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Lewis Turner - The Art of Jazz Soloing Part 4: Minor II V I

Lesson Notes

Over the past three lessons we have looked at the four main chord types and the importance of knowing their arpeggio shapes all over the fretboard. We have also been concentrating on a very common progression in Jazz, the Major II V I, hopefully you will be starting to get to grips with this important movement and be hearing it all over the place. Now it's time to start looking at its lesser famous brother, the minor II V I! I don’t know why it's not as well known as it sure is in a lot of tunes, many many standards combine the use of Maj and min II V I, and the minor version is certainly more prolific in Latin and Bossa styles so I place as much importance on it as its 'bigger brother'.

To recap, a Major II V I is constructed from the 2nd 5th and 1st degrees of a harmonised Major scale, for example in the key of C Major we get the following chords;

Cmaj7, Dm7, Em7, Fmaj7, G7, Am7, Bm7b5

So a II V I in C Major would be; Dm7 – G7 – Cmaj7, simple!

If we now go to the relative minor of C which is A we get the same chords now in a different order which gives us A natural minor

Am7, Bm7b5, Cmaj7, Dm7, Em7, Fmaj7 G7  This is now the harmonised minor scale and is the same for any natural minor key (Harmonic and Melodic minor are a different kettle of fish...)

With the above we can now work out what chords would make up a minor II V I in A minor and we get the following progression;

Bm7b5 – Em7 – Am7

Play it and see what you think. Your initial thought may be that its not quite as strong and obvious as the Major II V I, and you would be right to think that. In the minor progression there is no Dominant chord moving to the 1 chord, so we don’t have a Perfect Cadence. A Dominant 7th chord tends to sound unresolved and that it needs to move to the one chord, and its normally the flat 7th of the Dom chord moving to the 3rd of the Maj7 chord which is a semi-tone that makes the resolution so strong. This doesn’t happen in a “traditional” minor II V I as the 5 chord is also minor. A minor chord is quite happy on its own and can already sound resolved, moving a minor to a different minor doesn’t really do anything or create that resolving sound. Back in the day Jazz musicians picked up on this and decided to simply change the 5 chord in a minor II V I from minor 7 to Dominant 7th, and a stronger resolution was born! We now get;

Bm7b5 – E7 – Am7

Play this new progression and you should hear that stronger resolution and more familiar sound, its still not as strong as the Major II V I but its better and more “Jazz”. Now this new chord solved the sound issue but it created a problem for soloing over it as its no longer a diatonic progression, in this case the E7 chord has a G# note that isn’t in the Key of A minor. This wasn’t really a problem for Jazz guys as they had been used to playing over non diatonic changes for years, it just presented a new challenge. There are numerous ways of approaching playing over this, but sticking with the same route as the major one, we are going to learn the arpeggios around the progression.

If you have been doing your Major II V I arpeggios then this new minor one only presents one new arpeggio the m7b5 shape, so shouldn’t cause too many problems (although I confess I always found the minor progression harder to arpeggio around compared to the Major one..). Attached is TAB with the arpeggio shapes and exercises all over the fretboard, and check out the video for more in depth instruction on how to play them


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