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All About Chords,
the ii-V7-I progression
Be sure and check
out all of the lessons in the "All About Chords" series.
1 - how harmony and chords work
2 - the ii-V-I chord progression.
Part 3 - Arpeggios
Part 4 - The Blues Injection
5 - CAGED - Form E
6 - CAGED 2 - Form A
Part 7 - CAGED 2 - Form A - Arpeggios
Part 8 - CAGED 2 - Form A - Chord Melody
Part 9 - CAGED 2 - Blues Chord Melody
In the last lesson, we looked
at this progression: the I, vi, IV, V7, I. In C major, that's
C, Am, F, G7, C.
We worked backwards from there to explore the V7-I "mini" progression
in detail. We're gonna pick up from there and change our progression
just a wee bit to a related progression: the I, vi, ii, V7, I.
Here it is in C major. Strum this a couple of times:
C, Am, Dm, G7, C
You see that we changed the F chord (IV) from the I, vi, IV,
V7, I progression to a Dm, which is the ii in C major. It's not
a big change in sound, but it's an important change. The progression
we're playing now isn't a 16451, it's a 16251. (Please excuse
the change to Arabic numbers from Roman. I'm part Syrian, so it's
in the blood.)
Why the change? What's wrong with the '451 you ask? "Gee, I was
getting to like the '451!" You can play with the '451 later. First,
eat your vegetables.
We're switching to the 251 for a few reasons: first, check around
the web, the curriculums in the big music schools, and with jazz
professors and good teachers. They'll tell you to practice the
251, not the 451. That's reason one: the experts dig the ii-V7-I.
Reason B is as follows: Dm to G7 offers you more sonic variety
than F to G7. Both F and G7 are based on major triads, correct?
Not so with Dm, G7. Dm is minor and G7 is major. Major, minor
offers your ear more variety than F, G7. In the same way, the
term "Teeter Totter" is more appealing to the ears than "Totter
totter." And I call it a Seesaw, anyway.
Keep in mind this replacement of the F major with the D minor
is a preference, not a law, no matter how many music professors
prefer the ii-V7-I.
Another thing to keep in mind is that Dm is a *substitute* for
F, and F can sub for Dm. We'll go more into chord substitutions,
harmonization, *re*harmonization, and 10 things you should never
say to people who look like their pets, in a near future lesson.
Now that we've replaced the 451 with the 251, let's *play* it!
In C major, the ii, V7 mini progression is Dm, G7. Play this
on your guitar and *listen* to it.
| Dm Dm | G7 G7 | Dm Dm | G7 G7 |
You're not allowed to cheat on this by following the G7 with
a C. I want you to feel the musical tension you're building up
by playing this.
Hey, you know what? I just realized we have the beginnings of
a George Harrison tune on our hands: My Sweet Lord (To be fair,
George actually stole this tune from another group.) Let's do
a Powertab on this. Here's the link: George
Harrison's My Sweet Lord
Okay, we gotta do a reminder with this: the music in the Power
Tab file is my interpretation of a song. It is taken from my own
mind, and not copied from any authoritative source. It is to be
used *only* for scholarly porpoises. Gosh those dolphins are getting
smarter every year aren't they?
If you haven't downloaded the super cool and free Powertab yet,
here's where to get it:
The purpose of the
Once you can play the ii-V progression smoothly, your ear should
be crying out to hear the C. That's the purpose of the ii-V7:
to build momentum to slam into the C.
How does it build this momentum? What is it about the ii-V7 that
makes our ears want to hear the C?
Here are two important parts of Dm-G7: movement by a fourth,
and the sweet note of Dm. Before we look at these reasons, keep
this in mind: the job of the ii, V7 mini progression is to build
tension, and *not* to provide the same sense of satisfaction that
the V7, I provides.
Let's take a closer look at these reasons. Then, let's get our
fingers and ears intimate with this important mini-progression.
Movement by a fourth
Think back a bit to the V7-I mini progression. Do you remember
how the root of the V7 moved to the root of the I? It moved by
an ascending perfect fourth. And we know from the last lesson
and lesson how important, common and satisfying the perfect fourth
is to our ears.
In other words, if you're not sure what chord comes next after
the one you're currently playing, there's a good chance the root
of the next chord will be a perfect fourth up from the root of
the current chord. And even if a notated, "official" piece of
music doesn't use a perfect fourth root movement between two particular
chords, using a p4 root movement anyway still stands an excellent
chance of sounding good.
Let's get back to the ii-V7 (Dm-G7). As with the G7 to C, the
Dm to G7 moves by an ascending p4 or descending perfect 5. And
sneaking a peak one step further back in our 16251 progression,
how does the root movement from Am to Dm happen? Surprise, surprise:
another perfect 4. Do you see how frequent this interval is?
The sweet note
Let's not forget the other reason for the characteristic sound
of the ii-V7: the D minor's sweet note, or its third. As described
in more detail in the publication Guitar Chords (http://www.maximummusician.com/gc.asp?ak2),
the interval between the root and the third of the minor chord
is a minor third. This minor third is responsible for the wistful
sound you hear when you play the Dm.
Let's watch -- and listen -- closely to how the minor third of
the Dm becomes another interval as we move from Dm to G7. The
following tab strips the Dm-G7 down to its bare essence. If you're
under 18, please close your eyes.
Dm to G7
Compare this movement to the essential parts of the G7 to C movement.
G7 to C
Do you hear how much more satisfying the B note moving to the
C note is in the V7-I movement, compared to the F moving to the
G in the ii-V7?
Some people, especially those crazy jazz musicians, dig making
that minor third in the ii chord a major third. Try that to see
how you like it. Play this slightly changed version of our lesson's
progression. Strum each chord twice.
C, Am, D7, G7, C
Sounds a bit different, doesn't it? Different can be good. Remember
that the next time you forget to shave one side of your face or
leave the house wearing two different socks.
Why chords are built
Before we move on to practicing the ii-V7, let's get a question
out of the way. Keep in mind that making music involves lots of
choices, and being aware of those choices will make you a better
While it's great to have all these choices and options, our minds
can focus on only one thing at a time, despite the ability some
people seem to have to drive, chew gum, hold a conversation and
groom themselves all at the same time.
I mention this because I want you to be aware of how chords are
normally constructed, and of *alternative options* to that structure.
A triad in root position has the root in the bass. The next note
is a third above that. The third note, called "the fifth," is
a third above the third.
This structure is just one of many options. In other words, *you're
not obligated to build chords using only thirds.* You can use
seconds, fourths, or other intervals.
If you want to get more info on building chords using intervals
other than thirds, there are lots of resources to help you do
that. One place to start is this hip article at WholeNote, called
Staying with thirds
Now that we know there are choices we can make for building chords,
why are we choosing to build 'em in thirds instead of fourths,
or some other interval?
The main reason is because of simple conditioning, socialization,
programming or whatever else you want to call the repeated exposure
to something. In short, I grew up digging music based mostly on
chords built in thirds. Chances are, you got the same wonderful
brainwashing. And, most of the tunes you hear on the radio --
including jazz tunes -- will feature chords built mostly in thirds.
Tertial chords aren't better than quartal chords. We just got
greater exposure to them. At least now we have an awareness of
other possibilities for building chords. Now, onto practicing
Practicing the ii-V7
All this talk about the ii-V7 change is just a lot of hoo- hah
unless we can actually use it to produce music, right? We want
to have this important mini progression under our fingertips in
many ways, ready to play at a moment's notice, because we know
how important it is.
And we know that we can practice the ii-V7 in many ways that
are *fun*, darnit, because we've learned how to practice similar
progressions in ways that are fun.
Do you remember how we approached practice for the V7-I? We played
V7-I in several keys, the ones we play lots of tunes in. We're
gonna do the same thing with the ii-V7.
And as with the V7-I change, we're not going to worry about exactly
where to play the chords on the fretboard. Play 'em in open position
if that's what you're comfy with. Play 'em with barre chords around
the 5th fret. Play 'em in the bathroom and at your weekly mahjong
parties for your great Aunt Vivian, who really needs to trim those
nose hairs. Man, just play 'em!
Here are the changes in F, G, A, E, D and for extra credit, Gb.
Key F: Gm, C7 Key G: Am, D7 Key A: Bm, E7 Key E: F#m, B7 Key
D: Em, A7 Key Gb: Abm, Db7
If you do the Extra credit progression, Abm, Db7, you get a Gold
Star, and a chance to win a Les Paul...endorsed roll of toilet
To help you play these progressions -- to *practice* 'em -- download
the Power Tab file for them here:
I recommend singing the names of the chords as you play 'em so
they don't run together into one big chord glob. Or, instead of
singing the chord names, sing the key center you're working toward.
For example, sing "F" while playing Gm to C7.
Treat this Power Tab file as a kind of metronome, or even better,
a computerized teacher: play the tab in Power Tab, and play your
guitar along with it until your playing and the computer's playing
sound like one guitar. Then, increase the tempo a wee bit.
After you play through these and get 'em smooth, play them again,
but with the dominant ii. In other words, instead of playing Gm,
C7, play G7, C7. To remember why we're doing this, skip back a
few paragraphs. Playing the dominant ii is going to give you more
interesting options for your own playing. Also, it will help you
recognize this change when you hear other people play it. "It's
not just for jazz anymore!"
In the next installment of All About Chords, arpeggios: Highly
hip chord components.
2002 Darrin Koltow, All rights reserved
FREE Christmas Songbook for Guitar - Download Now!