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Let's discover, learn, and play the II-V-I Progression. When studying chords, I encourage students to explore them from four perspectives. The four views are:
1. Family ( C Major, C Dominant, C Minor, etc.)
2. Type/Quality ( C Major, Db Major, D Major, etc.)
3. Scale/Key (C Major, D Minor, E Minor, etc.)
4. Progressions (II-V-I, I-VI-II-V-I, II-bII-I, etc.)
Each perspective reinforces one's understanding and mastery of the sounds and shapes of jazz. Today we're going to look at chords by progression. So, let's discover, learn, and play the most common jazz chord progression of them all, the II-V-I Progression.
II-V-I Progression, C Major
Time to discover the II-V-I Progression. Each key (or scale) of music consists of seven notes. Let's use the key of C Major as an example.
Once we have the correct seven notes of a key (scale), we arrange those seven notes into modes. Modes are created by starting the scale on each of the seven notes.
Once we have the scale organized into modes we can construct the seven chords of the key (scale) by selecting every other note of the mode.
Once we have our chords built we can discover, identify, and isolate the II-V-I Progression.
Once we discover the II-V-I Progression we can begin to learn the II-V-I Progression.
II-V-I Progession, C Major
Time to learn the II-V-I Progression. As we just discovered, it's essential that you know all 12 major scales before attempting to construct and determine the II-V-I Progression for each key. To save you a little time, here they are:
Now that we have established the correct spelling for each of the 12 major scales, you can begin to construct the II-V-I Progression for each key. Start with the second note of each scale and grab every other note to build the II chord (four notes). Then start with the fifth note of the scale and grab every other note (four notes). Finally, start with the first note of the scale and grab every other note (four notes). The II-V-I Progression diagram for the key of C Major in our discover section above should now make more sense. Here is what the II-V-I Progression for the key of C Major looks like using traditional music notation.
To truly learn the II-V-I Progression you need to produce the above information for each of the major keys. Spend time spelling each of the chords of the II-V-I Progression for each of the keys. If you're really ambitious, construct each II-V-I Progression using traditional music notation as well. The more "paper practice" the better when you're trying to learn a jazz piano skill.
II-V-I Progression, C Major
Now it's time to play the II-V-I Progression. You can indeed begin by performing each of the chords in the II-V-I Progression in root position to help you gain mental, physical, and aural familiarity with the sounds and shapes of the progression. Ultimately, however, you want to utilize minimal motion when moving from chord to chord to produce a smooth transition and musical sound. To accomplish this goal, we use inversions when playing the II-V-I Progression as illustrated below.
In my video below I demonstrate each of the options as illustrated so you can see and hear the smooth transitions from chord to chord. You can also observe and take note of my fingerings which you may find beneficial.
Once you play the II-V- Progression in the key of C Major, put a plan in place to play the II-V-I Progression in the remaining eleven keys. I strongly recommend using an app like iRealPro or software like Band In a Box to help you play the II-V-I Progression and all jazz piano skills.
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I look forward to helping you discover, learn, and play jazz!
I am a professional jazz pianist and music educator residing in Dallas. I founded The Dallas School of Music and currently serve as President. Likewise, I am the creator and developer of JazzPianoSkills.com.
Location (Dallas, TX)