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"Good improvisation communicates harmonic progression melodically. Effective melodies manipulate harmonic content through the use of guide tones and preparatory gravity notes, masterfully woven in systematic tension, release, and transparent harmonic definition."

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January 6, 2011 | The 'ii V7 I' Chord Progression Pt. 2 with Don Julin

More from newly hired JazzMando staff writer and Traverse City, Michigan mandolin master, Don Julin. Don explores the concept of unresolved tonal centers in this week's Tips and Tricks entry.


Spot the 'ii V7 I'

In my last installment, I demonstrated how the 'ii V7 I' chord progression was a common way to modulate from one key to another. The 'ii V7 I' is also about tension and resolve. During the first half of the progression there is mystery, drama, suspense, a feeling of movement. When you reach the I chord there is a feeling of resolve. Many times in jazz we see the 'ii V7' without the following I chord. This is still considered a modulation but without the resolve of the tonic. So if we are playing a tune and encounter the chords Cm7/F7 we have in fact modulated to Bb but we are at suspense, drama part of the progression. From there, the next chords might be Fm7/Bb7 which would indicate moving to the key of Eb.

Let's take two standard jazz compositions and locate all of the unresolved 'ii V7' and resolved 'ii V7 I' cadences. By doing this we can get a better understanding of what key or keys we are actually going through.

First let's take a look at "Just Friends." A 32 bar vocal standard in the key of G. It begins on the IV chord (Cmaj7) and works it's way through a series of unresolved /ii/V7/ cadences in the keys of Bb (Cm7/F7), Ab (Bbm7/Eb7), and G (Am7/D7), resolving one time using a complete 'ii V7 I' in G (Am7/D7/Gmaj7). The A7 chord appears twice in this song functioning as a Secondary Dominant or a V of V. So the major key we are in when the A7 is being played is D. There is one more 'ii V7' used as a turnaround (Dm7/G7) in the last bar. So In order to improvise well in this tune we need to be able identify the 'ii V7 I' cadences, and be fluent in G, Bb, Ab, D, and C.

Click image to print PDF: Just Friends
Just Friends

Next let's take a look at the Miles Davis composition "Tune Up." This is a 16 bar tune that is primarily thought of as an improvisational piece. This composition is pretty straight forward in that the first three 'ii V7 I' cadences resolve and are easy to spot. The first four bars consist of a 'ii V7 I' in D. (Em7/A7/Dmaj7) The next 4 bars modulate down one whole step by way of a 'ii V7 I' in C. (Dm7/G7/Cmaj7) The third line modulates down one more step with a 'ii V7 I' in Bb. (Cm7/F7/Bbmaj7) The last four bars of this piece are made up of a 'ii V7' in D followed by a measure of Bbmaj7 and a one bar turnaround comprised of a quick 'ii V7' in D.

Click image to print PDF: Tune Up
Tune Up

I believe that having an understanding of, and being able to quickly recognize 'ii V7 I' chord progressions is an essential skill of the jazz musician.

Contact Don at
Don Julin's free lessons on YouTube

The 'ii V7 I' Chord Progression Pt. 1
Understanding the 'ii V7 I': Tonal Micro-centers
Middle ground; reading jazz fake books
'Jazz Primer: Harmonic Function
Secondary Dominants

Posted by Ted at January 6, 2011 8:58 AM

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