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Lesson 3 - Standard progressions (major keys)

The standard progressions in jazz are similar to those in classical harmony except all chords are diatonic sevenths. As in classical harmony, root movement is commonly up or down a fifth or stepwise. The most common jazz progression (50 to 70 percent of all jazz tunes are based on this progression) is the II-V-I. The first two chords usually take half the time value of the tonic chord each (i.e. one measure on II, one measure on V, and two measures on I or some multiple of this ratio). The I chord often changes from major seventh to sixth, a six-nine chord, or some other chord with a tonic function (see lesson 3 for further information). Jazz progressions very rarely stay in one key for the entire tune, consequently it is common to find II-V-I (or simply II-V) in many different keys in one tune. For example:

|Dm7	G7	|CΔ	C6	|Em7	A7	|DΔ	D6	|F#m7	B7	|
C:IIm7	V7	 IΔ	I6	D:IIm7	V7	 IΔ	I6	E:IIm7	V7

The II-V, when cycling through different key centers, usually moves up or down by a whole step but this is by no means a hard fast rule. Many other alternatives are possible and occur regularly. The key center of a II-V progression can move in a circle of fifths, fourths, thirds, or chromatically. It is essential to the jazz player to be able to spot II-V's in any key at sight. Learn the II-V's of all the keys and be able to spot them in actual usage.

II-V's descending chromatically:

|Cm7	F7	|Bm7	E7	|Bbm7	Eb7	|

II-V's in fifths:

|Cm7	F7	|Gm7	C9	|Dm7	G7	|Am7	D7	|
Bb:IIm7	V7	F:IIm7	V9	C:IIm7	V7	G:IIm7	V7

Stepwise root motion (ascending or descending) through the diatonic seventh chords of a key is also normal. The progression I-II-III-IV is often found and is followed usually by V-I or II-V-I. Other progressions often seen are I-VII-VI-V, IV-III-II-I, and VI-V-IV-III (followed by II-V-I).

Another very important expanded version of the II-V is I-VI-II-V. In its triadic form this progression C-Am-Dm-G sounds like 50's rock 'n roll, but when combined with diatonic sevenths (CΔ-Am7-Dm7-G7) it is a very important jazz progression.

The roots of chords in jazz can also follow the circle of fifths. After establishing the tonic chord (I), the following strong progression leads through the circle of fifths until the tonic is reestablished with a final II-V-I:

|IΔ		|VIIØ		|IIIm7	VIm7	|IIm7	V7	|IΔ		|
						or IVΔ

This progression can be abbreviated by starting at any chord in the progression and continuing to the right until the end (i.e. you can start at IIIm7 or VIm7 and continue for a shorter progression). As shown above, the IIm7 chord is sometimes replaced by the IVΔ as both have a subdominant function.

All of the above progressions can be improvised upon with major scales. As in lesson 1 you must determine the key center of the progression (or section of the progression in the case of more than one key center). Otherwise, no new improvisational problems have been presented through material in this lesson.

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