7 (or tritone substitutitions), so you tend to move aroung the circle of 4th (hence "cycling") and you start from the target chord and move "back".

For instance, consider the following chords grid:

| CMaj7 / / / | CMaj7 / / / | Fm7 / / / |

your target is Fm7. What's the easiest way to get to Fm7? C7 (V7 of Fm). So you can change this to:

| CMaj7 / / / | C7 / / / | Fm7 / / / |

But then how to you get to C7? Easy, use G7 (V7 of C). You get:

| CMaj7 / / / | G7 / C7 / | Fm7 / / / |

And how do you get to G7? For instance, with D7:

| CMaj7 / D7 / | G7 / C7 / | Fm7 / / / |

But you can also use IIm7 V7 instead of using V of V:

| CMaj7 / D7 / | Gm7 / C7 / | Fm7 / / / |

Or tritone substitutions:

| CMaj7 / Ab7 / | Gm7 / C7 / | Fm7 / / / |


| CMaj7 / Ab7 / | Gm7 / Gb7 / | Fm7 / / / |

  • Thanks! I really like this answer in terms of a target chord. Let's say you're approaching Gm (as in the first 8 bars of Autumn Leaves). Would this count as back cycling: | Cm F7 | Bm E7 | Bbm Eb7 | Am D7 | Abm Db7 | Gm |. Also, does back cycling require V7 chords, or is it suitable to approach using, e.g., chromatic minor chords like: | Bbm | Am | Abm | Gm | where Gm is the target chard?
    – jdjazz
    Commented Mar 27, 2018 at 11:59
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    @jdjazz - just tried your sequence, and although the letter names are 4ths apart,(sometimes!), it doesn't (in my ears) flow too smoothly. Each bar has a ii.V , but bar to bar there's no 'I', so I'd say no, it isn't. It drops chromatically, but there's no 'journey' getting to the target Gm. That would need D7 or Ab7 just before it. Although I haven't met a tts that resolves to a minor - yet!
    – Tim
    Commented Mar 27, 2018 at 12:40
  • @Tim, the first example is a fairly common (or not uncommon) reharm for the first 8 bars of Autumn Leaves, but like you suggest, I don't think it's a perfect example of back cycling if we limit the definition to dominant chords. The V7's go like this: | F7 | E7 | Eb7 | D7 | Db7 | Gm | and then we add the ii chords. Based on the definition I'm familiar with, this is a very normal example of back cycling (with tritone subs) until we get to Db7. But I've actually heard some people refer to this specific example as back cycling.
    – jdjazz
    Commented Mar 27, 2018 at 15:10
  • @jdjazz - Autumn Leaves, 1st 8 bars? Never ever used chords such as those! Can't seem to get it to fit! Help! The F7 E7 Eb7 D7 (without Db7) works well as a turn around, either 4, 2 in a bar, or whole bars each, but that's not back cycling - which could even equate to the guy behind on a tandem..!
    – Tim
    Commented Mar 27, 2018 at 15:30
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    @Tim, woops, I'm missing a bar line between the Cm and F7. It should be: | Cm | F7 | Bm E7 | Bbm Eb7 | Am D7 | Abm Db7 | Gm | (G7) |. The first two bars are unchanged, and once we reach Gm, the A section proceeds normally. The Db7 isn't an appropriate V7, but the descending chromatic movement is the exact same progression that Blues for Alice uses in measures 6-9.
    – jdjazz
    Commented Mar 27, 2018 at 16:08

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