Tag Archives: how to play jazz

2 5 1 – How To Solo with Diatonic Arpeggios (the most important approach)

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

Stacking 3rds:

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:

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Get the PDF!

You can also download the PDF of my examples here:

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How to Learn to Play Jazz Chords – Study Guide

You want to learn how to play Jazz Chords. An important part of playing Jazz is to be able to interpret and play the rich chord language of the genre. This list of lessons is an ordered way to work your way through this from getting to know a basic vocabulary to having more freedom in comping with different types of chord voicings.

Your Feedback is very valuable

Remember that the guides are here to help you so if you have suggestions for this or other guides then let me know! I might have missed something or you have another idea for something that is important to check out! Feel free to send me an e-mail or message via social media.

I have also collected the videos in a Playlist on Youtube if you prefer that:

Playlist: How to Learn to Play Jazz Chords – Study Guide

The Jazz Chord Survival Kit and vocabulary

The first three lessons deal with a basic chord vocabulary and how to use it when playing important chord progressions and jazz standards

Leaving out the root and getting used to upper-structures

Once you know some chords and can play a few songs you can start to expand your vocabulary.

There are two main topics you should add first: Triads as Jazz chord voicings and Drop2 voicings. These two are the foundation for most other voicings and you can build on this knowledge to really build an extensive chord vocabulary.

The Essential Drop2 Voicings

Drop2 chords form a huge chunk of all the voicings that are used in jazz. These lessons will take you through a lot of material using drop2 voicings. If you want to hear Drop2 chords in action then just put on a Wes Montgomery album, he used them extensively in his chord solos and comping.

Developing Comping skills beyond the chords

Playing Chords does require more than just knowing what chord to play where. Some of the other skills that are equally important are discussed in these lessons:

More Modern sounds

If we look beyond the triads and Drop2 voicings it is of course possible to start checking out more modern sounds that may not immediately be covered in the lessons I already included. These voicings are both more extreme with having large intervals or much more cluster like with second intervals:

Allan Holdsworth Chord Series

One of my favorite players when it comes to modern jazz chords is Allan Holdsworth. Since I have made several lessons inspired by his chordal language I though it only right to include some of these lessons. 
I am obviously a huge fan, but there is a lot to be learned from him and the chords are very beautiful and worthwhile checking out. Even if they are not all easy to play.

Chord Solos

One way of getting good at comping is to get good at playing chord solos. Being able to improvise solos with chords really helps develop your freedom and ability to play solid comping behind others. 

For that reason I have included a few of the lessons I have on chord soloing that you can dig into if you want to take this approach.

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the 3 jazz scales you need to know

Jazz Scales! The 3 You Need to practice and How You apply them to Jazz Chords

Jazz Scales can seem like a million options that you all need to learn in all positions and all chords, but there is a way to approach this that is a little easier than trying to learn all jazz scales in all modes. After all the Dorian mode is not as important as the Major or Minor key.

My Approach to Jazz Scales – Learn from the songs you play

In this video I am going to take a practical look at the chord progressions you will encounter and what scales over what chords you are going to need. I am also going to discuss how you apply the scales to the chords and practice in a more general way towards being able to use a scale over any of it’s diatonic chords.
Hope you like it!

List of content: 

0:00 Intro — a myriad of Jazz Scales

0:20 Practice efficiently

0:50 Finding the scales by looking at the progressions

0:59 The Major II V I Cadence: Dm7 G7 Cmaj7

1:15 The II V I and the other diatonic chords

1:44 The Major scale it’s all you need from So What to Giant Steps.

1:57 The Minor II V I Cadence: Bø E7(b9) Am6

2:09 Adding Harmonic minor and Melodic minor

2:34 Secondary dominants and cadences

2:51 Secondary cadence to IV in C major

3:07 Secondary cadence to III in C major

3:27 IV minor variations

4:26 Diminished Chords the two types

4:40 Dominant diminished chord

5:04 Subdominant diminished chord

5:44 What is covered so far

6:06 The tritone substitute: Dm7 Db7 Cmaj7

6:23 The Backdoor dominant: Fmaj7 Bb7 Cmaj7

6:48 Double diminished or German Augmented 6th: Fmaj7 Ab7 Cmaj7

7:23 Cadences with other dominant choices: Altered and Harmonic minor

8:11 The three scales and where we need them — cutting away what we don’t need.

8:55 Getting this into your practice routine!

9:12 Scale practice suggestions and knowing the scales

9:40 Example of what works and what doesn’t work when improvising over an Fmaj7 in C major

10:59 The Bonus from practicing like this!

11:20 Learning the rest of the scales

11:58 Do you work with this system or do you have a better one?

12:36 Like the video? Check out my Patreon Page!