You Need to be able to improvise over a II V I or 2 5 1 in Jazz. In this video, I am going to show you how you can get started improvising over this progression using the scale and the diatonic arpeggios in that scale.
The examples are a 2 5 1 in C major, a scale position and the diatonic arpeggios in that position. Then I am going to give you some examples of lines using the basic arpeggios of the chords but also a few other very useful suggestions. Then I am going to add the triads in there, and in the end, you have a lot of material to work with from this very basic approach.
This is the most important part of how I improvise. Having a set of arpeggios that work for a chord in a progression is a great way to have lots of options when you improvise. So you learn to think the chord but you have 8 or 9 different arpeggios that you can use when you are improvising.
The 2 5 1 chords and scale
One of the most important and common chord progressions is the 2 5 1, sometimes written with Roman numerals as II V I.
In this lesson I am going to focus on how to improvise over this progression in the key of C major.
First let us look at how t play the C major scale and then the chords contained in there.
Building Diatonic Chords in C major
If you build diatonic chords in a scale then you stack thirds in the scale. In C major that would be:
C major : C D E F G A B C
1 C E G B = Cmaj7
2 D F A C = Dm7
3 E G B D = Em7
4 F A C E = Fmaj7
5 G B D F = G7
6 A C E G = Am7
7 B D F A = Bø
How to play these chords is shown here below
As you can see I have added numbers to each of the chord signifying the degree in the scale.
This is how to understand the 2 5 1 progression. A 2 51 in C major is shown below:
Practicing and Playing Diatonic Arpeggios
The next thing to check out how to play the arpeggios of all the chords in the scale. Playing each of the chords within the scale is shown here below.
Of course there are now more chords and arpeggios than we need, but that will become very useful later.
Putting the arpeggios in the Progression
The first logical thing to practice now is to take the arpeggios throught the progression. That is what is shown here below:
Making Great Licks with Basic Arpeggios
Already just using the arpeggios, so the basic chord tones of each chord. You can make some great licks:
Really using Arpeggios (so not just playing the arpeggios..)
When you check out solos from famous Jazz Artists you will notice that their lines are not only consisting of the arpeggios. The melodies are a mic of scale notes and arpeggios, but the arpeggios are on the heavy beats and work as a frame to hold the melody together.
An example of this is shown here below:
The most important Other arpeggio
Now that you know the arpeggio for each chord and can work on incorporation it in lines that also mix it with the scale. We can haveea look at the next arpeggio to check out which wil almost always work in a line: The arpeggio from the 3rd of the chord
For the progression we have these arpeggios:
Dm7: Arpeggio Fmaj7
G7: Arpeggio – Bø
Cmaj7: Arpeggio Em7
Practicing this on the progression becomes this exercise:
Making lines with the Arpeggios from the 3rd.
Now with two arpeggios for each chord you can make a lick like this:
And mixing it with the scale then something like this is possible
Adding the mighty Triad!
One of the strongest melodies we have is triads. The diatonic triads as arpeggios in the scale is shown here below.
Finding triads for the chords
There are several triads that fit with each chord.
For a Dm7 you can use the three below.
Notice that if you have a Dm7(9) arpeggio: D F A C E then you have all 5 notes that make up the 3 triads.
The same approach applied to G7 is yielding these 3 triads. So a triad from the root, 3rd and 5th.
And finally we have the C, Em and G for Cmaj7:
Using Triads in a 2 5 1 Lick
Putting some of the triads to use in a lick could give us something like this:
If you want to explore more ideas with Arpeggios and scales in the key of C major then check out this lesson based on a solo on the Strayhorn tune Take The A-train:
Take The A-Train – One Position Workout
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