The II V I is one of the most common and important progressions in jazz. So playing over a II V I is a necessary part of being able to play jazz. One way to get started with this is to use pentatonic scales as a starting point. In this lesson I will give you 3 pentatonic scales to use over a II V I in C, talk a bit about how you use them and give you 3 lines using the pentatonic scales.
The II Valt I Progression
The progression I am going to talk about in this lesson is a II Valt I in the key of C major. The progression can be seen here:
For each of these chords we can choose a pentatonic scale that will work well to convey the sound of this chord.
For the Dm7 chord it’s failry easy, a D minor pentatonic is a Dm7 with and added G so that gives us this “standard box” Dm pentatonic
The tricky chord in the progression is the G7alt, since G altered is the same as Ab melodic minor we only have one “normal” minor pentatonic scale: Bb minor. I chose not to use a Minor 6th pentatonic like I talk about in this lesson: Minor 6th Pentatonic scale Because I wanted to keep it a lesson on material that I expect you already know (which is a bit less likely with a min 6th pentatonic). The scale can be played like this:
For the Cmaj7 I am focusing on getting the entire upperstructure of the chord (an E minor triad), since the only pentatonic scale in Cmajor (it contains Dm, Em and Am pentatonic scales) that has a B is the Em pentatonic I am using that on the Cmaj7.
Now that we have three pentatonic scales placed on the same part of the neck we can start making some lines with the scales.
II V I lines with pentatonic scales
In some of my other lessons on improvising over specific progression with arpeggios like this one: How to start soloing over a II V I with arpeggios I am talking a lot about what notes to target when making a line that goes from one chord to the next. In this example the scales are very different (much less that the arpeggios that are 50% the same notes every time) so it is less important to hit specific notes at the beginning of a bar. That said it is still a cadence and the lines will be stronger if you aim for the E or G on the Cmaj7 to make the resolution to the tonic clear.
The first example is fairly basic in that it is trying yo use some ways of playing the pentatonic scales in ways you are probably already familiar with. On the Dm7 I start out with groups of three notes with a pull off to make it easier to play. The G7alt line is first a descending run in the scale followed by an ascending run which ends in an encircling of the 5th of C(G).
The second example is making heavy use of the “diatonic” chords in a pentatonic scale. If you stack 3rds(so every other note) in a pentatonic scale you get a set of structures mostly containing stacks of 4ths. I talk about this in detail in this lesson: Diatonic chords in the pentatonic scale. These structures are great for solos and that is what I am using in the 2nd line.
On the Dm7 istarts of with a stack of 4ths from the D on the 12th fret. After this it descends down the scale and encircles the Eb in the Bbm pentatonic scale. The same structure moved up a half step is found in the Bbm pentatonic scale which is how I start the line on the G7alt. After this it skips up to a high f and descends down the scale. The line then resolves from Bb to the 7th(B) of Cmaj7. The line on the Cmaj7 continues with another stack of 4ths and descends down to the final 9th(D) of C.
The final example starts off with another structure found in the pentatonic scale: a minor triad. In this example I play it as an open voiced D minor triad. From there the line continues with a stack of 4ths that encircles the #9(Bb) on G. From there the line descends down the scale and then skips to play a stack of 4ths from the lower Bb. This resolves scalewise to the 3rd(E) of Cmaj7. The first for notes of the line on the Cmaj is a sort of blues cliche in an E minor pentatonic, followed by a stack of 4ths from A and finally resting on the 3rd of Cmaj7.
I hope you can use the information and the approach I discussed in this lesson to make lines with pentatonic scales. This approach can easily be used as another option to put to use in later choruses of a solo, which is how I mostly use it.
If you want to study the examples away from the video or article you can download a pdf here:
Soloing over a II V I with Pentatonic scales
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