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Skip to 0 minutes and 8 seconds I really want to talk about chords in the context of chord sequences, not just chords in their own right, but how chords relate to each other. The most famous ending I should think in classical music is what’s called a V-I - where we use Roman numerals V-I. In the key of C, so it’s going to C major, then it goes from the fifth of the C major scale, 12345, a G rooted chord home to C. That’s a very important “cadence” as it’s called. What we want to do now is to look at what that becomes in jazz. In jazz we have 4 note chords.

Skip to 0 minutes and 56 seconds So first of all let’s replace C major by Cmajor7 - so we’ve got the seventh in there. Then what do we replace G by? We can’t really replace it by Gmajor7 because the major seventh is an F sharp, and that’s not in the C major scale - the home chord, the home scale we are going for. But G7 has an F natural in it which is in the scale. So what we do is we use a G7 to Cmajor7.

Skip to 1 minute and 36 seconds What about in terms of voicings? If we have a lower voicing for C69 then the closest chord for G7 is the thirteenth. So that’s all on the white notes and you see you just move that shape down. In terms of the upper voicings - if we use the third inversion then the closest chord to that is the ninth voicing of G7.

Skip to 2 minutes and 5 seconds One of the important things about this is that the scale that goes with G7 - the normal seventh scale where you flatten the seventh - is actually, you notice, all the white notes - it’s C major, it’s a mode of C major - C major just rooted on G. If we are improvising on those two chords we can just use C major.

Skip to 2 minutes and 42 seconds What about if we have 2 chords coming home - so 3 chords in all? Well we can do the same sort of thing, namely we can go from D to G to C. The fifth of G is a chord rooted on D going to G. So if it’s 3 chords to go home then what we do is - we have what is called a II-V-I, because D is the second note in the C major scale, G is V and I is the root.

Skip to 3 minutes and 21 seconds So we have this most famous of changes: the “II-V-I”. If we are going to have a chord in D, do we use a major chord or a minor chord? If you use a major chord it’s got an F sharp in it, whereas if we use a minor chord it’s got an F natural in it which is in the scale. So in the first instance we use a minor chord and we use the minor seventh.

Skip to 3 minutes and 54 seconds Notice again that if we use D minor than the Dorian mode with a flattened third and a flattened seventh is again all the white notes. In other words - if we were to improvise on that we would end up using just the white notes. That’s why II-V-I is so useful because when you come across it, and you typically get it at the end of tunes, then you can just stay on the major scale. Let’s have a look at the voicings then for II-V-I.

Skip to 4 minutes and 31 seconds The lower voicings: the closest voicing for Dminor7 is the first inversion, G7, and home again.

Skip to 4 minutes and 45 seconds The upper ones: the third inversion for Dminor7, the ninth, the third inversion of Cmajor7. The point about it is that we just use the C major scale. Let’s have an example.

Skip to 5 minutes and 0 seconds Supposing we have chords: one bar of Dminor7, then for one bar G7, then for 2 bars Cmajor7, we get this. 1,2. 1,2,3,4.

Skip to 5 minutes and 26 seconds Or using the upper voicings.

Skip to 5 minutes and 43 seconds OK, let’s continue the process further. Let’s go to the fifth of D, which is a chord based on A

Skip to 5 minutes and 51 seconds and that is the sixth note of C major: 123456. So now we have a VI-II-V-I. Again we would use the minor chord because it has got the C in it, rather than the major chord which has the C sharp in it,

Skip to 6 minutes and 5 seconds so that suggests Aminor7: Aminor7 to Dminor7 to G7, home again to Cmajor7.

Skip to 6 minutes and 19 seconds VI-II-V-I again crops up a lot and it’s used a lot. You have probably heard this sort of sound.

Skip to 6 minutes and 33 seconds That’s I-VI-II-V, I-VI-II-V and it kind of goes round and round and round getting ready for something to start in C, in C major. That’s exactly how it’s used in jazz. Typically, if you have a standard, and the last two bars are Cmajor7, and probably the first bar is Cmajor7, then what we do is we stick in what’s called a “turnaround” - a I-VI-II-V - which turns the tune round and takes us back to the top.

Skip to 7 minutes and 5 seconds So instead of having 2 bars of Cmajor7: 1234, 1234 and then the top is Cmajor7 - shall we say; what we have is - we use split bars to replace those two. So we have 2 beats of Cmajor7, 2 beats of Aminor7, 2 beats of Dminor7, 2 beats of G7 and then we are ready to go home again. So it turns the piece around. There is a slight problem with the Aminor7 because the scale that does with it - the Dorian scale where we flatten the third and flatten the seventh - has an F sharp in it, which is not in C major.

Skip to 7 minutes and 58 seconds We can include that if we want to, but we can - since in a sense you get a kind of tension and release - we can just stay on the C major scale and, typically, we do that when we have a turnaround.

Skip to 8 minutes and 14 seconds So let’s see what the chords are: the third inversion for Aminor7, the second inversion for Dminor7, the thirteenth shape for G7 and 69 for Cmajor. That’s in the lower position. In the upper position we have the first inversion for Aminor7 - it’s a bit high, but that’s where it is - then we have the third inversion for Dminor7, then we have the ninth for G7, then we’re home to our major seventh chord - the third inversion. Let’s have a little go of this with a playalong.

The II-V-I sequence and the Turnaround

You will learn about the II-V-I sequence before extending it to the important Turnaround.

You can download the chords for the V-I and the II-V-I sequences (both in C) in PDF format at the bottom of this step.

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This video is from the free online course:

Learn Jazz Piano: I. Begin with the Blues

Goldsmiths, University of London