Practicing Jazz Piano
Golden rule number 3:
Identify II – V – I sequences
1) II – V – I
This is by far the most important chord sequence when practicing jazz piano, and you need to recognise it in its major and minor forms. Here’s the sequence in Bb major. And here’s the sequence in G minor. Both the major and minor II – V – I sequences share the following features:
- A perfect 4th interval (5 half steps) separates each chord.
- The II chord is minor.
- The V chord is a dominant 7.
But there are also differences: In the minor version, chord II is usually min7(b5), also known as a half diminished. This is because the sequence is based on the harmonic minor scale. Look at the harmonic minor scale of G. Notice that note 6, Eb, is the same flat 5 note contained in the II chord: Amin7(b5). Now look at the tonic chord (the I chord) for both the major and minor sequence. I have purposely left it as a triad. This is because it can be played either as a 7 chord or as a 6 chord. For example, the II – V – I in G minor could end as Gmin7, but could equally end like this:
2) II – V sequences
You will come across many II – V sequences that don’t resolve to the tonic. However, when soloing, use the scale that it ‘wants’ to resolve to. This is known as the key centre of the sequence. Here’s a string of four major II – V’s, in which I improvise through their key centres. Press play (below) to listen.
And here are two pairs of minor II – V’s, in which I use their tonic harmonic minor scales for my solo. Press play (below) to listen.
Learn much more about the II – V – I sequence in video lesson 7 of Learn Jazz Piano.
You can also read about this topic in Learn Jazz Piano book 1, chapter 13.