HomeLJS PodcastPlay better jazz solosLJS 73: 4 Strategies For Improvising Over Major 2-5-1's

LJS 73: 4 Strategies For Improvising Over Major 2-5-1’s

Welcome to episode 73 of the LJS Podcast where today we are talking about the major 2-5-1 chord progression and 4 strategies for how to improvise over it. The 2-5-1 (ii-V-I) is one of the most common chord progression in jazz and other styles of music. You will see it come up all of the time in jazz standards so it’s important you have a good handle on it. Listen in!

Listen to episode 73

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Major 2-5-1 chord progressions are a staple of most jazz standards. To learn how to improvise over them you should, of course, be learning licks and jazz language from recordings. However, it’s also important to break this chord progression down and practice different exercises to help you truly get inside of it.

Here’s a 2-5-1:

short ii V IApproach #1: Scales

Approach each chord with a mode of the major scale.

Dmin7: D Dorian

G7: G Mixolydian

Cmaj7: C Ionian (C major scales)



Approach #2: Chord Tones

Outline the chord tones (arpeggio) of each chord.


2 octaves up one, down the next playing off the roots.

arpeggio root


2 octaves up one, down the next, always hitting the nearest chord tone of the next chord.

arpeggio nearest

Approach #3: Guide Tones

Identify and use the 3rds and 7ths of each chord to voice lead into each other.

Guide tones melodic ii V I


Ex 48 2

Approach #4: Build Three Note Melodies

Pick one note per chord and create a three note melody. Then improvise referencing those notes.



Listen to episode 72: How to Beat Performance Anxiety and Quiet Your Inner Critic

Mentioned in the show:

Zero to Improv eBook

Our flagship eBook, Zero to Improv, is a book that teaches you how to become a great jazz improviser from the ground up. No stone is left unturned.

Have anything to add to today’s show? Leave us a comment below.

Important Links:
LJS Inner Circle Membership
Free Guide to learn standards by ear: Learn Jazz Standards the Smart Way

Brent Vaartstra
Brent Vaartstrahttp://www.brentvaartstra.com
Brent Vaartstra is a professional jazz guitarist and educator living in New York City. He is the head blogger and podcast host for learnjazzstandards.com which he owns and operates. He actively performs around the New York metropolitan area and is the author of the Hal Leonard publication "Visual Improvisation for Jazz Guitar." He's also the host of the music entrepreneurship podcast "Passive Income Musician."

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