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Bebop licks: ii-V7-I (2-5-1): major key

I like to create and practise licks over ‘2-5-1’ progressions in both major and minor keys. The circle of fifths is common in jazz tunes and standards, and pieces often end with a 2-5-1 into the tonic or home chord, so it’s worth focusing some study time on.

ii-V7-I in F major permalink

Let’s start with a few licks in F major. They work over both ii-V7-I and V7-I chord progressions.

1 permalink

ii-V7-i in F major

2 permalink

ii-V7-i in F major

3 permalink

This example includes notation of the left hand comping pattern that I played when recording this. The chord degrees are notated.

When comping, either behind youself or others — particularly when there is a bass also playing — you don’t need to include the root note: the bass is probably already playing it.

The voicings here are mainly ‘rootless’, which is to say they don’t include the root of the chord (the F in the chord of F major, for instance). I typically try to include the 3rd and the 7th (or 6th), as those are the most important notes in terms of identifying what kind of chord it is: eg you can indicate that it’s a minor 7th chord by having the voicing contain the minor 3rd and flattened 7th.

Try it with some left-hand voicings of your own.

ii-V7-I in E major permalink

For the 2-5-1 cadence here, I’ve broken the B dominant 7 chord into a B dominant 13 followed by a B altered dominant 7. This reflects the notes of the melody: the G sharp is the 13th when played against a B dominant 7 chord, and the D natural and C natural are the sharp 9 and flat 9 respectively of an altered chord.

ii-V7-I in B flat major permalink

The voice leading in the left hand comping pattern here is in a Bud Powell style, where the voicings often comprise the root in the bass, along with the 7th/6th or 3rd above it. Compare with the more densely packed voicings (without the root note) in example 3.

ii-V7-I in E flat major permalink

Visual representation of this example’s MIDI data, showing note velocity and placement.
A visual representation of this example’s MIDI data. It may be helpful to those new to jazz and the swing feel. Look at the note placement and note velocity: I play very slightly behind the beat, and eighth notes played on the ‘and’ part of the beat (‘one-and two-and three-and four-and’) are often played with a higher velocity than the downbeats. Keep in mind, though, that playing swing is about feel rather than precise mathematical timing.

ii-V7-I in E flat major notes permalink

  • This example begins and ends with diatonic arpeggios: simple yet authentically bebop, and a reminder that you don’t always need to strive for harmonic complexity.
  • In the middle bit, chord tones are connected with chromatic passing notes, and there’s an enclosure there too.
  • I’ve written some of the scale/chord degrees out (the numbers above or below the notes). It can be useful to keep these in mind if you want to transpose the phrase into different keys (as shown in the next example).

ii-V7-I in E flat major (Keith Jarrett) permalink

Here we transpose a phrase (slightly modified) from a Keith Jarrett solo (bars 133-135 from a 2006 recording of ‘Stella by Starlight’; transcription available here.)

(Check the notes below for guidance.)

ii-V7-I in E flat major (Keith Jarrett) notes permalink

  • We play the phrase slower than Keith does on the recording. It works musically just as well at a more medium-swing tempo, and it’s a bit easier for us to think through transposing it. Decrease the tempo further if you need to.
  • For the purpose of this exercise, the I chord at the end of each phrase becomes the ii7 chord of the next. For example, if you look at bars 3-4, you move from E flat with a major 7 (the tonic chord in the key of E flat major) to E flat minor 7 (the supertonic chord in D flat major). You could alternatively move it down chromatically, so you start with a 2-5-1 in E flat, then a 2-5-1 in D, then D flat, then C etc. Or whatever you like. Doing it as I’ve done only covers half the major keys, so repeat the exercise beginning in the key of D major (E-7A7Dmaj7).
  • I’ve marked some of the scale/chord degrees that I might keep in mind as I transpose the passage. You can use these as anchor points so that you know, for instance, that you start each phrase on the 11 of the ii7 chord, and the voicing of the I chord is made up of the 9, 3 and 7. You should try to use your ear as much as you can, as that will help you improvise musical lines on the gig or recording session (where there’s no time to think analytically). At first, though, you can work through the transposing methodically, using as many anchor points as you need.
    • My thinking in playing the phrase in each key might go something like this: I note that I start on the 11th of F minor 7, then fall a minor third, before playing an ascending apreggio of thirds up to the 11th an octave above, then a passing note to the 7th of B flat dominant 7, followed by the sharp 11. I play the next bit by ear, as I prepare to land the 9-3-7 voicing.
  • Playing along with a drum loop or metronome ensures you keep good time while you transpose; but feel free to ignore rhythm at first to concentrate on just playing the notes (by ear, ideally, with some anchor points to assist you). This particular loop is from Groove Monkee’s Jazz Buddy MIDI pack.

I also cover transposing in the tutorial Mining Bud Powell.