If you're like a lot of players most of your time spent thinking about chord changes is on figuring out “stuff” to play over individual chords, and not on how each chord voicing can make a solid connection across your entire progression...
Learning a lot about chord movements is the ticket to playing great rhythm guitar. Cool chord connections will offer progressions the opportunity to shine and boring chord connections present the chords in a way that is ...well, boring.
Jazz music is no different, we need cool chord moves and without them, our progressions will turn out dull, drab and boring.
THE ii-V-I PROGRESSION:
At some point in time you'll likely encounter the Jazz ii-V7-I progression.
Example one: ii-V-I progression in "D major"
Many musicians begin their journey into Jazz chord progressions with a study of ii-V’s, the only problem is that this is also where their study of harmonic relationships will stop. If you think about it, a ii-V-I only contains two chord relationships: a minor ii chord moving to the dominant V7 chord and a V7 chord resolving to the I chord.
However, take a quick listen to any jazz tune and you’ll immediately hear that you’re going to need to know more than just these two chord relationships.
While the progression of a sub-dominant to a dominant to the tonic is a progression that is central to much of Western music, there are definitely other vital chord relationships that you should know to be fully prepared to play a Jazz standard.
PARALLEL MINOR CHANGES:
As a composer this is an important chord relationship to have in your ear and under your fingers. Being able to modulate quickly from a major sound directly its parallel minor will serve you well in many songwriting situations. Below is an example that utilizes a direct modulation from major to minor:
Example two: "G minor to G major"
BLUES MOVEMENT: I7 to IV7
The progression from the I chord to the IV chord is so common that it is often overlooked, but this is an essential progression to have at your disposal. Here are two standard examples of I to IV7:
Example three: Blues (dominant I chord moving to a dominant IV chord):
The "I-VI7" DOMINANT MOVEMENT:
To be able to compose well over most jazz standards you need to have the relationship of a I chord to the VI chord down. Not only a mental grasp of this movement, but a repertoire of language for this harmonic relationship in all 12 keys. The most prevalent example of this sixth relationship is the A section to Rhythm Changes.
Example four: Rhythm changes
The relationship of half step movement is also common among the standards you’ll encounter.
Example five: Half-step movement
A few other examples of standards that utilize half-step harmonic relationships:
- So What
- Well You Needn’t
MINOR THIRD RELATIONSHIPS:
Another chord relationship to get in your ears and under you fingers is a minor 3rd relationship. The most well known example of this chord relationship is John Coltrane’s tune Giant Steps.
Quickly changing key centers like the ones found in the progression to Giant Steps will take some serious practice. Learning this sequence of chord relationships is also useful in reharmonizing standards or implying chord substitutions.
Example six: Minor third movement
TONIC TO HALF-DIMINISHED:
One other progression that is also very common is the movement from the I chord to the viiø chord. You’ll find this progression in:
- Bird Blues (Blues for Alice)
- Come Rain or Come Shine
Example seven: Tonic to half-diminished
By spending time developing unique chord movements your ability to perform and organize progressions will improve dramatically. Test the progressions we've reviewed here and use the principles they suggest to compose some of your own progressions.
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