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How to Master Minor ii-V-i's

Today is going to be all about minor ii-V-I's! Minor ii-V's are very difficult chord progressions, mainly because unlike major ii-V-I's, there are a ton of different chord scale options that you can use. Having a strong understanding of your chord scale options, and how they fit over the chord will allow you to play fluidly over minor ii-V's. Let's take a look at the chord progression itself!

The minor ii-V-i progression: The first chord is always going to be a half diminished seventh chord, followed by a dominant seventh chord with either a flat nine, flat 13, or a sharp nine. The last chord in this progression will always be a minor seventh chord, or a minor major seventh chord. In order to master minor ii-V's we need to understand this progressions and how these chords function.



To review these scale options, we are going to use Jazz Lesson Videos' 75 Phrases on Minor Progressions PDF Package, where all of the scale options for Minor ii-V-i's are provided. This package also has phrases using approach notes, bebop & post bop, and inside out language to create tension and resolution. DOWNLOAD RESOURCE>>>

Let’s get into the chord scale options!

What can we play over a minor ii-V-i?

#1 The Half Diminished Chord: In the context of a minor ii-V-i, the ii chord is a half diminished seventh chord. This scale degrees used to build this chord are the one, minor three, flat five, and dominant seventh. In order to understand how to create a full voicing here, we need to know the other tensions that can be used and the corresponding scales.

Some people say you should use the Locrian Scale, which will give you a flat nine on the half diminished seventh chord. This can be heard in the playing of saxophonists such as Dexter Gordon to Charlie Parker, who typically played the Locrian Scale.

An alternative option is to use the natural nine, because it creates nice voice leading to the flat 13 of the dominant chord chromatically.

What can we play over the V chord?

#2: The V Chord: With the five chord in a minor ii-V-i, we’re going to have a few different options. The first option is to treat it as a flat nine or sharp nine. Technically, with a flat nine or sharp nine in the chord symbol, there's going to be a natural 13 as well. With this in mind, if we're playing on a flat nine chord, the upper extensions would suggest the Half/Whole Diminished Scale.

It is important to note that a lot of pianists and guitarists will see a flat nine chord symbol, and won't put the natural 13 in, although that is what a jazz theorist would lean towards.

Another option is to treat the five chord as an altered chord, with the Altered Scale. This scale is also referred to as the Diminished Whole Tone Scale or the Super Locrian Scale.

For the next option, we are going to treat the five chord as a natural nine and a flat 13. If you see a dominant flat 13 chord, technically speaking, you should treat it in this manner. This would create a Mixolydian Flat Six Scale, which is the fifth mode of melodic minor.

The last and most common option is the Phrygian Dominant Scale on the five chord. This scale consists of a flat nine, natural 3, 4, 5, flat 6 (flat 13), and a dominant seven. This is a very melodic chord scale option over the five chord.

What can we play over the minor seventh chord?

#3 The Minor Seventh Chord: Over the minor seventh chord, Dorian is going to be a more effective resolution than Aeolian. This allows the color to change from the flat six to the natural six. An alternative would be to raise the seventh, using the Melodic Minor Scale.



The secret combination over a minor ii-V-i:

There is one secret combination that we believe is the most melodic combination of chord scales going through the minor ii-V-i chord progression. This is where we use the Locrian Scale over the half diminished seventh chord, Phrygian Dominant Scale over the V chord, and Melodic Minor over the i chord.

A shortcut for this would be to use the Phrygian Dominant Scale all the way through the chord progression. You can think about the whole phrase as harmonic minor. For example, if we're playing a ii-V-i in C minor, we can think C Harmonic Minor Scale all the way through.

A firm understanding of the uses of these scales will allow you to play fluidly over the minor ii-V-i chord progression. To get a more in depth understanding of these scales, check out our resource: 75 Phrases on Minor Progressions written in all 12 Keys.

This PDF contains phrases on Minor ii-V-i Progressions and Various Minor Tonality Vamps. It also goes over the diatonic scales we covered today, incorporating approach notes, inside out playing, pentatonic shifting, melodic cells, and triad pairs/hexatonics. DOWNLOAD RESOURCE>>>>

To hear Chad LB play and break down these concepts even further, check out the video below.

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