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

piano chordsAre you looking for information on the II-V-I-VI chord progression?

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 progressions lessons on this site. Here’s a few examples:

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, let’s 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. This is a fundamental technique when creating cool jazz chord progressions. You’ll find this in most advanced jazz chord progression lessons.

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)  ðŸ™‚

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