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Understanding the Importance of the II-V Progression

Mark Stefani

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Mark Stefani Stresses the Importance of the II-V Progression in Step #2 of the ‘Seven Steps to Changes Heaven’

It has been stated on many an occasion that mastery of the II-V progression (e.g. Dm7 to G7 in the key of C) is critical to a jazz improviser’s ultimate success in soloing over changes. A quick glance through the aforementioned swing blues progression or the multitude of standards in any fakebook underlines this importance, and bear in mind the fact that it’s not just about the actual II-V in a given key, but any motion of a fourth between minor and dominant chords. Generally speaking, II-Vs are either long (two bars – four beats per chord) or short (one bar – two beats per chord). 

As with the blues, don’t depend on scales, modes, and arpeggios to develop a working vocabulary of II-V licks.

Instead, learn the language through imitation, just as the forefathers of jazz did before you. You can use books and pre-existing solo transcriptions to increase your concepts and vocabulary, but personalize your path by writing your own book of licks that appeal to you, ideally organizing them by the starting pitch relative to the II chord (e.g. Dm7 to G7 starting on D, E, F, G, A, B, C). This way when you recognize a II-V you’ll instantly have something to use. Practice your II-V licks in every position and octave, eventually rotating keys daily or weekly. 

Watch for the NEXT STEP in the SERIES!

And check out more from Mark Stefani.

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