Any guitar students who have decided to pursue jazz guitar lessons will always be given the same advice; learn as many II V I (2 5 1) licks as possible. I found this advice especially helpful when I began studying jazz improvisation, as if you are unfamiliar with the style, these will help guide your ear towards phrasing more like a jazz guitarist, rather than say, a rock guitarist. In today’s guitar lesson, I will be providing tab for 10 jazz guitar II V I licks for those looking to start out on jazz guitar. 5 of these licks will be for a standard II V I progression, and the other 5 will be for an altered II V I progression.
What Is A II V I Lick?
Perhaps the most common chord progression in jazz is the II V I (2, 5, 1) chord progression. This simply refers to chords II, V and I in the key signature. A II V I lick is a guitar phrase that fits over this chord progression, often containing a mixture of arpeggios and chord tones to be used for improvising. By having a few stock phrases that fit over this common chord progression, you will be well prepared when tasked with improvising over a jazz chord progression. To demonstrate this, we’ll use the key of C major as an example. Here is the scale of C major, harmonised into 3 and 4 note chords:
As you can see from the table above, chord II in the key of C is Dm7, chord V is G7, and chord I is Cmaj7. A II V I lick would fit over this chord progression.
Standard II V I Jazz Guitar Licks
Each of the 5 licks below are in the key of C and fit over a fairly generic jazz II V I chord progression of 2 beats on Dm7, 2 beats on G7 and a whole bar on Cmaj7. I have chosen this particular chord progression, rather than a whole bar on each chord, because in my experience, it is slightly more common in jazz. My goal here was to present some simple licks for beginners to get under their fingers first, with the possibility for further deliberate as you get used to the fingerings and sound of each lick. I encourage you to figure out these licks in as many different keys as possible, in order to get the most mileage out of each idea. Each lick is presented in straight 8th notes in order for you to easily see the changes in chord tones of each lick, however feel free to experiment and change up the rhythms once you have mastered the basics of each phrase.
Lick 1 in this lesson begins in position 1 of D Dorian. The first bar moves through a Dm7 arpeggio starting on the root note, before we play a G7 arpeggio starting on the 3rd. The 2nd bar is in position 2 of D Dorian, containing mostly notes from a Cmaj7 chord.
I’m a big believer in learning new licks in as many different positions as possible on the guitar. Lick number 2 starts exactly the same as lick number 1, with the same Dm7 arpeggio and transition into G7, but it is played in position 4 of D Dorian instead of position 1. Again, after playing a descending G7 arpeggio built off of the 3rd, we resolve by predominantly using chord tones from Cmaj7.
Another concept I encourage guitar players to explore is learning new licks in as many different octaves as possible. The start of lick 3 utilises the same Dm7 arpeggio moving down to the 3rd of G7 (B) as the previous examples, however this time we are performing this idea one octave lower than in the first two licks. The first bar of this phrase is position of D Dorian before we move down to position 5 of the same mode for the Cmaj7 resolution.
Remember what I said about learning the same lick in as many different positions as possible? Well, lick 4 begins with the same Dm7 to G7 move as the previous example, but played in position 4 of D Dorian instead of position 1. We then ascend a G7 arpeggio built off its 3rd before resolving to Cmaj7.
Lick 5 starts with a descending Dm7 arpeggio built off of the root, before doing the exact same thing with a G7 arpeggio. Bar 2 contains notes derived from a Cmaj7 chord. This lick is based entirely in position 4 of D Dorian.
Altered II V I Jazz Guitar Licks
You may have heard of the concept of playing “outside” before when the topic of jazz improvisation is discussed. Using “altered” licks is a great way to add a little drama into your playing, as a greater amount of tension is created on the V chord before the final resolution on the I chord. This concept should be explored once you have got the basics of improvising over a II V I progression under your fingers. The most common way to achieve a dissonant altered sound is to alter the V chord in a sequence to contain dissonant intervals, such as the b9, #9 or b5. The best method for improvising over an altered V chord is to use altered dominant scale, which contains all the alterations that can be added to a V7 chord. In the key of C, this would be the G altered dominant scale. Below are the notes of this scale:
|1||b2 (b9)||#2 (#9)||3||#4 or b5 (#11)||#5 or b6 (b13)||b7||8|
Below are 5 II V I licks designed to be performed with an altered V chord. You can still play these licks over a standard V7 chord if you wish to sound “outside.” I have tried to keep each lick similar to the standard examples above, so each one will start with the same ideas over the Dm7 chord before moving to an outside sound over the V chord. Again, practice these in all 12 keys in order to get the most out of each idea.
Lick 6 contains the Dm7 arpeggio as lick 1, and even performs the same movement to the 3rd of G7. We then have a nice chromatic idea that comes from the D melodic minor scale on the G7 chord, making use the b5 (Db) before resolving to a C6 sound.
Lick 7 uses the same arpeggio from lick 2, before descending down the 3rd, root, b7 and b5 of G7. The b5 creates an altered sound here, before moving down a semitone to the root of the Cmaj7 chord.
Another standard Dm7 arpeggio helps us start lick 8, before we use the 3rd, b5, b13 and b7 of our G7alt chord. The b7 of the G7 chord (F) moves nicely down a semitone to the 3rd of Cmaj7 (E) to create a strong resolution in bar 2.
The same arpeggio from lick 4 starts our 9th lick here. The 4 notes on the V chord outline a G7b9b5 chord, as we have the 3rd, b5, b7 and b9 present. We have another semitone resolution from Ab down to G, which is the 5th of Cmaj7, in bar 2.
The 10th and final lick in today’s jazz guitar lesson descends a Dm7 chord similar to lick 5. The sequence over the altered G7 chord contains perhaps the most “outside” sound of the series so far, with the #5, root, b9 and #11 all present before we resolve down to a Cmaj7 chord.
Final Thoughts – Getting Started On Jazz Improvisation
As you get more familiar with jazz improvisation, you may find the licks above are a little too “basic” sounding, and you may wish to change or discard them entirely as you pursue more advanced concepts and ideas. However, I think the 10 licks above present an excellent starting point for those of you who are new to the art of jazz guitar, and getting them practised and flowing into your vocabulary of ideas will certainly start you off on the right foot. From personal experience, the licks above really helped me when I first got into this style, and I hope you will find them useful too. I hope you have enjoyed today’s jazz guitar lesson, and as always, I’ll see you next time.