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Lewis Turner - The Art of Jazz Soloing Part 2: Major II V I

Lesson Notes

** As featured in issue 43 **

There are certain progressions that make up most Jazz Standard tunes and crop up over and over again, none more so than the famous “II V I” movement. You will be hard pushed to find a Jazz tune that doesn’t use this movement or a variation of it. There are two main types the Major II V I and Minor II V I, we will be covering both in great detail but the Major version is the more popular one therefore this is the one we shall start with. Last lesson we were looking at the four main chord types and their arpeggios. Hopefully you are starting to get these under your fingers as we shall be using them to navigate this progression. Let’s first look at what a II V I is in theoretical terms, using G Major as an example.

A II V I (2,5,1) progression uses the 2nd 5th and 1st chord of a scale, so we must first be familiar with a Major scale and the chords that exist within it.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7


Root Tone Tone semi – T Tone Tone Tone

G A B C D E F#

Maj min min Maj Maj min dim

Maj7 m7 m7 Maj7 Dom7 M7 m7b5

Above is a G Major scale. We have the intervals which are normally referred to using Roman Numerals. The distances between the intervals, Tones and Semi Tones. The notes in the scale. The Triads that are constructed from each degree of the scale. Finally the 7th Chords (four note chords) that are constructed from each degree of the scale. It is of upmost importance that you know this sequence inside out and back to front as it is the very backbone of understanding Harmony in general not just in Jazz, and you will find it is referred to a great deal. The beauty of it is that it applies in any key, therefore the same sequence works in C Major, F Major etc. etc. you just end up with different chords.

As mentioned above a II V I progression uses the 2nd, 5th and 1st chords of a scale. Therefore a II V I in the key of G Major if we took just the basic triads would be:

A minor

D Major

G Major

Play it and you should find that it sounds pretty familiar, this sequence is used in countless different styles of music not just Jazz, in fact as you play it you may be thinking 'This doesn’t sound very Jazzy'. However, now change the chords to 7ths, you get the following progression;

A minor7


G Major 7

Now things start to sound a bit more 'Jazz', and remember the difference between Dominant 7th and Major 7th, as discussed last time Dominant 7th contains a b (flat) 7th interval. That’s why a D Major 7 chord can't exist within G Major because it would contain an C# note, flatten the 7th and you get an C note which gives you a D7 (dominant 7) which is in G Major.

It is the V – I movement that is important in this progression which is also known as a Perfect Cadence. A dominant 7th chord going to a Major or Major 7th chord gives a very strong resolution and you won’t hear many classical pieces that don’t use this movement at some point. In Jazz this V – I turnaround can be used to create tension in your lead lines before a strong resolution back to the I chord and we shall be looking at this in future lessons, but before all that you need to be able to just use arpeggios over each of the chords.

In the video I go through various Arpeggio exercises around Major II V I progressions that you will also find written out in the TAB. This progression is the very backbone of Jazz, so it's essential that you can navigate it cleanly and smoothly using arpeggios before moving on to anything 'fancier'. You would struggle to play a convincing Blues solo, or have a good understanding of Blues if you weren’t familiar with a I IV V progression including being able to recognise it by ear the same goes for II V I movements in Jazz.

Next time we will be taking these exercises and turning them into music with some II V I licks and lines, good luck!

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