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The Almighty ii-V:  Part 2 (Minor)

The Almighty ii-V: Part 2 (Minor)

September 7th, 2010 by




Sultry.  Spicy.  Rich.  Exotic.  No, I am not talking about your mother.  I’m talking about Jazz standards in minor keys.  Though they make up a smaller percentage of the Jazz repertoire, minor tunes add a great variety and sound to any performance, album, or jam session.  Even if the tune you are playing is in a major key, there’s probably at least a hint of minor in there.  And if it’s Jazz it’s probably got a ii-V in it.  This article will focus on playing over a ii-V progression in minor keys.

The ii chord in a minor key is a minor 7 b5 chord (mistakenly referred to as a half-diminished chord at times).  It is made up of the root, b3, b5, and b7.  This chord will get a locrian scale.  The V chord will be an altered chord, which is explained in-depth in my previous lesson.  It gets the altered scale.  And when the progression finally resolves to the i chord, it is played as a minor 6 chord.  This chord has the root, b3, 5, and 6.  The minor 6 chord gets a melodic minor chord scale.  So let’s take the key of G minor.  The ii-V-i in this key would be Am7b5, D7alt, Gm6 and over that we would play an A locrian, D altered, and G melodic minor scale.

Example 1a:

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Minor ii-V Ex.1a

Example 1b:

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Minor ii-V's Ex. 1b

Using these scales, as well as the arpeggios of these chords, you can come up with some cool jazzy licks to play over a minor tune.  Here are some that I like to play:

Example 2a:

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Minor ii-V's Ex.2a

Example 2b:

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Minor ii-V's Ex.2a

Example 2c:

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Minor ii-V's Ex.2c

But hold on, the fun doesn’t stop there!  For those of you hungry to tackle more, there are options.  In Jazz there are tons of substitutions available.  First of all, the V chord can always be played with a natural 5 rather than the b5 of the altered scale.  Once you do that you get the mixolydian b2 b6 scale (1, b2, 3, 4, 5, b6, b7), often referred to as the phrygian dominant scale or the 5th mode of the harmonic minor. Also, try playing over the iim7b5 chord as if it were the V chord.  And as always, we can throw in some sweet blues licks if we wanna get a little nasty.  All of these techniques are demonstrated in the example below:

Example 3:

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Minor ii-V's Ex.2c

With this arsenal of theory you can now develop what it takes to play over a minor Jazz tune!  Write some of your own licks and practice them over different standards like My Funny Valentine, Sugar, Recorda Me, and countless others!

The Almighty ii-V:  Part 2 (Minor)

About Mark Kilianski

Mark Kilianski is a Guitar player, teacher, and composer based in Boston, MA. Mark has been trained in Jazz Composition at the infamous Berklee College of Music and gigs regularly with the Progressive-Folk duo, The Whiskey Boys (www.whiskeyboys.com). He is well versed in the Jazz, Blues, Classic Rock, and Bluegrass idioms, an eclectic blend that gives his playing and writing a unique flavor.

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  • Chris

    Great lesson, but why do you refer to it as the mixolydian b2 b6 rather than the more widely used phrygian dominant or even just the 5th mode harmonic minor?

    • Thanks Chris, a great question. I like to refer to modes like this in such a way that is most simple and directly related to the most basic knowledge of music theory. Once a musician knows the 7 basic modes, it is easy to understand others as similar modes with certain notes altered. In other words, understanding what “mixo b2 b6” is requires a more basic level of music theory knowledge than “phrygian dominant” or “5th mode harmonic minor.” Applying the scale in reality, this is the way I hear and think about it, the way it makes most sense to me. That being said, I’m sure there are plenty of guitar players out there who would understand it better the way you have described it, and I will be sure to note that in this and future lessons!