How to improvise over a minor II V I with arpeggios

The minor II V I is often a troubling cadence for begining Jazz guitarists. That is probably because the II is a m7b5 or half diminished chord which can be tricky and also because you have two or three different scales going on through the cadence.

In this lesson I want to go over the chords and the scales you need to improvise over them. From that I will take 3 arpeggios, one for each chord, and talk about how you practice them and with some examples of lines over the minor II V I hopefully give you some ideas about how to improvise over this cadence.

All the examples in this lesson are over a II V I in the key of C minor as shown in example 1

How to improvise over a minor II V I with arpeggios ex 1

The scales that I chose for each chord are fairly straight forward, the Dm7b5 chord is seen as coming from C minor so that is the scale I use. For the G7 I chose the altered scale which is one of the possible options. C harmonic minor would be another obvious choice. The tonic chord I play in the cadence is a m7 chord, but it could ahve been a m6 or mMaj7 chord. Since it is a Cm7 I chose Dorian as a scale sound, and otherwise you could use Aeolian which is the same as Natural minor.

To keep it easy to approach from a technical point of view I put all the scales and arpeggios in one position on the neck around the 8th fret C. If you start working on this you should probably also move it around to other positions once you get more familiar with the arpeggios and the cadence.

How to improvise over a minor II V I with arpeggios ex 2

Choosing the arpeggios are easy for the Dm7b5 and Cm7 chords since you can just use a diatonic arpeggio for each of those. The G7alt arpeggios is a bit more tricky since the G altered scale has a Gm7b5 as a diatonic arpeggio on the G. To find a good substitute you could look at a G7(b9b13) voicing and realize that it is often played as an Fm7b5 with a G bass note (I demonstrate this in the video). This means that you can use the Fm7b5 arpeggio as to convey the sound of the G7alt chord when you are improvising which is what I chose to do in this lesson. The arpeggios

How to improvise over a minor II V I with arpeggios ex 3

For a more detailed look into the altered sound you could check out: Melodic Minor – Altered Scale

When you practice the arpeggios the first thing you need to do is of course to just play through them and learn them one a t a time. Once you can do that you should try a few patterns like groups of 3 and 4 etc. To connect the arpeggios to the progression you can practice them like this:

How to improvise over a minor II V I with arpeggios ex 4

Once you can do this you should try to connect the arpeggios like shown hereunder. Practicing the arpeggios in this way over the progression is a way to get closer to how you improvise, something that you should also strive after when making exercises.

The idea is to start playing the arpeggios over the progression and then when ever the chord changes to continue the movement with the note that is the closest in the next arpeggio. It’s quite tricky to get started with but very rewarding when you start getting the freedom while improvising.

How to improvise over a minor II V I with arpeggios ex 5

With an exercise like this you get a completely new exercise if you start on a different note, and if you keep on going it should keep mutating into new exercises, also a very healthy way to keep your ears and mind busy while practicing something as simple as arpeggios.

Example lines

The first example starts with a straight forward Dm7 arpeggio from the root to the root. I am playing it in a skipping pattern that I use a lot, so I start on the 3rd and then go 1, b5, 3 b7 etc etc. On the G7alt I am basically just playing the descending Fm7b5 arpeggio, but it is broken up rhythmically. The first part is a swept arpegigio from the 7th to the root, and then it continues down from the 7th in the next octave. The Altered line resolves  to the 5th(G) of Cm and from there it runs up the Cm7 arpeggio, skips down to the root and then up to the fifth.

How to improvise over a minor II V I with arpeggios ex 6

Motiefs should always be a part of your melodic tool box, and so should the triad on the third of the chord you play over! The first part of the 2nd example is purely based on a using the Fm triad over the Dm7b5 and then using it as a motief and using the Fdim triad over the G7alt. The altered line resolves via the F to the Eb on Cm7. The Cm7 line is first moving up from the root to the 3rd before it descends down to the  rest on the 5th.

How to improvise over a minor II V I with arpeggios ex 7

Th last line is starting out with the D dim triad over the Dm7b5. In this example it gives a sort of bluesy flavour. After that it descends down the arpeggio to encircle and resolve to B over the G7alt. The Fm7b5 arpeggio is played ascending and skips around at the end to resolve to the 5th(G) of Cm7. The final part of the line is employing a slide to add some blues to the Cm7 arpeggio.

How to improvise over a minor II V I with arpeggios ex 8

I hope you can use the arpeggios and exercises I went over here to get started making some melodically strong solos that really dig into the harmony and negociate the minor II V I cadence.

If you want to study the examples away from the video or article you can download a pdf here:

How to improvise over a minor II V I with arpeggios

If you have any questions, comments or suggestions for topics or how I can make the lessons better then please feel free to leave on the video or  send me an e-mail. That is the best way for me to improve my lessons and make thme fit what you want to hear.

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