Hi there guys and welcome to my ‘Playing over Changes’ column. I hope you’re enjoying the series so far and can feel the benefits of your hard work studying and developing your fretboard and theoretical knowledge. For this article we’ll be looking at a couple of cool chord progressions that utilise the major and minor II-V-I progression we’ve been checking out recently, dhese progressions are pretty well known in Jazz and fusion circles and you may well recognize them yourself, but for the sake of keeping things legal I won’t be naming them. Perhaps you can guess which tunes they’re from.
The idea behind this lesson is to show you how easy it can be to construct interesting chord progressions using just a couple of major and minor II-V-I sequences in particular keys and then apply our new scale knowledge to play over them with a beginner guitar. As with all previous article that deal with scale knowledge, you’re going to need to work on playing the scales from root to root, 3rd to 3rd, 5th to 5* anj ych to yth ascending and descending to get the most from your practice and be able to apply the scales musically. Don’t forget that you should also be practicing everything in 3-fret zones as well as freely around the neck and I’ve written all of the relevant scales from root to root both freely and in the first five frets. This leaves you with quite a bit of work to do playing from each of the remaining chord tones and within other 3-fret zones but you’ll learn and retain far more by figuring this out than by having it spoon-fed to you.
Our first chord progression is in the key of Bb major and contains a major II-V-I progression in Bb major leading into a minor II-V-I in the relative minor key Gm. For those who aren’t sure, the relative minor is the minor key built from the VI chord in the major key. Chord VI in Bb major is Gm, hence the relative minor key being Gm. It’s very common to create progressions that move between the major key and relative minor key so you’ll certainly recognize the sound here. The progression looks like this:
Cm7 – F7 – Bbmaj7 – Ebmaj7 – Am7b5 – D7alt – Gm7 – G7alt
This may look pretty complicated to some of you so let’s break it down and look at the diatonic chords in the key of Bb major so that we can identify what’s what. Here are the diatonic chords in Bb.
I – Bbmaj7 II – Cm7 III – Dm7 IV -Ebmaj7 V – F7 VI – Gm7 VII – Am7b5
The first three chords make up a major II-V-I in Bb major – Cm7, F7, Bbmaj7. Looking at our scale knowledge we would play C Dorian, F Mixolydian and Bb Major over these chords. We could also use the Mixolydian b9 scale over the F7 giving us an F7b9 chord. The Ebmaj7 is chord IV and can be thought of as a colour chord leading to our minor II-V-I and requires an Eb Lydian scale. Next we move into our relative minor key and we play a minor II-V-I in Gm giving us Am7b5 for the II chord, D7alt for the V chord and Gm7 for the I chord. For the Am7b5 we play A Locrian, D altered for the D7alt chord and G Dorian for the Gm7. The final G7alt chord doesn’t seem to fit but it is actually a V chord leading back to the Cm7 again, making the whole progression cyclical. If we think about a II-V-I in Cm we would get Dm7b5 – G7alt – Cm7. All that’s happened in our progression is that we’ve dropped the Dm7b5 II chord and just used the V to lead back to Cm7 smoothly.
Our second progression also involves a major and minor II-V-I progression but employs a cool idea to make it less obvious. Here’s the progression:
Am7 – Gm7 – C7 – Fmaj7 – Bm7b5 – E7alt
Here we are in the key of F major and you may be able to identify the major II-V-I very quickly as Gm7 – C7 – Fmaj7. Over these chords we play G Dorian, C Mixolydian and F Major or F Lydian. The minor II- V-I is hidden as the minor I chord is at the beginning of the sequence and the II-V at the end. The actual minor II-V-I is Bm7b5> E7alt and Am7. Over these chords we would play B Locrian, E Altered and A Dorian respectively.
Now that you have these progressions under your fingers play them over and over until your ears can hear the harmony. I recommend both playing the scales as much as possible and playing the chords whilst singing the relevant scales over the top. This way you’ll learn to both see and hear the harmony so that when it comes to playing a solo you’ll be able to hear and see your way through the chord progressions.
Good luck and I’ll see you in the next article!