How to Play and Use a II-V-I Progression Properly

The basic chord progression in modal music is the famous ii-V-I progression. This turnaround is common in jazz music but also in other popular music styles that are based on modal theory.

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The basic chord progression in modal music is the famous ii-V-I progression. This turnaround is common in jazz music but also in other popular music styles that are based on modal theory. It determines the tone of the key in the song and if it's major or minor. It doesn't matter what diatonic chord scale you play - you always play the ii-V-I progression in a major key with chords harmonized out from the ordinary Ionian scale. In the key of C major it will be Dm7-G7-Cmaj7.

You can outline the progression simplest by playing the C Ionian or (to prefer in rock jazz fusion) the G Mixolydian scale.

ii-V-I major (moveable shape with barre chords)
E|--10--3--8---
B|--10--3--8---
G|--10--4--9---
D|--10--3--9---
A|--12--5--10--
E|--10--3--8---
In minor keys you always play the ii-V-I progression with chords harmonized from the harmonic minor scale. There's the diatonic V chord - a dominant 7 chord. This will fit in fine in any minor key, with proper harmony rules when the V chord always can be substituted by the dominant 7 chord. The technique that allows you to borrowing chord harmonized out of another scale in the same tonality is called "modal interchange" or "modal mixture." It's a common technique when you want to re-harmonize the progression of a tune. In the key of C minor it will be Dm7b5-G7-Cm. The simplest way to outline this progression will be by playing the C harmonic minor scale.

ii-V-I minor (movable shape whit barre chords)
E|--10--3--8---
B|--13--3--8---
G|--10--4--8---
D|--10--3--8---
A|--11--5--10--
E|--10--3--8---
In modern jazz the V7 chord is often altered both in major and minor keys. That will create more tension from ii chord, in the example the Dm7b5 chord, which is a diminished chord, also belonging to the dominant chord family. An altered chord always has two tones that are outside the scale of the key. That's what creates the tension. To place the alterated V7b5b9 chords highest tone, the b9, as near as possible to the next chords, the tonica's, root will give a real smooth passage between this two chords.

ii-V-I minor with an altered V7b5b9 (movable shape with barre chords)
E|--10--9---8---
B|--13--9---8---
G|--10--10--8---
D|--10--9---8---
A|--11--10--10--
E|--10------8---
When the V chord is altered the common way to outline the ii-Valt-I in minor would be to changing the scales as the chords changes. For example D diminished scale over Dm7b5 - the Super-Locrian scale (melodic minor's 7th mode) in G over our altered G7b5b9 - and finally, the resolution in the tonic Cmin7 where we in this example play the C melodic minor scale, popular in jazz. That scale are played the same way upwards as downwards in jazz music and the scale has six modes to it. Played that way its called "the jazz scale." In classical music you play the Aeolian scale when walking' downwards and that melodic minor form doesn't have any modes.

Melodic Minor "Jazz scale"

E|-----------------------------------------------7--8--
B|----------------------------------------8--10--------
G|------------------------------7--8--10---------------
D|--------------------7--9--10------------------------
A|-------------8--10-----------------------------------
E|--8--10--11------------------------------------------
From this scale you can also derivate and play its 6 modes:
  • Dorian b2
  • Lydian#5 , augmented scale
  • Lydian b7, Lydian Dominant
  • Mixolydian b6, Hindu
  • Aeolian b5
  • Locrian b4, Super Locrian
The harmonized chords out of these scales are:

m(maj7), b9sus4, maj7#5, 7(#11), 7b13, m7b5 and 7mb5b9

Jazz it up, cat!

By Paxom, Sweden

3 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Kevätuhri
    "The basic chord progression in modal music is the famous ii-V-I progression." Sigh... where to begin. No, that chord progression has nothing to do with modes. Nothing. At. All. The V-I change alone makes it pretty damn impossible for it to be modal in any way. And please don't use the word ionian, as this lesson handles about zero subjects that relate to "ionian" in any way. If it's not modal (as none of this is) it's called the major scale. If it is modal it's probably still not ionian. You also skated over melodic minor so fast that I guarantee that 0% of people who read this article who have no prior experience in MM shading will have no idea what you're talking about. The article is pretty convoluted and poorly explained, and you still managed to explain only a fraction of how to really play over that progression properly. There was no mention of "making the changes" or target notes, which are exponentioally more important, especially to beginners, than MM shading. As a last gripe, writing an article like this without even a single mention of CST is wrong on a lot of levels.
    Kevätuhri
    lol, mean't to say that "0% of people are going to understand" not "0% of people will have no idea."
    MaggaraMarine
    II-V-I is pretty much the opposite of modal. CST is not the same as modal. Lots of misinformation here. G mixolydian will sound no different from C major if you are playing it over a progression in C major. You actually can't really play G mixolydian over a C major progression, because it will never sound like G mixolydian, unless your backing track is also in G mixolydian. Now, CST is different, but thinking "D dorian - G mixolydian - C major" is exactly the same as playing C major over the whole progression. Yes, it is good to know where the chord tones are, but you don't need to change your scale for that. It will still sound like C major. Of course with CST you can change the sound, for example by playing G alt or something over the G7 chord. Also, using a V7 in a minor key is not modal mixture. It is not a chord substitution either. Gm and G7 chords in the key of C minor have different functions. G7 is not the substitute chord of Gm. Also, everything Kevätuhri said.