What are some common progressions for Jazz improvisation?
I have been playing with ii-V-I and variations -- what are some others? Is the answer here just to really dig through standards until I've 'internalised' this stuff a little better?
Music: Practice & Theory Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for musicians, students, and enthusiasts. It only takes a minute to sign up.Sign up to join this community
There are, of course, an enormous variety of chord progressions used in jazz. That said, here are three you should know:
The basic 12-bar blues as played in jazz (not as played in blues) usually goes something like:
In blues, all these chords would be dominant sevenths. Jazz players, however, frequently play their diatonic versions.
Common variations include replacing the chords in a given bar with a ii-V cadence that resolves to the chord in the next bar. For example, you could replace the I in bar 4 with a ii-V that resolves to the IV in bar 5.
Rhythm Changes is a progression based around the chords of the popular Gershwin tune "I Got Rhythm". It's in the usual 32-bar AABA format, and the traditional key is Bb:
A section: BbM7 Gm7 | Cm7 F7 | BbM7 Gm7 | Cm7 F7 | Fm7 Bb7 | EbM7 Edim | Cm7 F7 | Bb7 turnaround | B section: D7 D7 | D7 D7 | G7 G7 | G7 G7 | C7 C7 | C7 C7 | F7 F7 | F7 F7 |
These changes are so popular among jazz musicians in large part because they offer myriad opportunities for variation. You can substitute to your heart's content here and find different ways to navigate the same basic structure. Here are some common substitution ideas.
Like a challenge? Try this on for size. I recommend reading this Wikipedia article, which does a better job of explaining the ideas behind the so-called "Coltrane Changes" (as most famously used in "Giant Steps") than I could do.
If it is not yet part of your "II-V-I" variations, you want to learn about the tritonic substitution concept, which consists in changing a V7 chord in a progression with a bII7 chord. The interval between V and bII is 3 tones == 1 tritone == diminished 5th == augmented 4th. The progressing IIm7 -> bII7 -> IM7 adds some nice chromaticity opportunities.
Try practising the minor II-V-I (II-7b5, V7 with b9, #9 #11, b13, Im (with nice extensions such as m69, mM7).
Bebop sound with IVm7 bVII7 IM7.
I doubt you're talking about Traditional Jazz (before Swing, Big Band, and other more modern styles), and I know it's kinda late for answering this, but I thought I should add a very typical occurrence in that style.
I - III7 - VI7 - II7 - V7 - I
One example is the Basin Street Blues which for Bb instruments goes similarly to this:
C - E7 - A7 * - D7 - G7 - C
(* Yes, the A7 briefly goes to Bb7 and then back, but I'm ignoring this for simplicity's sake).
Basically, starting with the second chord, every chord is the V7 of the next chord until you're back at I (e.g. E7 is V7 for A, etc.).
It can make your life pretty interesting when you're playing in C and all of a sudden encounter a chord with 4 #'s (one of which is ignored for the 7).
This exists in a number of variations where you go
I - III7 or
I - VI7 or
I - II7 and then continues from there, and this type of sequence may be inserted in various locations in the chord structure, but once you are in one of these sequences, they nearly always follow that same principle back to the I.