Jazz Theory Basics: The Secrets Behind The ii-V-I

Do you want to learn more about jazz theory? You’ve come to the right place!

In today’s video lesson you’re going to learn how to build your jazz theory skills and you’re also going to learn about the #1 jazz chord progression. This lesson will open many doors for your music.  Lets get started!

Learn Jazz Theory By Studying Patterns

jazz theoryOne of the best ways of building your jazz theory skills is to learn more about common patterns you’ll find in jazz.

Like many styles of music, jazz has several common patterns and chord progressions. You’ll hear these patterns and chord progressions over and over again in many different songs.

Of those common chord progressions, the ii-V-I chord progression is by far the most popular jazz chord progression. You’ll hear the ii-V-I in hundreds of jazz tunes!

Since it’s so common, the more you can learn about the ii-V-I chord progression, the easier it will be for you to build your jazz theory skills and improve your playing.

Fortunately, there are some things you can do to shortcut the learning process.

 Jazz Theory Basics : II-V-I Video Tutorial

To help you build your jazz theory fundamentals, I’ve created a quick video that will show you how the ii-V-I is built. Plus, I’m also going to teach you how to work out the chord pattern in any key. Very powerful stuff!

To get started please take 5 minutes and watch this video.

 After you’ve watched the video please scroll down for some important tips to help you master this lesson.

3 Helpful Practice Exercises That Will Help You Master This Jazz Theory Lesson

Once you get the basics behind this lesson there are some drills you can do to help you get to the next level.

I’ve listed 3 drills that my students have told me have made a big difference in their playing.

Jazz Theory Drill #1

1. Practice playing the ii-V-I chords in several keys. This is a critically important step. This will help you see this piano chord progression instantly inside tunes.

If you want to learn some professional voicings for these chords there is a entire jazz piano course that will teach you how to do that.

Now, once you get good at playing your 2 5 1’s in all your keys it’s time to start applying them to tunes. This leads us to our next jazz music theory step.

Jazz Theory Drill #2

2. Go through some songs and identify where the ii-V-I’s are inside the tunes. 

(There’s also a course that will show you how to do that with many of the most popular jazz tunes.)

Everything will change for you when you can quickly see the 2 5 1‘s inside tunes. That’s because you’ll be able to take a cool pattern you may have learned in one tune and then throw it in another tune.

And in essence that is what jazz theory is at the highest level. It’s the ability to turn left brain patterns into creative musical concepts.

jazz-theoryOr in other words you learn the beautiful relationship of how chords and melody notes fit together. This leads to a path of you developing your own taste and voice as an artist.

So, that’s the 30,000 foot view from above and the ultimate goal.

But, what is an easy step 1 to get there? That leads to our next tip.

Jazz Theory Drill #3

3. Memorize the names of the 2nd, 5th, and 1st note inside every major scale.

This is actually really easy to do. For scale degree 1 just think of it as the first note of a major scale.

For scale degree 2 just think of it as a whole step higher than scale degree 1.

And for scale degree 5 just think of that as either the 5th note of the scale or just the 5th of a major chord. Simple stuff!

More Jazz Theory Tips From This Lesson

Here’s some more ways to think about the patterns in this lesson.

1. In a major key, the ii chord is a minor 7th chord. 

2. The ii chord is built off the 2nd note of the scale of the key you’re in. 

  • Ex 1: In the key of C the 2nd note is D. So, we will build our chord off this note. In C, the ii chord would be Dm7.
  • Ex 2: In the key of G the 2nd note would be A. So, we will build our chord off this note. In G, The ii chord would be Am7.

3. In a major ii-V-I chord progression, the V chord is a dominant 7th chord.

  • Ex 1: In the key of C the 5th note is G. So, the V chord would be G7. (Check out the video to listen to how this sounds)
  • Ex 2: In the key of G the 5th note would be D. So, the V chord would be D7.

4. In a major ii-V-I chord progression, the I chord is a major 7th chord.

  • Ex 1 : In the key of C the 1st note of the scale is C. So, we will build our chord off this note. In C, the I chord would be Cmaj7 .
  • Ex 2 : In the key of G the 1st note of the scale is G. So, we will build our chord off this note. In G, the I chord would be Gmaj7.

More Jazz Theory Tutorials You Can Explore

Want to learn some more jazz harmony concepts? Awesome! Check out this harmony theory lesson, this lesson on slash chords, and this lesson on how to learn jazz standards.

Additional Jazz Theory Resources

Are you new here? Then, I highly recommend you also check out this blog post on how to play jazz piano. You can also explore this cool jazz scales article.

Additionally, you’ll want to explore some

  1. Pentatonic Scales – The term “penta” just refers to the #5. So, scales that have 5 notes are considered pentatonic scales. Lots of great solos and melodies have been used featuring pentatonics.
  2. Blues Scales for piano – (which is actually a small variation on the pentatonic. It’s a 6 note scale. Sure soulful by the way!)
  3. Jazz Modes – There are slightly more advanced scales but they sound awesome. Furthermore, if you want to learn how to improvise over different chords then these are a must know.

Speaking of jazz improvisation….

What About Jazz Improvisation?

Jazz is an improvisational artform. So, if you’ve always dreamed of playing great jazz solos you’re not alone.

We’ve put together a monster course that will teach you everything you need to do to become a world class jazz improviser. Check out this ultimate jazz improvisation course here.

Your Next Steps In Jazz Music Theory?

jazz-theoryMy goal is to help you learn this important chord progression on a deep level. It’s important you build a rock solid foundation in jazz chord theory along the way.

What if you don’t want to read endless blog posts and waste years trying to figure this stuff out by yourself?

Don’t worry. We’ve got you covered. If you want to learn jazz theory while learning how to play fantastic jazz tunes and have a ton of fun doing it. Then, check out this amazing jazz piano beginner course here.

We’ve made the process easy for you. You’ll learn more in 3 hours then you’ll learn in a 3 years trying to hack this stuff together.

In the meantime enjoy your jazz theory practice!

Also, if you have questions on today’s basic jazz theory lesson please feel free to leave a comment below. I’m here to help!

Steve Nixon