The I-IV-V progression is used in a lot of blues, rock, folk, country and pop music, while jazz music tends to favor the ii-V-I.

I am aware that the ii and IV chords are both subdominant and they both perform the same function, however I'm curious of the possible historical reasons why ii-V-I are favored in jazz and I-IV-V in the others.

  • 3
    Is your question "why does jazz favour the chords in one order and other genres, another order?", or "why does jazz favour ii and other genres favour IV?"?
    – Rosie F
    Sep 4, 2019 at 4:52
  • 3
    these are good chord progressions in any genre.
    – Neil Meyer
    Sep 4, 2019 at 7:36
  • could you illuminate us to what you exactly mean by ii and IV serving the same purpose?
    – Neil Meyer
    Sep 4, 2019 at 7:36
  • 1
    @NeilMeyer ii and IV are very often interchangeable, the bass player can make the switch without asking anyone and the song is not spoiled at all, just slightly different. Sep 4, 2019 at 13:56
  • @RosieF I don`t care for the order necessarily , just why does one genre uses the ii as subdominant while others the IV
    – chips
    Sep 4, 2019 at 15:12

4 Answers 4


First of all the I IV V is also very common in Classical music, not just rock and other modern pop genres. It is a very old progression that I see in pre-classical era music. From a chord substitution perspective the ii is (relatively speaking) the relative minor of the IV, as the iii is to the V, and the vi to the I. So in a very real sense ii-7 --> V7 --> I is really identical to IV6 --> V7 --> I. But they really do sound and feel different. It seems that your question aims at the cultural difference not the technical difference. Why is the ii-->V7-->I more prevalent in Jazz than elsewhere. And I agree that it does seem that way.

I think if you search for it, you will find jazz tunes or standards that have I IV V and likewise rock tunes that use a version of the ii V7 I, but they'd be the exception, not the rule. It helps to understand another progression called the circle progression. One can walk in circles in any key by the following set of changes

Imaj7 --> IVmaj7 --> vii-7(b5) --> iii-7 --> vi-7 --> ii-7 --> V7 --> Imaj7

This is really a beautiful device and so many tunes of every genre can be seen to be embedded in this. The most well known harmony "ending" to a musical line is the V7 --> I, which contains the movement 7-->8 and 4-->3 within the chords. In classical music it is emphasized while other changes are not. One thing you will see in Jazz more so than any other style of music is the creation of this ending or cadence with every change. This is accomplished with a cycle extension, i.e. treating the chord you want to go to as a temporary I and inserting its relative V7 in there. This is easy to do in the circle progression since every chord is the V of the next chord in the circle (except the IVmaj7 --> vii-7(b5)). All other extensions of the cycle are borrowed from the circle progression.

When I was younger I learned the iii --> vi --> ii --> V --> I, before the ii --> V --> I. My teacher thought that progression was more important and that the ii --> V --> I was a truncated version of it. You can see it is just a truncated circle.

Ultimately western harmony favors the V7 --> I. Since the ii chord is the V of the V chord the movement is more conducive to creating a cadence to the V. This is, in my opinion, a sound that is favored in Jazz and I have heard people colloquially refer to it as hyper-resolution. Not sure that's a real music theory term or just street jargon. But in comparison to classical music you have several lines of music that may move from I to IV to vi to somewhere else and then finally when the musical idea is over there is a V7 --> I (the period at the end of the sentence). In some sense Jazz has periods in almost every measure. This creates the feel of tension and release. Starting anywhere in the cycle you can create this resolution by modifying the chord to a dom7 chord (except the IV) and generate a cadence with the 7-->8 and 4-->3 movement. A complete modified circle progression would look like

Imaj7 --> I7 --> IVmaj7 --> IV#dim --> vii-7(b5) --> VII7 --> iii-7 --> III7 --> vi-7 --> VI7 --> ii-7 --> II7 --> V --> V7 --> Imaj7.

The only odd one out is the IVmaj7 --> IV#dim --> vii-7(b5) since the IV is not the V of the vii.

This type of movement contains a lot of close interval movement and a lot of chromatic lines. In contrast the IV --> V change, while perfectly nice and allowed in classical harmony, does not immediately offer the opportunity to resolve to the V in the same way that the circle does. Again, constant resolution is not a requirement in western music but that sound represents a type of "climax" and is often considered the most interesting part of a musical idea. It is often described as a musical representation of releasing tension. Melodic ideas are moved around and may "meander" (not to disparage classical ideas). To me it seems that jazz evolved to be constant tension-->release. There may be other takes on this.


Possibly misinterpreting the question here!

The first five categories are more mainstream, generally speaking, and tend to use the primary harmonies, which are easy to follow, easy to play, and easy on the ear.

Jazz doesn't merely use ii V I. That's a simplification. Patterns tend to be more complex ('sophisticated' if you like!) and use more chord changes. There is that tendency to use more V>I sort of changes, so simple ii V I - Dm G C may become a little more - Dm Dm7 G G7 Cmaj7. Or more complex - Em Am Dm G C, going through the circle of 4ths/5ths. Anywhere in there there's the 2-5-1 change pattern.

  • I've heard that Giant Steps jazz patterns abuse ii-V-I in various, somewhat distant keys in the same piece.
    – Dekkadeci
    Sep 4, 2019 at 7:11
  • Or D-7 --> D7 --> G --> G7 --> C to create a cadence to the V.
    – user50691
    Sep 4, 2019 at 11:13
  • 1
    @Dekkadeci, I wouldn't call it abuse. Have you studied the Coltrane cycle?
    – user50691
    Sep 4, 2019 at 11:42

Jazz uses more varied chords, substitute chords, altered chords, modulations, modal interchange and all sorts of harmonic tricks, just like it uses more varied rhythms and rhythmic tricks. It feels nicer if music isn't too obvious, and if it tickles deeper layers of understanding. Some people feel that it's intriguing when art isn't completely self-evident, and doesn't blurt out everything too directly and explicitly. Some people don't get subtle and complex hints, they need simpler forms of expression. Like JAMES BOND GOOD GUY. DANGER. SHOOT BAD GUY. BANG BANG. PRETTY GIRL. THE END. Big letters, short sentences, black and white. Not jazz.

ii-V-I is not particularly jazzy or complicated, but it adds a tiny bit of variety compared to just IV-V-I.


The I-IV-V progression is just in "twelve bar blues"; that doesn't represent all of blues. Blues cannot be separated from jazz.

The actual progression goes like this, among other possilities (each bar is 4 beats):

I | I | I | I | IV | IV | I | I | V | IV | I | V
                                |<--      -->|  <- Blues turnaround    

(Here we don't actually see a I-IV-V literally at all! We do hear that in some classic pop rock songs like for instance "Do You Love Me (Now That I Can Dance)" by The Contours.)

The dominant at the very end leaves the tension hanging, and resolves to another tonic: the start of the next twelve bars, or else the end of the tune.

In other words, there is a V-I resolution in there, just not preceded by II.

The II-V-I pattern can be substituted into the twelve bar blues. See the Basic jazz-blues progression which is an altered twelve bar blues. The last four bars are:

 Original:  | V   | IV | I        | V      |
 New:       | ii7 | V7 | iii7 VI7 | II7 V7 |

First there is a slow II-V, four beats each, which doesn't resolve to a tonic. It's a kind of deceptive foreshadowing of the end. Then the pace picks up and we get the iii7 VI7 at two beats each, and a quick II7-V7 (which will go to a I7 in the next round again).

From this you can see how the II-V has been snuck into the jazzed-up blues pattern; where it fits in. The final V is in the same spot, as is the ending I in the next round. However, the time of the V has been cut in half down to two beats, and the II was inserted into the space before it.

  • I thought that sequence was I vi IV V, very common on the 60s. It hasn't shown in the box!
    – Tim
    Sep 5, 2019 at 6:50

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