This two-part series on understanding jazz harmony will cover the foundation of jazz chord theory. The lessons will explore everything from primary chord arrangements using the “II-V-I,” progression to complex harmonic elements at work within jazz harmony. For the guitarist who is interested in jazz, this two-part series will be both an enjoyable as well as, an interesting learning experience…
UNDERSTANDING JAZZ HARMONY – Part 1
Developing “II – V” Chord Changes:
JAZZ HARMONY BASICS:
Jazz progressions will typically use a collection of seventh quality chord types from the harmony of either major or minor tonality. The development of these harmonies will include four main chord qualities.
- Major 7
- Minor 7
- Dominant 7
- Minor 7 (b5)
Chord progressions performed in the style of Jazz will utilize several common place “formats” for the order and sequence of these chords.
A progression that is known as the “II-V-I” will tend to be used most often.
ANALYSIS OF THE II-V-I PROGRESSION:
This chord movement that is well known within jazz harmonic analysis circles as the; “two,” “five,” “one,” (II-V-I), is by far the most popular jazz chord movement sequence out there.
Most of the jazz standards composed over the last 50 years will contain this cycle of chords at some point throughout a jazz piece.
The popularity is on the same level as the 12-Bar Blues set of chord changes.
UNDERSTANDING THE II-V-I:
To fully comprehend this concept we must develop a thorough understanding of the notes that are found within each chord, as well as, how these chords operate musically. Across a composition, the “II-V-I” progression reflects the strength of the resolution from the “two,” to the, “five,” and finally to the home chord, (the, “one”).
The “II-V-I” progression is an important sound in jazz music and the best way to commit the sound to memory is to learn the chord movement strategy in detail using a series of fingering shapes.
JAZZ HARMONY ANALYSIS:
It is important to begin by learning the fingering patterns and the chord movements of the popular, “II,” “V,” “I,” jazz progression.
This is best accomplished through the study of chord progressions. Learning how to perform the “II-V-I” progression will establish a solid base for the further development of jazz guitar.
CHORD PROGRESSION – LINE 1:
Study the following chord voicings as shown in “Diagram (1)” below. Practice each chords fingering in the positions indicated.
Once the chord patterns feel comfortable to play, perform the chords in the correct order across the line of music indicated as “Line (1)” below.
CHORD PROGRESSION – LINE 2:
Study the following chord voicings as shown in “Diagram (2)” below. Practice each chords fingering in the positions indicated.
Once the “Diagram (2)” chord patterns feel comfortable to play, perform the chords in the correct order across the line of music indicated as “Line (2)” below.
The primary reason behind why the “II-V-I” chord progression is so popular and effective in the jazz style is due to its strong sense of resolution.
This is accomplished through the movement that this progression executes from all of the tones found within the utilized chord families of;
“Sub Dominant – Dominant – Tonic“
Study the “Chord Families” chart shown in Figure (1) below.
Notice how all of the key signatures tones (from the entire scale), are present across the three chord families. This works to firmly establish the eventual resolution into the “I-Chord.”
Along with that, the two front-end chord tones of each preceding chord, (shown as red and blue color highlighted in “Figure 1”), also exist as the back-end chord tones of the approach and resolution chords.
When the “II-V-I” progression is performed, and the principles outlined above are applied, the end result is a strong sense of resolution upon the arrival of the progressions “I-Chord.”
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