What is a minor ii v i progression min

What Is The Minor II-V-I Progression - What Scales And Chords To Play Over It

The minor II-V-I sequence is equivalent to the major II-V-I sequence, but played in minor harmonic key. It is a must know for any guitarist who wants to learn to solo over tunes in minor keys.

You will find minor II V I progressions in many jazz tunes as Autumn leaves, Blue Bossa, Black Orpheus, Stella by Starlight, The nearness of you, I love you, Speak low, Soul eyes, Valse Hot, Along came Betty, Stablemates, Are you real, I'll remember April, I hear a rhapsody, Tangerine, In your own sweet way, Nuages and many more.

This guitar lesson for beginners explains what is the minor 2 5 1 progression, what scales and what chords can be used for improvising over it.

Minor 2 5 1 Chords

The minor 2 5 1 progression is based on the harmonic minor scale. As an example, we are now going to build guitar chords from each note of the C harmonic scale.

These chords are built by stacking thirds on each note of the scale, thus giving :

  • C minor major seventh (CmMaj7)
  • D minor seventh flat fifth (Dm7b5)
  • E flat major seventh sharp fifth (EbMaj7#5)
  • F minor seventh (Fm7)
  • G dominant seventh (G7)
  • A flat major seventh (Abmaj7)
  • B diminished seventh (Bdim7)

Now let's take the three chords that will serve to build the minor II V I sequence. These chords are constructed from the first, second and fifth degree of the C harmonic minor scale.

The chord corresponding to the first degree is a minor major seventh chord (CmM7) , the chord corresponding to the second degree is a minor seventh flat fith chord (Dm7b5) and the chord corresponding to the fifth degree is a dominant seventh chord (G7). When grouped together they form the minor II-V-I progression. 

Here are three examples of minor 2 5 1 chord voicings. The first exercise uses the three most basic minor II V I chord voicings to know (Dm7b5, G7 and CminMaj7). You can see in the second example how the dominant 7 chord can be enriched with the b13 to add harmonic interest.

In the third exercise the dom7 chord is extended with the b9 and the b13. The I chord is simply a minor 7 chord, the major seventh as been omitted.

Basic Modes & Scales

Firstable let's take a look at the three basic scales generated from tones of the C harmonic minor scale.

The first scale built on the first degree of is the C harmonic minor scale is obviously the C harmonic minor scale. It will be used to play over the minor major seventh chord, corresponding to the first degree (I) (CmM7).

C Harmonic Minor Scale C D Eb F G Ab B
Formula 1 2 b3 4 5 b6 7
Intervals W H W W H W+H H

The scale starting on the second degree of the C harmonic minor scale is called D locrian 13 mode. It will used to play over the minor seventh flat five chord (II) (Dm7b5).

D Locrian Mode D Eb F G Ab B C
Formula 1 b2 b3 4 b5 6 b7
Intervals H W W H W+H H W


The scale starting on the fifth step is called G phrygian dominant. It will be played over the dominant (V) chord (G7).

G Phrygian Dominant G Ab B C D Eb F
Formula 1 b2 (b9) 3 4 5 b6 b7
Intervals H W+H H W H W W


The three guitar diagrams below show how these basic scales look on the guitar. They represent the first choice for improvising over a minor 2 5 1 progression.

Minor 2 5 1 Chords for Guitar - 5 Exercises - PDF Method

5 Easy minor 2 5 1 Jazz Guitar Licks - Lesson With Tabs & Analysis

What Scales To Use Over a minor II V I Chord Progression?

Theoretically, you could simply play the harmonic minor scale over the whole minor II-V-I sequence because all notes in the scale relate to the chords constructed from it. However, it will be boring to play only notes from the harmonic minor scale, so here are some other ideas to spice up your improvisations and embellish your lines.

Over The iim7b5 Chord (Dm7b5)

Locrian Mode

The Locrian mode is best know as the seventh mode of the major scale, but it is also the second mode of the harmonic minor scale aka Locrian natural 6 mode. This is the basic mode to play over a m7b5 (half-diminished) chord.

D Locrian Mode D Eb F G Ab Bb C
Formula 1 b2 b3 4 b5 b6 b7
Intervals H W W H W W W


Locrian # 2 mode

Logically, we should play a b9 over Dm7b5 but to brings new colors to our musical language we can add the 9 instead of b9. In this way we leave the tonal context for a modal approach. By adding the ninth to the Locrian mode, we get the Locrian # 2 mode. This is the sixth mode of the melodic minor scale.

D Locrian #2  D E F G Ab Bb C
Formula 1 2 b3 4 b5 b6 b7
Intervals W H W H W W W


Locrian Bebop Scale

The locrian bebop scale is composed of eight notes (octatonic), it is the same as the Locrian mode including an additional passing tone (5). 

D Locrian Bebop D Eb F G Ab A Bb C
Formula 1 b2 b3 4 b5 5 b6 b7
Intervals H W W H H H W W

Over the V7(b9) Chord (G7)

As we have seen previously the basic scale to play over a dominant 7th chord in minor harmonic key is the Phrygian dominant mode. By taking the first, the third, the fifth and the minor seventh we obtain a dominant 7th arpeggio. Playing this scale and arpeggio is a little too ordinary and not very interesting. In this case we usually play a diminished seventh arpeggio starting on the major third (3) of the chord.

Diminished seventh arpeggio (3 to b9)

Bdim7 Arpeggio B D F Ab
Formula 1 b3 b5 bb7


Here is a comparison between the G Phrygian mode and the Bdim7 arpeggio.

  • B is the major third of G7
  • D is the fifth
  • F is the minor seventh
  • Ab is the flat ninth
G Phrygian Dominant G Ab B C D Eb F
Bdim7 arpeggio X b2 (b9) 3 X 5 X b7

Playing a diminished seventh arpeggio over a dominant seventh chord brings the b9. This technique also called "3 to b9" is widely used by Wes Montgomery, Grant Green and many jazz players.

Altered scale

To enlarge your musical vocabulary it is possible to think G7 as an altered chord, therefore using notes of the altered scale over it.

The "Altered scale" (also called "super Locrian mode") is the seventh mode of the melodic minor scale. Playing it over a dominant 7th chord brings tension and more sophisticated sound. The combination of the Locrian # 2 mode and the altered scale works well over II-V sequences. 

G Altered Scale G Ab Bb B Db Eb F
Formula 1 b9 #9 3 b5 (#11) #5 (b13) b7
Intervals H W H W W W W

Over the im Chord (CmMaj7)

This chord is not necessarily present after a minor II-V sequence. Very often the minor II V is followed by a major II V I. Dm7b5 being the III of this major II V I. Example with the following progression in Bb:

Dm7b5 | G7b9 | Cm7 | F7 | Bb7 |

However, we will see what we're going to play. The most obvious solutions are :

  • The harmonic minor scale
  • The melodic minor scale.
  • The Aeolian mode.
  • Minor arpeggios with extra notes (9, 11,13).

The harmonic minor scale contains seven notes, these are the same as the natural minor scale (Aeolian mode) except the seventh degree that is raised by one semitone. 

C Harmonic Minor Scale C D Eb F G Ab B
CmM7 arpeggio 1 X b3 X 5 X 7


C Melodic Minor Scale C D Eb F G A B
Formula 1 2 b3 4 5 6 7
Intervals W H W W W W H


C Aeolian Mode C D Eb F G Ab Bb
Formula 1 2 b3 4 5 b6 b7
Intervals W H W W H W W

Minor II-V-I Jazz Guitar Licks

Here are two easy 2 5 1 guitar licks taken from the PDF Method 49 Essential Jazz Guitar Licks.

Sonny Rollins

This minor II-V-I line uses the E Locrian 6 mode (E-F-G-A-Bb-C#-D) aka Locrian 13 which, is the second mode of the Harmonic minor scale. In bar three, there's a chromatic approach from above to target the b6. Then, there are two enclosures outlining the 5th and the 11th of Dm7.

Kenny Burrell

This minor II-V-I lick uses the D harmonic minor scale (D-E-F-G-A-Bb-C#) throughout the line.

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  • Patrick Kingsley
    • 1. Patrick Kingsley On 2023-04-02
    251 is more clear for me. ty
    • jazz-guitar-licks
      • jazz-guitar-licksOn 2023-04-13
      Nice !
  • Howard Bardsley
    C Aeolian mode line for Cm chord in a minor 2-5-1 shows b instead of b flat for the 7th note, though the example correctly uses a b flat. Just a bit confusing at first. Nevertheless I found the lesson very instructive. Thank yo.
    • jazz-guitar-licks
      • jazz-guitar-licksOn 2021-04-19
      Thanks for spotting this typo.

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