Jazz Piano Chords: II-V-I Progression

Jazz-Piano-ChordsDuring our last lesson that focused on jazz piano chords, we took a look at a very popular way to voice that II-V chord progression among the pros. It’s interesting to note that this II-V chord progression is the most common chord progression in all of jazz and pop harmony. Well, let’s take a look at an extension of this progression…

The II-V chord progression often resolves to the I chord of the key. Actually, you might even say that these three chords played in succession define the key that you are in. Let’s explore the diatonic 7th chords in the key of C Major:

The II chord is Dmin7

The V chord is G7

The I chord is Cmaj7

This is how we voiced the II-V chord progression in our last lesson:


Before we resolve this progression to the Imaj7 chord, let’s take a look at the spelling of the Cmaj7 chord in its basic form:

C  E  G  B

In relation to the corresponding C Major scale, these chord tones represent the 1, 3, 5, and 7, respectively.

C  D  E  F  G  A  B  C  D  etc…
1  2   3   4  5  6  7   8   9   etc…

Above, we can see that, if we extend the scale beyond an octave and continue building in thirds, we arrive at the 9 (which is the same letter name as the 2):

C  E  G  B  D

Now, remaining consistent with our progression of rootless voicings, we can create a Cmaj9 chord voicing by playing the upper four tones, which are E, G, B, and D. Looking at our illustration below, we can see (and hear) how nicely this progression resolves with smooth voice leading using this voicing:
Within this II-V-I chord progression, we have three of the most commonly played jazz piano chords or voicings played among the pros. If you make it a point to eventually learn these voicings in all the keys, imagine the confidence you will have gained with three of the most important chord qualities in music!

It would be a good time to browse through some of those favorite standard songs of yours and see how often you see both the II-V and II-V-I chord progressions occur. The very doing of this will increase your awareness of songs are put together since, again, it is the most often used progression that exists, especially in jazz standards.

You are on your way to really enhancing your understanding of music. In addition, as you actually commit to playing these examples in different keys, your cocktail piano playing confidence will soar like it never did before!