Jazz Building Blocks – Part 2

In this five part series we will be getting a foot into the doorway of jazz music. Jazz, and its theory has been something that I found really difficult to get into on my own so I wanted to write a series that would help give people the basics. This week we’re looking at minor ii-V-i progressions:


Last week we looked at major ii-V-I chord progressions, this week we will be tackling minor ii-V-i chord progressions. Once we’ve got these two building blocks into our playing then we can start looking at a few jazz standards and see how composers have used these progressions and turned them into songs.
We’re in C major:
I       ii       iii    IV   V     vi     vii
C∆  Dm7  Em7  F∆  G7  Am7  Bø  (∆ = major 7 or major 9 and ø = half diminished)
But we want a minor ii-V-i, not a major ii-V-I. So, we look to the relative minor, A minor. Let’s look at these chords, but with A minor as our chord I, rather than C major:
                                       i      ii     III    iv     v      VI   vii     i
C∆  Dm7  Em7  F∆  G7  Am7  Bø  C∆  Dm7  Em7  F∆  G7  Am7  C∆  Bø  etc.


If we took a ii-V-i progression straight as it currently stands then we could end up with:


 ii       v      i
Bø  Em7  Am7


Having an Em7 sets up a very weak perfect cadence. So, we’re going to make it into a dominant 7th instead. Remember back to ‘Going Modal – Part 5’ where we looked at the different types of minor mode. At present, we’re operating out of the A Aeolian mode (often dubbed as the natural minor), rather than the harmonic or melodic minor. Both harmonic and melodic minor have a major seventh in their scale, which would raise the minor third of the Em7 and make it into an E7. If this makes no sense at all then check out ‘Going Modal – Part 5’ and see how the different minor scales change what chords come out.
Anyway, with that in mind, our minor ii-V-i actually looks like this:


 ii     V     i
Bø  E7  Am7


This is a much stronger progression, with a greater sense of finality. Here’s a couple of ways of playing this progression on guitar. Practice them in different keys until you’re comfortable with the shapes:


Bø   E7   Am7
e x    x      x
b 6    5     5
g 7    7     5
d 7    6     5
a x    7     x
e 7    x     5


OR (Same progression but in a different key as it’s too low or high on guitar in the current key)


Dø   G7   Cm7
e x    3      3
b 6    3      4
g 5    4      3
d 6    3      5
a 5    5      3
e x    3      x


Okay. Now we’ve got the major ii-V-I progression and the minor ii-V-i progression, let’s look at it in practice.


‘Autumn Leaves’ by Joseph Kosma in it’s simplest form (without the endless possibilities of chord extensions) goes like this:


A section:
Cm7  F7  B♭∆   E♭∆
Aø     D7  Gm6  Gm6


B Section:
Aø     D7  Gm6  Gm6
Cm7  F7   B♭∆   E♭∆
Aø     D7  Gm6  Gm6  (Or try cramming Gm7, G♭7, Fm7, E7 into the last 2 bars)
Aø     D7  Gm6  Gm6


Have a little play through it and get comfortable with the changes (guitar chords at the bottom).


At first glance, this can look fairly intimidating. The first chord is a Cm7 so you’re inclined to suspect that we might be in the key of C minor, but then the next chord shows that we’re not in C minor, then there’s half diminished chords being thrown at you and before long you want to give up! Let’s use the major and minor ii-V-I chord progressions to help break this down.
We’re in the key of G minor, so we’re looking for major ii-V-I’s that resolve to B♭∆, the relative major of G minor; and minor ii-V-i’s that resolve to G minor.


A section:
[    MAJOR   ]
  ii       V     I       IV  <— chord IV (of B♭) works well as a pivot chord
Cm7  F7  B♭∆   E♭∆
[    MINOR    ]
 ii        V      i
Aø     D7  Gm6  Gm6


B Section:
[    MINOR    ]
 ii        V      i
Aø     D7  Gm6  Gm6
[    MAJOR    ]
  ii       V      I        IV
Cm7  F7   B♭∆   E♭∆
[    MINOR    ]
 ii        V      i
Aø     D7  Gm6  Gm6
[     MINOR    ]
 ii        V      i
Aø     D7  Gm6  Gm6


See how simple the song becomes when you break it down into major and minor ii-V-I progressions. Other standards won’t necessarily play out as nicely as this, but if you look for the different ii-V-I progressions embedded into them then you will be able to make sense of the standard, or least parts of it very quickly.


Guitar chords for Autumn Leaves:


Please bear in mind that there are infinite ways of play this tune so have a play around, find some other versions online and see what sounds you like:
Cm7   F7  B♭∆   E♭∆   Aø  D7♭9  Gm6
e x      x     x        x        x      x        x
b 8      6     6       6        4      4        3
g 8      8     7       7        5      5        3
d 8      7     7       5        5      4        2
a x      8     x       6        x       5        x
e 8      x     6       x        5       x        3


Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.