Jazz Building Blocks – Part 3

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 iii-vi-ii-V-I chord progressions:

 

Last week we completed the combination of the major ii-V-I and the minor ii-V-i progression. This week we are going to be looking at a new progression, the iii-vi-ii-V-I progression.
As we’ve carried over the idea of the V on V theory from the ‘Using Dominants’ series, this progression takes it to a new level.

 

As usual, 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)

 

As we learned when looking at the ii-V-I progression, the root note of each chord moves down a fifth (similar to a perfect cadence) in order to reach its next chord. So, if we go backwards from major ii-V-I progression then we need to find which chord would come before chord ii:
 vi        ii       V      I
Am7   Dm7   G7   C∆
This is a vi-ii-V-I progression. When looking at root notes, the A falls a fifth to a D, which falls a fifth to a G, which falls a fifth to a C. Let’s take this one step further in order to complete today’s new progression:
 iii       vi        ii      V       I
Em7   Am7   Dm7   G7   C∆
This is our iii-vi-ii-V-I chord progression in C major. Sounds complicated but the theory is simple. Again, looking at the root notes, E falls a fifth to A, which falls a fifth to D, which falls a fifth to G, which finally falls a fifth to C. Now you can see how it exemplifies the the V on V theory

 

That’s the theory behind it, let’s see it in action.

 

Everyone loves a bit of Stevie Wonder; and although he’s not solely a jazz musician, he certainly takes huge influence from the genre. Let’s look at the cheesy yet loveable classic, ‘Isn’t She Lovely’:

 

                C#m7      F#7                  B7           E
Isn’t she lovely,         isn’t she wonderful.
                C#m7         F#7                       B7          E
Isn’t she precious,      less than a minute old.
               A                              G#7                   C#m7                             F#7
I never thought through love we’d be,           making one as lovely as she
                         B7                              E
But isn’t she lovely made from love.

 

Let’s break this down. We’re in E major:

 

  I       ii           iii        IV    V       vi         vii
E∆   F#m7   G#m7   A∆   B7   C#m7   D#ø

 

So in the first half we’ve got a vi-II-V-I progression. Note that he’s used a secondary dominant on the F#, see ‘Using Dominants – Part 3’ if you don’t know what I’m talking about.
               vi     –  II           –    V    -    I
            C#m7   F#7               B7        E
Isn’t she lovely,         isn’t she wonderful.
               vi       –  II             –       V    –   I
             C#m7     F#7                   B7       E
Isn’t she precious,      less than a minute old.

 

In the second half he starts with chord IV, which as we briefly saw last week, makes a great pivot chord. He then goes into a full blown III-vi-II-V-I progression to finish off the section. Notice again, he uses a dominant 7th in an usual place, chord 3. Check out ‘Using Dominants – Part 4’ if you don’t understand why.

 

          IV                        III         –           vi              -              II           -
           A                       G#7                C#m7                        F#7
I never thought through love we’d be,           making one as lovely as she
                     V           –             I
                    B7                        E
But isn’t she lovely made from love.

 

So there you have it; a perfect execution of the iii-vi-ii-V-I progression.

 

 

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