Tag Archives: playing changes

Target notes on a II V I

One of the best ways to approach soloing over changing harmony and to have melody lines that flow naturally from one chord to the next is to use target notes. In this lesson I am going to go over how you can use target notes when you are improvising over a II V I in the key of C major.

Using target notes in your solos is to choose a note in advance and then try to play a melody towards that note. This way of constructing lines is very useful because if you have that in your system you will always play melodies that are moving towards something and not sound like you are trying out how notes sound or that melodies are moving at random. By choosing target notes that are related to the chords it is also a very powerful way to really spell out the chords.

The first thing I will go over is the II V I progression and the scale and arpeggios we need to make lines and find the target notes. Then I will go over 3 examples on how to make lines using target notes.

The Chords, The Key and the Target notes

The examples in this lesson will all be on a II V I in the key of C major as shown in example 1.

Target notes on a II V I - ex 1
Target notes on a II V I - ex 2

The II V I is of course a progression in the key of C major and all the chords are diatonic to C major, so it makes sense to connect this progression to a C major scale:

Since we are trying to set some target notes that will help us clearly spell out the harmony in the solos it is best to start with the notes of the chord, which are of course the arpeggios. For each of the chords we can play the arpeggio in this position as shown in example 3:

Target notes on a II V I - ex 3

You should notice that I chose not to start each arpeggio on the root, but try to keep the arpeggios in the same range. In this case that means that the G7 arpeggio has  a D as a lowest note.

Choosing Target Notes

For the examples in this lesson we are going to use target notes that we play on beat one of each bar. This is when the chord changes and also a heavy beat that makes it easy to really convey the sound of the new chord.

To choose target notes for the progression we have to take into consideration what notes are more important for the color of the chord and what these notes will imply. In general the root note is not too strong as we are playing a melody that is supposed to yield a chord sound on top of a root note, therefore I have left out the root as target for the whole progression.

The 7th on the Dm7 is a C which is the root of the key, and a melody with that will easily start to sound like a I V I progression instead of a II V I progression, so I left that out. This leaves us with the 3rd and the 5th on Dm7.

On the G7 the 7th is a really strong part of the sound so here we can target that note as wel as the 3rd and 5th note.

On the tonic (Cmaj7) the 3rd and the 5th are good options, the 7th can easily sound like you don’t resolve at all which can be fine and could be one of the first extensions you should add later but for now I will stick with the 3rd and 5th.

Target notes on a II V I - ex 4

I realize that most people learn that in jazz the sound of the chord is contained in the 3rd and the 7th, but this is actually more the case when playing chords. It is not as strong when playing melodies, here the 5th is a more stable and clear choice.

One very good strategy when starting out is to play towards a target note that was not a chord tone in the previous chord. In that way you can play towards a note that will clearly spell out the chord change. In the examples I do this using the 3rd(B) on G7 which is not a chord tone in Dm7.

If you get used to playing with these target notes you get good at playing very clear lines that are well connected to the harmony and you can start to check out using extensions and alterations as target notes to really bring out the sound of that note in this context.

Making lines with Target notes

In example one the target notes I used over the chords are the 5th over Dm7, and the 3rd over G7 and Cmaj7.

In some ways it is hard to really call the first note on the Dm7 a target note since there is no line played towards it.

The first part of the Dm7 line is an F major triad played in a sequence. From the high F on be three the line descends down the scale to resolve to the 3rd(B) of the G7.  On the G7 it starts with a B dim triad and then makes a small scale run via the 9th to resolve the 3rd(E) of C.

When making the lines it is important to have a clear direction to the target note and in the beginning it is also useful to move to the target note in a stepwise manner, as I do when moving from C to B (Dm7-G7).

Target notes on a II V I - ex 5

The 2nd example is starting with a Dm7 arpeggio inversion over the Dm7 and then a descending Am pentatonic scale run. The C and the A nicely encircle the 3rd of G7 which is the target of the G7. The G7 line could be seen as a melody made with a G7 arpeggio with an added diatonic passing note E (on the 2&). The 2nd half of the bar is used to encircle and point towards the E that it resolves to on the Cmaj7.

Target notes on a II V I - ex 6
line no 2

In the final example I am starting with a line that is beginning as a Dm7 arpeggio excerpt and then continuing as a descending scale run. It resolves to the D target note on G7. The G 7 line is first a G major triad and then a small scale pattern from F that resolves to the 5th(G) on C.

Target notes on a II V I - ex 7
Line no 3

How to practice using target notes

The target note approach is a very strong principle when composing and later improvising lines. It is also something you can train first by playing rubato, for example slowly making lines from Dm7 to a target note on G7. Then try to compose (or improvise in rubato) on the whole II V I before moving to a slow tempo and by that time you already should have it in your system for the most part.

Taking the Target note strategy further

If you want to check out some more material on Turnarounds and target notes then you can also check out this webstore lesson where I am using that approach on the Rhythm Changes.

If you want to study the examples away from the video or article you can download a pdf here:

Target notes on a II V I

If you have any questions, comments or suggestions for topics or how I can make the lessons better then please feel free to leave on the video or  send me an e-mail. That is the best way for me to improve my lessons and make thme fit what you want to hear.

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Turnarounds part 1 – I VI II V

In this lesson I want to talk about the I VI II V turnaround and what you can play over it and how you can practice it. The lesson will give you some exercises and suggestions to make strong melodiclines using diatonic arpeggios and target notes.

The Turnaround

Turnarounds are progressions that are used a lot in standards like Rhythm Changes and Ain’t Misbehavin, The Touch of Your Lips and so on. For that reason alone it’s well worth checking out.

I am going to start a series of lessons on different variations of turnarounds which should include a good portion of most sorts of jazz harmony. It should take us from standard turnarounds and gradually closer to John Coltranes Giant Steps cycle, which can be seen as derived from turnarounds too.

Because turnarounds are so common they are also a good place to start when practicing playing over faster moving changes. By faster moving changes I mean 2 chords per bar which is something that already in medium tempos can be hard to navigate in a musical way, and play something that makes sense melodically. If you have 2 chords per bar and improvise in 8th notes then you have to make a melody with 4 notes from one chord and 4 from the next, this can be quite tricky at times.

In this lesson I am going to work on a turnaround in Bb major. Which is this chord progression:

Turnarounds part 1 - I VI II V - ex 1

I am in this lesson using Harmonic minor on the dominant 7th chords. This is something you can also check out in this lesson:  Harmonic Minor Dominant Lines

So in this lesson we have these scales:

For the Bbmaj7 and Cm7 chords:

Turnarounds part 1 - I VI II V - ex 2

Since G7(b9) is a dominant resolving to Cm7 it is best to consider it an auxiliary dominant and use C harmonic minor:

Turnarounds part 1 - I VI II V - ex 3


And for the variation I chose to do consider the F7(b9) a chord that is borrowed from Bb minor and use Bb harmonic minor over that too.Turnarounds part 1 - I VI II V - ex 4

Raw materials for lines

The main part of the lines I make on a progression like this are made up of the arpeggios of the chord and the arpeggios found on the 3rd of the chord, so for BbMaj, I have that arpeggio and the arpeggio from D which is a Dm7 arpeggio. I use other things too but these two are probably the most important to know, and the you can of course use them in inversions and as shell voicings and triads too, as you’ll notice in my examples.

Turnarounds part 1 - I VI II V - ex 6

So now we have two arpeggios and a scale for each chord in the turnaround and can begin to start practicing lines on it.

Practicing and composing lines on the I VI II V

When you first try to make lines on the progression you probably need to be concerned with two things: Have clear target notes so that when you play that note on the 1 or the 3 you can hear the chord change clearly, and you need to approach it in a way where you practice playing towards the target note. Playing towards the target note is going to make the flow of your lines much moe logical and will help you make stronger lines whenever you improvise.

To give you some examples of how I might compose lines on this turnaround I wrote this small exercise:

Turnarounds part 1 - I VI II V - ex 7

You’ll notice that I am trying to just use basic ideas and movements and keep it quite simple, mostly because it is better to stick to the basics when starting to work on a progression like this. We can always add the fireworks later.

The first bar is using first the Bb triad and then the B dim arpeggio over the Bbmaj7 and G7(b9). In the second bar the lines is first a bit of the Cm7 arpeggio and then chromatically leading up to the 3rd(A) of F7. In bar 3 the Bbmaj line is a descending “Coltrane pattern” or Bb major pentatonic scale, depending on what you prefer calling that. On the G7 the line is again the B dim, but this time ascending. The Cm7 is a scale fragment from the C minor pentatonic scale followed by an inversion of a F7(#5) arpeggio.

The 5th and 6th bar are not using the same target note strategy to make the melody, but instead using arpeggios and voice leading to creat a coherent line. The first part on the BbMaj7 chord is a Dm7 arpeggio which is then altered to a Bdim inversion over the G7 by introducing an Ab and a B. Over the Cm7 the whole thing shifts up to an Eb Maj7 arpeggio which continues up to a C dim triad over the F7. Over the final turnaround the Bbmaj7 line is again a Dm7 arpeggio but this time in a pattern. The line on the G7 is a descending scale fragment from the C harmonic minor scale. The line continues through a descending Ebmaj7 arpeggio in inversion which then is encircling the A of an A dim inversion over the F7. This arpeggio resolves to a D.

I hope you can use the material and the strategies to become more at home over changes like this turnaround. I will make a few different lessons on different sorts of turnarounds which should help categorizing the progression and splitting songs up in bigger parts so that they are both easier to play and easier to remember.

As always you can download a PDF of the examples here for later study:

Turnarounds part 1 – I VI II V

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