The most common chord progression found in jazz music is the ii-V-I (2-5-1), and the source of the minor ii, dominant V, and major I chords is the modes of the major scale. For example, the C major scale consists of the notes C-D-E-F-G-A-B. The corresponding modes of the C major scale which go along with those notes include C Ionian, D Dorian, E Phrygian, F Lydian, G Mixolydian, A Aeolian, and B Locrian. To construct a ii-V-I in C major, use the second, fifth, and first scale degrees, respectively, of the C major scale along with their associated modes and seventh chords. Seventh chords are constructed by playing every other note of a scale or mode. If you start with the first note of a scale and skip every other one, you will play the first, third, fifth, and seventh notes. These notes are also the root, third, fifth, and seventh of the chord. They are called chord tones, and they define the quality (major, minor, dominant, etc.) of each seventh chord.
The second scale degree of the C major scale is the note D. The second mode of the C major scale is D Dorian, and the seventh chord generated by D Dorian is Dm7 because D Dorian contains a root, minor third, perfect fifth, and minor seventh scale degrees. Dm7 is the minor ii (2) chord in the key of C major because it is built off the second mode of the C major scale. The fifth scale degree of the C major scale is the note G. The fifth mode of the C major scale is G Mixolydian, and the seventh chord generated by G Mixolydian is G7 because G Mixolydian contains a root, major third, perfect fifth, and minor seventh scale degrees. G7 is the dominant V (5) chord in the key of C major because it is constructed from the fifth mode of the C major scale. The first scale degree of the C major scale is the note C. The first mode of the C major scale is C Ionian, and the seventh chord generated by C Ionian is CMaj7 because C Ionian contains a root, major third, perfect fifth, and major seventh scale degrees. CMaj7 is the major I (1) chord in the key of C major because it is built from the first mode of the C major scale. The ii-V-I chord progression in the key of C major is Dm7-G7-CMaj7. Maj7, m7, and 7 also happen to be the three most commonly played chords in jazz. As long as you understand the order or sequence of the major scale modes, you can easily think through the ii-V-I in every key without referring to your instrument. For example, the ii-V-I in the key of G major is Am7-D7-GMaj7. The ii-V-I in the key of D major is Em7-A7-DMaj7 and so forth.
Although the ii-V-I is the most common chord progression played in jazz, there are several other progressions that need to be examined including the ii-V and the V-I. A ii-V (2-5) chord progression doesn't have to end with a major I chord, and a V-I (5-1) chord progression doesn't have to be preceded by a minor ii chord. Both of these chord progressions are often found in classic jazz compositions.
In the final two measures of the 12-bar blues and many other song forms, you will frequently find another common chord progression known as the I-VI-ii-V (1-6-2-5) which functions as a turnaround to take you back to the top of the song form. The I-VI-ii-V is a slightly altered chord progression because a completely diatonic I-vi-ii-V in the key of F major would feature the chord changes of FMaj7-Dm7-Gm7-C7. The I-VI-ii-V which often appears as a turnaround in the blues, such as the 12-bar blues in F, contains the chords of F7-D7-Gm7-C7. The I (1) chord in a 12-bar blues is normally a dominant seventh chord type so this would explain why F7 is utilized instead of FMaj7. Rather than playing a minor seventh chord as the vi in a I-vi-ii-V chord progression, most musicians usually make a very basic chord substitution by modifying the minor seventh chord to a dominant seventh chord change. Playing D7 instead of Dm7 heightens the underlying sense of tension and resolution within the chord progression. Plus, there are also many more opportunities to alter dominant seventh chords than there are to alter minor seventh chords. If you play a I-vi-ii-V chord progression (F7-Dm7-Gm7-C7) on a piano using basic voice leading techniques, the chord progression will sound smooth. If you substitute a dominant VI for a minor vi and then play a I-VI-ii-V chord progression (F7-D7-Gm7-C7), you will feel a stronger sense of tension and resolution within the turnaround.
Common variations of the I-vi-ii-V and I-VI-ii-V chord progressions are the iii-vi-ii-V (3-6-2-5) and iii-VI-ii-V progressions. In the key of C major, a diatonic iii-vi-ii-V chord progression features the chord changes of Em7-Am7-Dm7-G7. Like with the I-vi-ii-V chord progression, the minor vi chord often gets substituted and played as a dominant seventh chord thus making it a chord progression of Em7-A7-Dm7-G7 (I-VI-ii-V) in order to heighten the underlying sense of tension and resolution within the chord progression.
In addition to the ii-V-I, you should feel comfortable improvising bass lines and solos over the ii-V, V-I, I-VI-ii-V, I-vi-ii-V, iii-VI-ii-V, and the iii-vi-ii-V because these common chord progressions are utilized extensively in many styles of music.
Other common chord progressions include the V of V (5-5) and the I-IV (1-4). In a V of V chord progression, a dominant seventh chord resolves down a fifth to another dominant chord such as C7-F7. You will often find several V chords in a row as they follow each other counterclockwise around the circle of fifths. The "B" section of "I Got Rhythm" (Rhythm Changes) by George Gershwin is a classic example of V of V chord progressions where four V chords appear in a row with each one resolving down a fifth over the span of eight measures. There are two measures of D7 followed by two bars of G7, two measures of C7, and two bars of F7. In a I-IV chord progression, major seventh chords are frequently followed by major seventh and dominant seventh chords a fourth higher such as CMaj7-FMaj7 or CMaj7-F7. ... Subscribe Today & Read More!
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