Standard Chord Progressions 2 – The II V I

In Jazz we like to say that each chord plays a particular role within a scale. The job of the I chord is pretty clear  – it’s what we want to hear the most, no matter what comes before it we need this to feel satisfied at the end of a piece. The V, (or Dominant as it is often called), is expected before the I – it sets it up. The II, sets-up the V which in turn sets-up the I.

You could say that the II V I does for jazz what the I IV V does for blues, and there are some short jazz pieces that consist entirely of that, (in one form or another). The II V I is used more often, however, as part of a piece of music, perhaps at the end to gently wind-down to the root chord. In any case, most of the jazz lessons I present to you will either include or entirely rely on the II V I, and there’s many interesting ways it can be adapted, so you’d best get used to it.

We’re going to learn the pattern in C Major, using 7th chords. The chords are shown below, followed by the phrasing we’re going to use.

Standard Chord Progressions 1: Maj & Min I, IV, V Chord Patterns

The I, IV, V chord pattern is a very common progression, and it is for that reason I will be focusing on it for several lessons. If you have an interest in blues, rock or jazz music, this will form the basis for many songs you will learn, (especially in the case of the blues). By the end of this lesson, I hope you will be able to play a Maj or Min I, IV, V chord pattern, and understand the theory behind them.

I believe these progressions are so common largely because they are simple to learn. If you want to play a Major I, IV, V pattern, you only have to know Major chords. Similarly, if you want to play a Minor I, IV, V, you will be playing only Minor chords.
The second reason they are common is that you will be using every chord of that type available in the scale. For instance, the Major version will contain every Major chord of that given scale. Likewise, the Minor I, IV, V will contain every Minor chord of that scale. To reiterate, if you play a I, IV, V pattern in either Major or Minor, you will be using every chord of that type in the scale.
A further advantage of these progressions is that you only need to know the root note of the song. Most of the time, when playing a I, IV, V pattern I’m only thinking about the root note of the scale, because it’s not necessary to know the names of the other chords, provided you know you’re sticking in the right key.

First off, I want you to play a G Major scale, and take note of the first, fourth and fifth notes are, (this only works with the full scale, so if you’re only familiar with the Pentatonic scales, now would be the time to go and learn the full ones). The first, fourth and fifth notes are going to be the root notes of your I, IV, V progression.
Now, I want you to play the following chords separately, then try swapping between them a bit:

Once you’re comfortable playing these individually, try these various structures, (I’ve written out the chords, but titled each exercise as the scale degrees you’re using).

Here are a few things I want you to try now:
Play the same chord progressions above as open chords instead of barre chords.
Play these barre chord patterns as minors instead of majors, (the pattern stays the same, it’s just the chords that need to change)
Play these patterns in different keys. Shifting the entire pattern up 2 frets will give you A Major I, IV, V patterns. Shifting it down to the first fret will give you F Major I, IV, V patterns.

Examples of songs using a Maj or Min I, IV, V pattern:

          Pride & Joy by Stevie Ray Vaughn
          Louie, Louie by … I forget, but the most famous version was by The Kinks
          Crossroads by Cream
          Wicked Game by Chris Isaac

12 Bar Blues 2: Intermediate Shuffle Pattern

In this lesson I will add-on to the shuffle pattern learnt in 12 bar Blues #1, making it slightly more complex, but much more interesting to hear and play. I will also introduce the idea of the ‘blue note’ and the turnaround.

The I, IV, V pattern is the same here as it was in the previous lesson, so the chords and the order haven’t changed. I’ll go through this pattern bar-by-bar. Please watch the video clip to get a good idea of how everything should sound.
Bar 1 demonstrates most of the changes made to this pattern. We start by strumming the open E5 powerchord twice, then use your 3rd finger to fret the 3rd fret of the E string, bending it slightly when you pick it. Then release the string, pulling-off to the open E. Then, stretch your 4th finger to reach the 5th fret, and then the 4th fret. Mute both of these note pairs right after playing them to give a nice rhythmic heaviness.
Bar 2 is the same as  you played for E in the first 12bar lesson.
Bars 3 and 4 are the same as 1 and 2.
Bars 5 and 6 are the same again, except that you are now on the A string.
Bars 7 and 8 are the same as 1 and 2, although you can leave the 3rd chord in bar 8 ringing over the 4th, which will add some nice variation.
In bar 9, you are playing a B5 chord twice, the first one being staccato. I’ve removed the shuffle for this part so as to add some variation to the pattern. These last bars are what are commonly referred to as the ‘turnaround’ in blues music, and it’s the part that is most commonly tinkered with.
Bar 10 is similar, but you are playing an A5 instead.
Bar 11 uses the same pattern as bar 1.
Bar 12 starts with an E5, and then we get this chromatic walking part. To fret the A5, I use my third finger on the 2nd fret of the D string. I then use my first finger to fret the 1st fret of the A string. This Bb is the blue note, which is commonly employed as a pleasant and chromatic nuance in blues music. My fourth finger is playing the 3rd fret of the D string, which is the 5th in this powerchord. I then shift both these fingers up half a step to play the B5.
If you haven’t encountered the dots at the end of these bars, it simply means to repeat from where you last saw the dots – in this case, the beginning, which is exactly what I do in the video.

12 Bar Blues 1: I, IV, V Chords &; Basic Shuffle Pattern

For the first part of this lesson you must be sure you can play the chords E, A and B, (all Maj), fluidly, with minimal time spent working positions out. You will also need relatively good timing, although I’ve kept it straight-forward for now.

The I, IV, V pattern is the most commonly employed set of chords in blues music, (perhaps every genre!), and has many alternate versions and substitutes. It is commonly referred to as “the 12 bar blues”, because it takes up exactly that many bars. Here we’re going to examine the simplest form of this pattern in the key of E. You will almost definitely need the help of a metronome for this lesson, as timing is key. Play the chords below at a steady pace, along with the video if you like, strumming each chord 4 times per bar, (crotchets). The dots next to the double-lines at either side are repeat marks, which mean that you should start again from the last place you saw the dots, (in this case, the beginning).

Once you are comfortable with this pattern we can try using the traditional blues shuffle riff. The second part of the video demonstrates how the E shuffle should sound – you’re still strumming 4 times every bar, (as indicated by the crotchets above the notes in the tablature), with every other strum being staccato, (lit. ‘detached’, play the notes then mute them with either hand, so they don’t resonate as long as the others. This is indicated by the dot just below these notes in the tab). I’ve only written one bar for each shuffle, largely for the sake of space, and my own sanity, but it should be clear that you need to play these in the same order as the open chords. (If in doubt, play along with the video).