How to start soloing over a II V I with arpeggios

I thought it was time to look at one of the basic core skills that you need to play jazz: Improvising over a II V I cadence using the notes of the chord. In this lesson I will take a II V I give you some arpeggios and an approach to make melodies over the progression so that you clearly follow the chords. I also wrote a few examples of the licks using the arps to give you some ideas.

When you play over progressions like a II V I it is mostly expected that the solo you play is related to the chords that are under it. In other words you need to hit the notes of the chord on the strong beats of the bar. A good way to measure that is to get used to hearing a solo with no background and if the solo is clear you can still hear the change of chord.

The easiest way to play something that sounds like the chord is of course to play the notes of the chord, so when you play on a Dm7 you use a Dm7 arpeggio etc.

The II V I and the arpeggios

A II V I is named from the degrees of a scale, so in the key of C major, the I is Cmaj7, the II is Dm7 and the V is G7. You can write out the scale and check my math 🙂

So in the key of C a II V I would be this chords:

How to start soloing over a II V I with arpeggios - ex 1

If we play a C major scale in this region that might be:

How to start soloing over a II V I with arpeggios - ex 2

If we play the arpeggios for each of the chords in this position we get this:

How to start soloing over a II V I with arpeggios - ex 3

How to practice

The next thing that I suggest you do is to practice making lines that move towards a target note on the 1 of the next bar. The reason for this is that if you make lines that are moving towards something they sound much more logical and if you choose your target notes so that you clearly can hear the chord change you are practicing making melodies that are clear in the harmony and that are moving naturally from one chord to the next.

To start with you could try taking the 3rd of each chord as a target note:

How to start soloing over a II V I with arpeggios - ex 4

When you practice you should probably spend time working out of time to focus on the melodic movement and to have an overview of the notes and partly in a medium tempo where you can still play the things you figured out without tempo. In the beginning this is probably a bit difficult, but once you get the hang of it you will develop a more natural flow to your lines.

II V I lines with arpeggios

So here are three examples I made with the 3rd of each chord as target note on the G7 and the Cmaj7.

In the first example I start with a sequence on the Dm7 arp before using the 7th and the 5th to encircle the 3rd of G. On the G7 it’s first a G triad and then an descend down the arp to finally resolve to the 3rd(E) of C. On the C it makes a similar line as the first part of the G7 going up a triad inversion and ending on the 7th(B)

How to start soloing over a II V I with arpeggios - ex 5

The 2nd example is using what is essentially a shell voicing as arpeggio before it descends down the arpeggio to resolve to the 3rd of G7. The line on the G7 is first an ascending G7 arpegio and then back down to encircle the 3rd of C where it resolves. The line on the Cmaj7 is a Cmaj7 descending from E to G.

How to start soloing over a II V I with arpeggios - ex 6

The last example starts of with a pattern on a 2nd inversion Dm triad before it descends down a Dm7 arpeggio encircling the 3rd of G7. The G7 arpeggio. On the G7 the line is basically a G7 descending arpeggio, first thorugh the G major triad and then the arpeggio from 3rd to 5th. On the Cmaj7 line is a skipping verison of a Cmaj7 arpeggio that you could see as a Drop2 voicing.

How to start soloing over a II V I with arpeggios - ex 7

My examples are kept very simple, but this subject is something that you find a lot of very experienced playes return to when they are working on songs or just revisit to strengthen their basics.

To show how you might approach this a bit more freely I made this video using the backing track:

As always you can download the examples as a PDF here:

How to start soloing over a II V I with arpeggios

You can also check out my WebStore lesson on how to improvise over an F Blues:

F Jazz Blues Etude 1 – Basic Arpeggios


If you want to practice you can download a backing track from Quist if you sign up to his newsletter here: II V I backing track  You should anyway check out his stuff!

I hope that you liked the lesson. If you have any questions or comments then feel free to leave them here or on the video. Please subscribe to my YouTube channel and feel free to connect with me via Facebook, Google+ or Twitter to keep up to date with new lessons, concerts and releases.


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