What's the Major II-V-I Chord Progression - Guitar Lesson with Shapes , Tabs and Licks

What's a II-V-I chord progression

The major II-V-I sequence is the most common chord progression used in jazz music but also in a whole number of styles of music as pop, rock, blues, country. This theoretical element is a must know for any guitarist who wants to learn the jazz language. 

The 2-5-1 progression is present in many jazz standards (Summertime, Autumn leaves, Blue bossa, All the things you are and many more), this is why it is very important to master it.


How is Built the Major II V I Progression?

The II-V-I chord progression is made up of three basic chords constructed from the first, second and fifth degree of the major scale. First of all, you need to understand a fundamental theoretical element : The harmonization of the major scale which consists in stacking thirds starting on each degree of the major scale, in order to create seven different chords. 

What Are The Chords of a II-V-I Progression ?

Let's take example in C major :

  • The four note chord corresponding to the first degree (I) of the C major scale is a major seventh chord (CM7).
  • The four note chord corresponding to the second degree (II) is a minor seventh chord (Dm7).
  • The four note chord corresponding to the fifth degree (V) is a dominant seventh chord (G7).

These chords (in their unaltered forms) are fundamental for a first approach. When they are grouped together they form the II-V-I progression.

Dm7 | G7 | CM7 | % |

Four note chords harmonization of the I, II and V degree of the C major scale.

The II-V-I Sequence in Twelve Keys

Any jazz guitar player must be able to recognize and play a II-V-I in any key. Here is the II-V-I progression in all twelve keys.

  II V I
Key of C Dm7 G7 Cmaj7
Key of F Gm7 C7 Fmaj7
Key of Bb Cm7 F7 Bbmaj7
Key of Eb Fm7 Bb7 Ebmaj7
Key of Ab Bbm7 Eb7 Abmaj7
Key of Db Ebm7 Ab7 Dbmaj7
Key of Gb Abm7 Db7 Gbmaj7
Key of B C#m7 F#7 Bmaj7
Key of E F#m7 B7 Emaj7
Key of A Bm7 E7 Amaj7
Key of D Em7 A7 Dmaj7
Key of G Am7 D7 Gmaj7

How to Connect Chords With Guide Tones?

When you want to improvise over a II-V-I sequence, the first step is to identify and connect the most important notes of the chords. These notes are the third (3) and seventh (7), they guide the movement of the harmony from chord to chord. This is what we call guide tones.

 Let's take an example with a C major II-V-I sequence (Dm7 | G7 | Cmaj7) .

  • The guide tones of the Dm7 are the minor third (b3) which is F and the minor seventh (b7) which is C.
  • The guide tones of G7 are B (3) and F (b7).
  • The guide tones of Cmaj7 are E (3) and B (7).


After understanding and playing II-V-I sequences in twelve keys using guide tones as shown in the previous example, you have now to create more elaborate jazz lines using arpeggios.

What's an Arpeggio?

This is a chord whose notes are played one by one, this way you will create fluid lines and play the most important notes.

In the first example, we will play a minor seventh arpeggio (D-F-A-C) over Dm7. This minor seventh (b7) of this arpeggio is connected with the third (3) of G7 and the b7 of G7 is connected with the third of Cmaj7. (the guide tones).

In the second example, we will use two arpeggios : Dm7 (D-F-A-C) and G7 (G-B-D-F). These two arpeggios are connected with guide tones once again.

What Scales To Play Over a II-V-I Progression?

Here are the three modes to play generated from tones of the C major scale. These three scales are used for a basic approach of the II-V-I improvisation.

  • The scale starting on the first step of the C major is called Ionian mode (major scale). It will be used to play over the major chord (I) (CM7).
  • The scale starting on the second degree of the C major is called D Dorian mode. It's a minor type scale because of its b3. It will be used to play over the minor (II) chord (Dm7).
  • The scale starting on the fifth step of the C major is called G Mixolydian mode. It's a dominant  type scale, it contains a major third (3) and a b7. It will be used to play over the dominant (V) chord (G7).

Bebop Scales 

Bebop scales are a nice alternative when you want to add a bebop touch to your playing. They are made up of eight notes, including a chromatic passing tone.

  • The minor bebop scale (also called "Dorian bebop scale") is the same scale as the Dorian mode but with a major third (3) between the minor third (b3) and the fourth (4th). There are two versions of this scale, one with a passing tone (3) between the b3 and the 4th and one with a passing tone (7) between the b7 and the root (this one has the same intervals as the dominant bebop scale shown below). The Dorian bebop scale can be used over minor seventh chords, so over the II of the II-V-I cadence.
  • ​The dominant bebop scale is also made up of eight notes with a passing tone (7) between the b7 and the root. It can be played over dominant seventh chords (V).

Altered and Half-Diminished scales 

Playing the Mixolydian mode or the bebop scale over the dominant 7th chord will be boring at the long run, that's why it can be interesting to add tensions in your jazz lines by using the altered and the half-whole diminished scales (including some passing tones).

Here are these two fundamental scales that will bring interesting altered lines in your playing.

  • The first one is called "Altered scale" (also called "super Locrian mode"). It is the seventh mode of the melodic minor scale.
  • The second one is called "Half-whole diminished scale". It contains eight notes (octatonic scale).

Here is a short II-V-I guitar line for beginner, still in the key of D minor, built with the D Dorian bebop scale (D-E-F-Gb-G-A-B-C-) and the G dominant bebop scale (G-A-B-C-D-E-F-Gb-G). Notice that these two scales are connected with two guide tones, namely b7 and b3. You can see a C major seventh arpeggio (C-E-G-B) at the end.

7 USD - II V I Jazz Backing Tracks | Secure Payment By Bandcamp / Paypal

The following bandcamp player provides 12 jazz swing backing tracks in twelve keys for practicing scales and improvisation over the II V I progression.

  • Acoustic Bass, drums and piano sound with pre count.
  • Medium Swing - 120 BPM
  • Wave Files

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II-V-I chord cadence II-V-I chord progression II-V-I chord sequence chord progression How to build a II-V-I progression II-V-I

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