ii – V Progressions

Hey Jazz Guy…
Can you explain the basic concept of a ii-V progression and why it’s so important?Chordless in Cleveland

Dear Chordless: A two five or (ii-V) in roman numerals, is a basic progression that is taken from the cycle of 5ths. Root motion in 4ths or 5ths is motion around the circle and it is part of the Tonic-Dominant relationship. When you listen to classical music, especially baroque ect, you hear this relationship in full force being discovered. In jazz, it is often obscured a little bit by more modern harmony, but the idea is the same. It’s the combination of root motion and the guide tones of these chords that makes the ii-V work. The 7th of the ii chord becomes the 3rd of the V chord, while the 3rd of the ii chord stays the same, but when the root note changes, it becomes the 7th of the V chord.
When you play these, play them in all keys, with the proper voice leading (no cheating guitarists!) Then when you’re playing lines over this progression, make sure your line reflects that voice leading and includes those guide tones. And you will be on your way to a richer harmonic vocabulary.

ii-V In Depth…

Now that you’ve read the article and it’s led you here, lets take a closer look at some of the concepts mentioned only briefly earlier.

Tonic Dominant Relationship

Below is the famous circle of 5ths wheel. It visually describes this relationship by placing all 12 notes (keys) to the RIGHT of the key they are dominant in and to the LEFT of the key that is dominant to them. Take a look:

In a ii-V progression, we are using motion COUNTERCLOCKWISE around circle. You will notice that in our example : D-7 G7 CMaj7 , D is the Dominant in the Key of G and G is the Dominant in the Key of C. If we cycle back the ii-V further, to create a iii-VI-ii-V-I, then we just go further around the circle, like this : E-7 A7 D-7 G7 CMaj7. Listen to some Bach for a perfect example of this type of harmony. OR check out “I Got Rhythm” that perfect song’s perfect chord progression is the classic example of this in jazz.

Guide Tones

Guide tones in jazz refer to the 3rd and 7th of any chord. [backing up one step further, 3rd and 7th refer to the interval distance between that note and the root note. E is the 3rd of C because E is a third, major or minor doesn’t matter, away from C]

Why this designation? The 3rd and the 7th define the quality and sound of the chord. The other notes (root and 5th) do not change until you’ve altered the chord significantly (like diminished). Consider this:

B Bb Bb B
E Eb E Eb

Notice anything? Above are the structures for CMaj7, Cmin7, C7, and CMaj(min7). Only the guide tones change!! This idea is critical because it leads us to two very important concepts:

1) The other notes are irrelevant. Bass player is probably playing them anyway. You do not need root notes in your chord voicings!! The only time you’ll ever need 5ths is when the 5th is altered. [min7b5, or diminished, or dom b5 ect] This frees up your fingers to add juicy tensions onto your chord voicings. More about that in later lessons.

2) When soloing, especially for older styles of jazz like swing and bebop, you must play guide tones!! They GUIDE your ear through the harmony. Listen to players like Charlie Parker, Lester Young, Wes Montgomery, and scores of others who are masters of this. (modern cats like Kurt Rosenwinkle bend these rules quite a bit, so listen to old dudes to learn this type of playing.)

Practice Strategy

Now I know what you’re thinking:: “ok cool, so what do I shed?” WELL…

First, get familiar with the voicings used in the lesson so your ears become accustom to the root motion and guide tone motion. Take it though every key by going around the Circle of 5ths. Go Left like this: D-7 G7 CMaj7. G-7 C7 Fmaj7. C-7 F7 BbMaj7 ect ect. See the pattern?
This will take you through every key.

Then there are two directions you can go: Experiment with substitutions [see lessons below for guidance] And add tensions to your voicings. Replace root with 9th, 5th with 6th ect. Whatever the chord calls for.


I wouldn’t presume to write a bunch of ii-V lines for you to practice, when there are literally thousands or recorded solos to learn from. What’s my point? listening and learning from the records is the best way. If hearing is not your strongest ability at the moment, then check out the Charlie Parker Omni-book, or Jerry Bergonzi’s multiple books for fantastic examples of ii-Vs in action. The most important thing is to listen and learn how this functions in a musical way. Playing patterns won’t get you anywhere, regardless of how well you can do it. That being said, downloadable below are several examples of practice lines. Notice that they all highlight the guide tone motion, and make use of approach notes, chord tones, and tensions. Feel free to hit me up for more practice examples and private lessons.

Jazz is an improvised music. So once you have some lines down, change them up, learn to improvise with what you have already, and try to inject some of your own creativity into what you are playing. Good Luck Jazz Guy.

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Categories: Chords, Harmony

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