How To Play A II-V-I-VI Chord Progression With Jazz Chords

piano chordsAre you looking for information on some cool jazz piano chord progressions?

Congratulations. You’ve come to the right place! 

There are tons of free lessons and articles on jazz and piano chords on this site. Make sure you bookmark this site and let’s get to learning!

I also recommend you check out several of the other jazz piano chord progression lessons on this site here.

Jazz Turnarounds : A simple guide to help you learn 4 very important jazz turnarounds and jazz chord progressions that you’ll find in hundreds of tunes.

Jazz Blues Chord Progression : Learn how to play the blues like your favorite jazz musician plays it.

All The Things You Are Jazz Piano Lesson : Learn over 20 new jazz piano chords in this free jazz piano lesson and classic jazz standard.

5 Dominant Chords : This is one of the most popular articles on the site. Learn how to play 5 killer dominant chords you can throw in your music right away.

Modern Jazz Piano Chords If you want to learn how to play chords like Chick Corea, Bill Evans, McCoy Tyner, and many other jazz greats check out this lesson.

II-V-I Jazz Piano Chords

Now, if you’ve made it this far. Great to hear! Lets get started learning how to play one of the most famous and useful jazz chord progressions there is.

The II-V-I-VI (2-5-1-6) chord progression.

You’ll find this chord progression in hundreds and hundreds of jazz standards and even in some rock songs. (video lessons, notation and tips belowSo, the chords are super useful!

If you understand some basics of jazz piano harmony you could even smoothly slip this chord progression into every single jazz song! 

Of course since this is a jazz site so I’ll teach you how to play every single chord in this chord progression. So, lets get started and have some fun!

Start With The Minor Chord

Let’s start learning the minor chord first. The best place to start is to watch the video. (video lesson, notation, and tips below

The Dominant Chord

Now, lets learn the cool sounding dominant chord. This video will teach you how.

  •  Need some scales to play over this chord? Cool. Be sure to check out this free dominant scale lesson then.

Throwing It All Together

Finally, let’s learn the major chord, the VI chord, and build the whole chord progression now!

Notated Jazz Chords From The Video

Jazz Piano Chords Rootless

(You can also click on the chords above to expand and print.)

2 Tips To Help you Learn These Jazz Chords

1. Make the VI Chord Dominant

In normal diatonic harmony you’ll usually find that the vi chord is usually minor.  In jazz though, we try to go for more of a chromatic sound.

So, we usually change this chord to a dominant seventh chord. Not only that, but we also usually add altered tensions to this chord.

  • For example, instead of an Em7 there we will play an E7(alt) instead. This makes the minor II chord that is played afterward sound very strong.

2. The 3rd And 7th Relationship is Super Important

The relationship between the 3rds of chords and the 7ths of chords are very important in jazz harmony.  This is true in the chords of this lesson especially!

In the chords in lesson the 3rds of a chord always voicelead to 7ths of the next chord and vice versa.

  • For example, in Am7 the the G is the 7th. In the next chord the G moves to F#.  This is the 3rd of the D7 chord.  7th leading to 3rd.
  • Another example is in D7 the 3rd is F#.  This note stays the same over the Gmaj7 chord and then functions as the 7th of the Gmaj7 chord. 3rd leading to 7th.

The 3rd and/or the 7th are always the lowest notes in these chord voicings.

Need some licks to play over this common chord progression?

Then you’ll also enjoy this turnaround lick lesson.

(The lesson is in the key of Eb but you can easily move it to the key of G. The relationships of the notes remain the same)  :)

How about a lick to play over the II-V-I segment of these chords? There are tons of them on this site but this jazz lick lesson is a good one to start with.

*******

What do you think of this chords and the chord progression?  Do you like the way they sound?  Where can you apply these chords in your own music? 

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Steve Nixon is the proud owner of Freejazzlessons.com. He is a world touring jazz and blues keyboard player and educator.

Steve is the author of Premium Jazz Lessons Elite Membership (A comprehensive all-in-one online jazz piano course.)

He is also the author of the The Jazz Masters Method DVD (A study of 9 legendary jazz piano players).

If you are a blues piano fan you can also check out his popular Learn Blues Piano DVD Course.


  • john voysey

    thanks – great lessons . with this one i’m confused – it seems to be 2-5-1-6 sequence .

    • http://www.freejazzlessons.com/ Steve Nixon (freejazzlessons)

      Hi John.  You are absolutely correct.  You can actually start this chord sequence on any chord.  I purposely wrote the title like that since the vast majority of people search for the term 1-6-2-5-1. Very few actually search for 2-5-1-6. I figured I’d make it easier for people to discover :)

      Thanks for your query.

  • Rico

    very interesting, a little advanced for me but thats what learning is all about, to stretch yourself. thanks for the info.

  • http://www.freejazzlessons.com/ Steve Nixon (freejazzlessons)

    Hi Bob.  The theory for the altered scale always remains the same no matter what key you’re in. It’s 1, b9, #9, 3, #11, b13, b7.  This scale sounds great over dominants chord that resolve up a fourth to a minor chord.
      I also try to have my chords voicelead smoothly into each other. So, the E7alt chord I chose led smoothly into the Aminor7 chord I chose.Hope this helps!

    • Bobgsearch

       first, thank you for such a prompt reply…will think about and try the scale as you suggested to see if I really understand it…did not perceive it as a scale, but rather as a chord in the rh.   again , appreciate your response, and, will get back on my “results” :-)..enjoy the Chicago weather

  • http://www.jimjeffreymusic.com/ Jim Jeffrey

    Great Site!! Thanks for putting your self out there like this to help others. All of the info is very well explained in the videos too. As a teacher and a musician, I really appreciate your work here!

  • Jim Jeffrey

    Great Site!! Thanks for putting your self out there like this to help others. All of the info is very well explained in the videos too. As a teacher and a musician, I really appreciate your work here!

    • http://www.freejazzlessons.com/ Steve Nixon (freejazzlessons)

      No Problem Jim. Awesome to hear you’re enjoying all the lessons.

  • Mr_fire_and_ice

    HELP!!!!!!!!!!!!!  Ca you please explain to me why you have nuetral G to be SHARP 9 in the E7 altered chord?  Is that a mistake or is this really true?  Please help…..I’m dying to know because if it is correct it screws up everything I learned!!!! :(

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uXIoZ0SsvUI

  • Mr_fire_and_ice

    HELP!!!!!!!!!!!!!  Ca you please explain to me why you have nuetral G to be SHARP 9 in the E7 altered chord?  Is that a mistake or is this really true?  Please help…..I’m dying to know because if it is correct it screws up everything I learned!!!! :(

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uXIoZ0SsvUI

    • http://www.freejazzlessons.com/ Steve Nixon (freejazzlessons)

      Technically the name of the note is F double sharp but enharmonically it would be a G. You’ll get a lot of blank stares on a gig if you call out F double sharp. So, the vast majority of musicians would call this G. The regular 9 of an E7 chord is F# so a #9 would be G. Hope this helps!

      • Mr_fire_and_ice

        Thank you so much!  I feel better now. I get it.  So in Bb…… the ninth is “C”  but because it’s not already sharped, you just make it “C sharp”.  :)

        • http://www.freejazzlessons.com/ Steve Nixon (freejazzlessons)

          yep!

  • http://v-picks.com/ mandolin picks

    I do appreciate blogs like this. People like you are just making the effort to share their knowledge so that others can also improve themselves. These tips are really amazing. Please keep doing what you do. Thank you.

  • F Hotzy

    Since I,ve found your Site with these very cool tips to the Chord Progressions my Piano Playing has been better and more interesting as before. Thank you very much.

    • http://www.freejazzlessons.com/ Steve Nixon (freejazzlessons)

      Great to hear and thanks :)

  • Daves1947

    What a fantastic site Steve!
    I’m worried! …. I just retired and have been playing piano “by ear” for many years, and now have the time to learn what I’d love to play,. JAZZ!
    Do you think all my bad habits I’ve made along the way will impede my jazz learning?
    Anyway, I’ll be with your site regardless for the foreseeable future.
    Thanks so much
    Dave Cole

    • http://www.freejazzlessons.com/ Steve Nixon (freejazzlessons)

      As long as you have love, passion, and self discipline to improve yourself you should be fine. Keep working hard to explore and develop your inner voice as an artist.

  • http://www.freejazzlessons.com/ Steve Nixon (freejazzlessons)

    Hi Robert,
    It’s actually a II-V-I-VI chord progression. The voicings are exactly the same but you can reorder them and play a I-VI-II-V-I.

  • Javier

    Hi Steve,

    This is an amazing site, thank you for taking time to make all this videos for us. I am still a little confused about some things. Is every chord the same as an inversion of another chord? And secondly, could you use any chord progression in any song that you want to? If not, how do you know which key to use for a ii v i progression in any song?

    Thanks :)

  • Andrew A

    Hi Steve,

    Great Lesson! Thanks :)

    • http://www.freejazzlessons.com/ Steve Nixon (freejazzlessons)

      Thanks Andrew!