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II V I – Who Has The Best Approach For Jazz Beginners?

Your II V I Approach Is Wrong

Your approach to II V I progressions is probably wrong, and that is getting in the way of your solos sounding right.

A small part of this is what you play because it is much more about how you think about the chords.

There are different strategies for this which all work even if they don’t agree at all, I’ll cover my approach but also show you methods from Barry Harris, Pat Martino, and Joe Pass. Once I got my thinking on this right then things really started to fall into place and my solos really started to make a lot more sense, and then you can take it a LOT further than II V I progressions.

The first thing you want to get right, and I think this is true for all progressions, not just a II V I, is that if you want to solo over it then you should also be able to play the chords, that is how you hear the flow of the harmony and what your solos lines should sound like.

Essential II V I basics

Before we get into the approaches of different people then let’s look at what a II V I is. The progression is described as a II V I because it is in a key, and that key is the I chord. Let’s take C major, and look at what key and a II V I is:

Here you have the notes of a C major scale:

C D E F G A B C

and for each note in that scale you can build a 7th chord:

Cmaj7 Dm7 Em7 Fmaj7 G7 Am7 Bø Cmaj7

with these chords, called the diatonic chords of C major), you usually assign Roman numerals so that you know which key you are in and what this chord is relative to the key.

Now you can pick out the II V I to be: Dm7 G7 Cmaj7,

and you  can play the chords,

maybe play them a few times to get the sound into your ears. You can use these voicings and then vary the rhythm a bit.

II V I licks – Essential Ingredients

Before we get into the different strategies you need to have the basics of Jazz solos down. In Jazz,  you mostly play melodies that are related to the chords, so your solo should consist of lines where you can hear the chords even if there is no one actually playing them. Try and listen to this, you probably hear the chord changes in there:

The easiest way to play solo lines like that is to use the same notes as the chords, so the arpeggios of those chords.

And since the whole progression is in one key, in this case, C major, then you want to think about those arpeggios as a part of the C major

scale, so this scale:

and then you have these simple 1-octave arpeggios:

And, of course, you want to practice playing licks with just those basic arpeggios, because they can sound great, something like this, remember to use rhythm as well:

But, as you heard in the beginning, they are in a key, so that scale can also be used to give you some more notes to add in there. Visually you think about the scale as the thing that holds the whole thing and You think of some notes being more important than others,

but you can use all of them, and notice how I don’t always use all the notes in the arpeggios, there is no rule that says that you have to do that.

But you want to make the melodies flow right too, just playing the right notes won’t cut it:

And this is about the one thing that is so incredibly important about the II V I.

It is One thing!

The problem with the previous example was not the notes, they are perfect and also in terms of following the chords. The problem is that they don’t connect and there is no connection between the melodies per chord.

But the II V I is not just 3 random chords next to each other, you can’t just change the order and get the same result, which is a part of the reason that I don’t like the modal description of Dorian, Mixolydian, Ionian. What makes this work is that there is a development and that the chords flow forward to the end on the I chord.

And, the easiest way to get that flow in there is to play lines that move to the next chord, and that is not as abstract or difficult as it might sound.

Target Notes – An Amazing Strategy!

If you want the solo line to flow from one chord to the next then the easiest strategy is simply to think of a note you want to hit and play a melody that ends on that, but you do want to have the right target note, I’ll get to that in a bit. Moving from Dm7 to G7 then B is a good target note, notice how especially the last part of the phrase aims for the B on beat 1

Being able to play phrases that connect chords like this is an essential skill, and also something you will see in solos all over Jazz. It is not the only thing to learn, but it is a great place to start.

When it comes to choosing target notes, then it makes sense to focus on the clear notes of the chords that really describe the color like the 3rd of the chord, and you make it easier for yourself by choosing a note that was not in the previous chords, like I took B which is the 3rd in G7 and not in Dm7.

In my approach, I am showing you how to spell out each chord in the II V I but there are other ways of negotiating this 3-chord building block, and I have my own take on those as well.

Barry Harris and Pat Martino Disagree on II Vs

This sometimes becomes a sensitive topic because you are inclined to follow one strategy and not like the rest, but I’ll talk about that in a bit as well.

There are 3 chords in a II V I, and no matter how you look at it, then the point of the progression is that something is moving and that there is a resolution. But how you choose to interpret the II V side of the progression is a lot more open.

You have Pat Martino, who likes to convert chords to m7 chords, as he talks about here with Giant Steps

The way he would approach the II V I it sort of becomes II I, so he will play lines over the II chords and not really think too much about the V chord. He talks about how this was something he learned from experience, and there are passages in Wes’s solos that suggest that he often thought in the same way, and that may well be where Martino got it since he was very influenced by Wes.

The advantage is that there are fewer chords, the disadvantage is that you are not playing V I which is probably the strongest part of what is happening, and the II chord is just a suspension of the V chord.

Barry Harris and Joe Pass do the opposite of this as you have probably heard in this clip:

So here the II chord is ignored and you focus on the V I resolution which, as I mentioned earlier, is the strongest movement in the II V I. Both Barry and Joe talk about this, where Joe is maybe a bit more practical in his explanation, and this is also something you will see in a lot of solos of Parker, so it is clear where it came from.

Again it is great to have fewer chords, but as I have also said quite often: there are no rules in music, so this rule also becomes a bit strange if you have a secondary dominant leading into the II chord, maybe like an A7 Dm7 G7 Cmaj7. If you are only thinking about the G7 then you have to learn to play A7(b9) to G7 which is maybe not the most natural thing to do, and also not what is really there.

So my take on this, which will certainly be a hot take for some, is that the strongest of the two is probably Barry Harris. Still, in my experience then you want to be able to play all 3, simply because it will give you more options and also connect better with the music so that you hear the harmony. You play over what you hear without having to translate or ignore something in the music. But only focusing on one of the chords in the II V can also be a great way to get inspiration for melodies so it is incredibly useful to play Dm7 Cmaj7 like this:

Or just thinking G7 and creating lines like this:

If you can play all 3 chords then you can also easily choose to only play two of them, and with target notes, it is fairly easy to get from one chord to the next, that is one of the biggest strengths in that system.

Learn The Language

The melodies you play are probably more important than what chords you think, and you want to focus on that aspect of learning to play Jazz, so that your solos flow though the chords but also have the right feel and sound. This is not so much about finding the magic scale but more about what you do with the material that you have, and THAT is what makes people like George Benson or Wes so amazing. You need to develop your basics for Jazz lines so that your solos sound better, and I cover some of the strongest concepts in this video.

I Wish Every Jazz Beginner Could Watch This!

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II V I – You Need To Practice This For Solos

The II V I progression is probably the most common chord progression in Jazz. In this video, I am going to go over some of the basic things that you need to practice and also how you take those basic tools and turn them into great material for a solo.

So that you can improvise over the chord changes so that your solos sound like Jazz and not just noodling in a scale.

What is a II V I?

If you look at the key of C major (play the scale)

then for each note in the scale you have a chord, this is what we call diatonic chords and for C major you have these chords:

The II V I is a chord progression that starts on II (Dm7) goes to V(G7) and resolves to (I) Cmaj7. So the II V I is a short progression to take us to the C major.

If you play the chords of a II V I a little closer together you could get something like this:

Next, let’s look at some exercises you can do on the progression to give you something to solo with.

How To Solo Over A II V I – Basic Arpeggios

When you improvise in Jazz then you are playing melodies that are related to the chords that are in the song. That means that if you have a chord progression like a II V I then you want to know the melodic version of the chords, which is the arpeggios.

That means that a great exercise is to practice those arpeggios on the chord progression. Something like this:

Notice that I am playing the arpeggios as one-octave arpeggios in the same position, that is an easy way to practice these and especially easy to connect them to a chord progression.

Making Scale Practice Useful and Practical

Practicing scales and arpeggios directly on a piece of music is super useful to get an idea about how they sound in context and when to use them in a solo. It’s a great exercise whenever you want to learn a song or learn to use something on a song.

If you solo with the arpeggios then that clearly connects with the chord changes, so already with these arpeggios, you can make strong licks like this:

The trick is to make sure that you really bring out the notes of the chord, and here I make the change of the chord extra clear because I put a not on the 1 of the bar which was not in the previous chord, so the B on G7 and the E on the Cmaj7.

The Most Important Scale Exercise

The way I am playing the arpeggios as one-octave melodies is something that you can practice on a scale. If you do that then you are working on being able to play all the arpeggios in that scale in one place and you are pretty much ready to do the previous exercise for any progression.

Later in the lesson, I will show you why this exercise quickly becomes a gigantic short cut to having much more material on any chord you want to solo on.

Use The Scale As Well

As you could see at the beginning of this video, the whole progression is in the key of C major, and if you want to solo then you can use the arpeggios but you can, of course, also use the rest of the notes in the scale, so before we start to add some Bebop tricks then we need the rest of the notes:

 

Again it makes sense to practice this on the progression and hear how it relates to the chords, and you can do that in a very easy way by adding scale notes around the arpeggios from example 4

Like this, you can still hear the scale over the chord, and you still have the chord tones as the important notes because they are on the beat. (Highlight in the example maybe just on the Dm7 bar)

Now you can make a lick like this:

So there are more options with melodies, and the chord tones are still used, especially on the heavy beats of the bar: beat 1 and 3 which still makes it pretty clear how the solo relates to the chord.

Chromatic Notes (Bebop Made Simple)

Besides playing lines that are spelling to the changes then using chromatic notes in your solos is another part of the Jazz sound.

You can put up complicated rules for this, but you can also just try to start making lines and adding a chromatic note before a chord tone like this:

Here the chromatic notes are before a chord tone to help pull the melody forward and also really connect with the chords.

  1. First C# before the D
  2. A# to go to B on G7
  3. D# to E on Cmaj7

You can also see how the chromatic notes are used to really make the change of chord clear

And you can also use chromatic approach notes to other notes that give you a sound like this:

Here you have some chromatic notes scale notes, not chord tones, and also some places where I am using a chromatic note to delay the note, for example at the beginning of the G7 bar.

More Amazing Arpeggio Ideas.

As I said earlier if you practice the arpeggios in the scale then you get access to a lot more material, in fact, more than twice as much.

Let me show you an example:

If you look at a Cmaj7 arpeggio or chord then the notes are:

C E G B

When you solo on it then a line using the arpeggio sounds good because you are playing the same notes as the one playing the chords.

Since C E G B sounds good then the arpeggio from the 3rd of the chord works as well because that is mostly the same notes:

C E G B

   E G B D

This trick you can do for all the chords in the II V I and then you get this exercise:

And you can take this material and make a lick like this:

And here I am using Fmaj7, Bø, and Em7 on the II V I, but you can also mix in the original arpeggios and there are a lot of options.

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II V I – When you want to sound different (in 8 ways)

The II V I is the most important and common chord progressions in Jazz.

But sometimes it is also nice to have some other ways of approaching this progression so that it sounds a little less predictable maybe even less like a II V I.

In this video, I am going over 8 ways to change the chords to get some new sounds, and I am only messing with the II and the I chord because I have a ton of other videos with different V chord options.

Of course, you can also take these examples and use them on a static chord if that fits the music you play better and you want to change it up a little.

Check out other videos on Reharmonization

Why Reharmonization Is For You And How To Get Started

Reharmonization – Are you getting it wrong?

Content:

0:00 Intro – Changing up the II V I sounds

0:20 8 Ways to change the sound of a 2 5 1

0:44 Example 1 – IImMAj7

0:59 What The Chords Sound Like and why that is important for solos….

2:29 Example 2 – IIø(9)

3:19 More Different Rhythms

3:36 Triplets Groupings

3:53 Example 3 – IIsus4(b9) – The Prhygian Chord

4:58 The Elephant In The Room

6:11 Example 4 – IIalt

7:04 8th note triplet groupings on altered dominants

7:45 Example 5 – Imaj7(#11)

8:47 Example 6 – Imaj7(#5)

9:29 Sneaking in Melodic Minor sounds

10:04 Triplet rhythms for medium swing – Hancock, Rosenwinkel, Mehldau

10:29 Example 7 – Imaj7(#9,#11)

11:43 Example 8 – Imaj7(#9,#5)

11:58 The Augmented Scale – That I never practiced

13:33 Like the video? Check out my Patreon Page

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10 II V I Chord Embellishments – The Ultimate Guide

The most important chord progression in Jazz is probably the II V I. It is every where and we play it all the time. But if we play it all the time then it is also important to have a lot of different ways to play these jazz chords.

In this video I am going to take a look at 10 different ways you can embellish and add some variation to your II V I comping and chord melody playing.

The Examples on the II V I Chord Progression are different ways to use line-clichés, passing chords and secondary dominants.

#1 Stairway To Heaven

The first example is using the descending line-cliche associated with Stairway to Heaven or My Funne Valentine. This way of adding some extra movement and color to a II V I is a great addition to your chord melody or comping vocabulary.

#2 James Bond 

A similar and equally famous idea is this use of the line-cliché on the 5th of the minor chord.

In this example it is working great as a way to add a chromatic approach that lands on the V chord. Usually it is all on Dm and the movement A A# B is related to Dm. Here the B is used as a target and marks the transition to G7.

#3 Diatonic Passing Chords

Adding Diatonic Passing chords is a fantastic way to add movement to a chord progression. Notice that this way of comping the II V I would still work if the bass player is still playing a regular II V I bass line.

The Passing chords are really just adding two chords so that the progression walks up from Dm7 to G7. Looking for step-wise or 4th intervals in the bassline are both strong and common ways to add passing chords like this.

#4 Tritone Substitution

The Tritone substitution is a very powerful way to add some extra tension and color to a II V I cadence. In this example I am substituting a Db7 for the G7 and creating a top-note melody that helps move the progression along.

#5 Tritone II V Progression

Taking the tri-tone idea a step further is to substitute the G7 with a complete II V, so in this case an Abm7 Db7.

The idea is roughly speaking the same as #4 but instead of just using the Db7 it is now a complete II V: Abm7 Db7. 

This example is played as a continuous stream of chords and a great little chromatic inner-voice movement on the Cmaj7

#6 Secondary Dominants

A variation of the Tritone substitution is also to use it as a secondary dominant. In the example below I am using Ab7 to pull towards the G7. So here Ab7 is a tritone substitute of D7, the secondary dominant of G7.

#7 Borrowing Minor Cadence

Modal Interchange is a great way to add color to a cadence. When ever we use a G7(b9) in a II V I in C major it is actually a dominant that is borrowed from C minor.

In this example I am borrowing an entire cadence, so first a bar of Dm7 and then followed by the minor cadence Dø G7 before resolving to Cmaj7

#8 Chromatic Passing Chord

Chromatic Passing Chords are a really useful addition to your comping and chord melody vocabulary.

This example is approaching the G7 from a half-step below. The idea is to have an F#7 at the end of the Dm7 bar that then resolves to G7 in the second bar.

#9 Neapolitan Subdominant

The Neapolitan Subdominant is an overlooked way to color cadences. In this example I am using the Dbmaj7 as a way to add a different color and pull to the Cmaj7.

The Neapolitan Subdominant is a IVm chord with a bII in the bass, so it is Fm/Db. Which is also why it is a (minor) subdominant chord.

#10 Chromatic Resolution

Of course it is also possible to use Chromatic passing chords in the resolution to the I chord. 

This example uses the 2nd half of the G7 bar to introduce a Bmaj7 chord that is then used to create a chromatic approach to Cmaj7.

How To Use This Lesson

The way I think you can benefit from this material is probably to think about how I am playing the examples and try to insert that into your own comping or chord melody using your own voicings and songs.

In the end the best way to learn something new is to insert it into what you already play and use it when you are playing real music

Check out more Comping Ideas

If you want to check out how I comp and many of the ideas I use then check out this lesson on a 5 chorus example on Autumn Leaves:

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Download the PDF

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If you have any questions, comments or suggestions for topics then please let me know. Leave a comment on the video or  send me an e-mail. That is the best way for me to improve my lessons and make them fit what you are searching for.

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How many ways can you Reharmonize a II-V-I in C major?

The II-V-I is at the center of almost all jazz harmony. In this lesson, I set out to try and see a big set of the possibilities you have in reharmonizing a II V I and make a long list of possible chord substitutions. The Jazz Theory that I mostly apply to the II V I chord progression in this reharm lesson is classical or functional harmony. The approach I mostly use. In the later options, I also rely on some modal interchange and more freely associated jazz chord substitutions.

List of contents:

0:59 Different sounds on G7
6:09 Tritone substitution
7:59 IV minor chords
15:45 V minor chords
16:28 Diatonic substitution from the Altered Scale
17:45 Diatonic substitution with Tri-tone subs
18:59 Other Dominants from the Diminished scale
19:14 Dominant derived from the diminished scale
19:58 Combining substitutions and getting far out
22:30 Did I miss a good substitution?