I am new to music theory especially jazz and blues. I have since learned about writing lyrics or singing over a traditional 12 bar blues progression using AAB form, thus repeating the first line (A) and finally responding to it (B). What I wanted to find out is, is there any similar or standard approach to writing lyrics and singing over ii-V-I jazz progression that one can use as a guideline?

  • 2
    What prevents you from listing a few instances of ii-V-I and looking if you can find any similarities? Nov 7, 2019 at 14:55
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    No standard approach for singing or soloing. A plethora of different ideas keeps getting added to.
    – Tim
    Nov 7, 2019 at 16:32
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    The real question would be is there a standard way to harmonize melodies with ii-V-I chord sequence. You melody is more important. And these standard changes are replaceable with alternates.
    – user50691
    Nov 7, 2019 at 17:38
  • Melody should be your guide. Start with your melody. ii-V-I etc just are methods of harmonization.
    – Stinkfoot
    Nov 8, 2019 at 16:52
  • I think your question may need clarification. Since your question mentions the blues, perhaps you are asking what kinds of melodic ideas and lyrical motifs are common on the turnaround (bars 9 and 10) of a 12-bar blues form. Or, perhaps you are asking what melody notes are compatible with the ii and V chords in any form. Note that writing lyrics, creating a melody, and singing it are three distinct (if related) tasks.
    – Max
    Mar 2, 2020 at 2:24

3 Answers 3


...traditional 12 bar blues progression using AAB form...

In that context AAB describes the entire 12 bar form. AAB is a kind of song form description.

Using a common 12 bar example:

A'  = | I | IV | I | I7 |
A'' = | IV| IV | I | I  |
B   = | V | IV | I | V  |

...so the A and B represent entire phrases.

...similar or standard approach to writing lyrics and singing over ii-V-I jazz progression...

You need to be aware of structural levels. You can look at things at increasingly larger levels. From the small, note to note or bar to bar levels to the large phrase to phrase level. My understanding from how you worded the question is you are looking at the phrase level.

ii-V-I is not analogous to AAB. While A and B are 4 bar phrases the ii and V and I are only single chords. ii-V-I might be two, three, or four bars, etc.

ii-V-I does not describe the phrase or lyrical structure of a jazz song.

However, one thing that may help is to describe one common jazz song form: the 32 bar song form AABA.

Unlike the A and B of 12 bar blues with 4 bar lengths in 32 bar song form the A and B are 8 bars in length.

There is not a set chord progression in 32 bar song form, but there is a fairly standard pairing of phrase endings.

(A starts with initial key)
A'  = |: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8  (ending on dominant) | 
A'' = |  9 | 10| 11| 12| 13| 14| 15| 16 (ending on tonic)   :||
(B starts in new key)
B   = |: 17| 18| 19| 20| 21| 22| 23| 24 (end on dom. initial key)|
A'' = |  25| 26| 27| 28| 29| 30| 31| 32 (ending on tonic)   :||

Within those bars you may have ii-V-I or other progressions, but there is no set progression like you get in 12 bar blues.

From a melodic point of view the A parts are often very similar with just the phrase endings being varied. The B part will melodically contrast with A introducing new melodic ideas.

Lyrically it makes sense the A parts could repeat some lines and B would be new lines, but there is no set pattern like the repeated A line in 12 bar blues.

A very well known 32 bar song form is Over the Rainbow.

There is not one definitive jazz song form, but if AAB is the definitive song form of blues, the 32 bar song form AABA is at least one of the most important song forms in jazz.


A ii-V-I chord progression is not unique to Jazz. It can be found in Renaissance music of the 1400's and all forms since. The ii chord is simply the "V of V" (the "five of Five") so in essence the ii-V bit functions the same harmonically as the V-I bit. Many songs even use a Major II chord giving you II-V-I (or II7-V7-I∆).

One simple approach is to play (or sing) the same thing over both bits. In other words, whatever you'd sing at the end of your 12-Bar Blues progression (at the turnaround) is what you'd sing over a ii-V portion except transposed to the notes of those chords.

Another popular practice is to do an ascending arpeggio for the ii chord, then step to a descending arpeggio for the V chord, and step to a resolved note of the I chord:

Dm7 = D F A C (1/2 step down to B)

G7 = B G F D (whole step either direction to C or E)

C∆ = C (follows direction of descending G arpeggio) or E (more colorful choice; highlights the Major quality of the chord)

There is no "correct" or "best" way to sing or otherwise play a melody over a ii-V-I chord progression but there are definitely note choices that will sound "odd" or "wrong." The trick is discovering what sounds "good" to your ears, and the best way for that is to listen to other players and make a note of what they're doing when you like it.


I would say you are comparing apples to oranges. The Blues is an entire song structure or architecture whereas the ii-V-I is a small progression which is often used in the larger architecture. And I'm not convinced of your mapping of the blues as AAB, but that doesn't really affect the discussion. You can dissect the blues further and look and individual changes within the song.

A standard simple blues is:

| I | IV | I | I |

| IV | IV | I | I |

| V | IV | I | I |

The last line is kind of bland and many players add complexity here. One thing is that you don't see a V leading back to the beginning (a "turn around"). The addition of a turn around in the last line can be as simple as adding a V7 on the last beat of the last measure. Or it can be as complex as a full cycle extension with iii-vi-ii-V-I lasting two or more bars. Especially in Jazz versions of the Blues.

That all being said I would say that soloing over the ii-V-I is similar to soloing over the I-IV in the first half of the first line of the 12 bar blues. A ii-V-I is not a song structure but momentary comment within a book. If you analyze real book tunes you will find the ii-V and its various extensions sprinkled all over each and every tune, from The Blues to Rhythm Changes.

As an other example consider Rhythm changes. It is an A A B A pattern tune where the A section is similar to Heart and Soul, and the B section is the circle of 4ths.

| I, vii | ii, V7 | I, vi | ii, V7 |

| v, I7 | IV, iv | I, vi | ii, V7 |

| I, vii | ii, V7 | I, vi | ii, V7 |

| v, I7 | IV, iv | I, vi | ii, V7 |

| III7 | III7 | VI7 | VI7 |

| II7 | II7 | V7 | V7 |

| I, vii | ii, V7 | I, vi | ii, V7 |

| v, I7 | IV, iv | I, vi | ii, V7 |

This is more like your Blues and as you can see ii->V's all over the place.

As yet another example look as How High The Moon, or Ornithology (similar changes). You have a cascade of whole step key changes via ii-->V7-->I from G to F to Eb, then the pattern changes.

So, my point is that you don't approach a ii-V as you would a song structure. In rhythm changes you could apply the Blues logic and say whatever you play in the first A section you repeat, do something new in the B section, then coming back to the A section play a modified version of what you played in the A section. It's like poetry.

Now, as for how to solo over a ii-V that's a different story. The ii-V-I and very similar to a IV-V-I since the ii and the IV and related to each other (in fact they are legitimate chord substitutes for each other). So if you have IV-V-I ideas you can try them out over a ii-V-I and modify as your ear tells you to. There are countless CD+book sets for practicing ii-V solo ideas and a variety of methods ranging from "follow the modes for each chord and emphasize the 3rd and 7th on strong beats" to "just play a blues lick over it and force it to work". It would take too much time to explain them all and they are not all worth your time imo. One thing to consider is that the ii-V-I should be thought of a a unit of musical expression rather than a ii, then a V, then finally a I. As such you are better off constructing soulful melodic lines with interesting phrasing and playing them over ii-V-I recordings as a test. This is an approach taught by Jerry Coker Patterns for Jazz. Make it personal from the start and you'll develop your own unique voice. Follow an algorithm and people will not likely remember you took a solo.

Keep a journal of YOUR licks and note the ones that work and those that don't. You can start by finding a great player and transcribing some of there solos. Wes Montgomery on The Way You Look Tonight, Kenny Burrell on All of Me, Charlie Parker on Ornithology. Anybody on Oleo. Wes has a Blues called West Coast Blues that is 12 bars, and anything but "standard". It has chromatic ii-V's. Goodbye Porkpie Hat by Mingus is also a 12 bar blues but hard to recognize with so many changes (the I, IV and V are in the right place). You can use what you know in the blues to branch out into Jazz ii-V by playing over these songs.

Just to add to this. I was assuming you were talking about soloing, scat for example. If you are composing then you might be doing things backwards. One typically writes the melody then finds chords that fit. There is nothing wrong with saying at the start "I want to write a tune that follows Rhythm Changes" but don't feel constrained by the set of chords I posted, or any other. Follow the A A B A. If your melody deviates you can find suitable chords to replace the ones that are there.

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