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.
- First C# before the D
- A# to go to B on G7
- 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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