Some more II – V – I ideas for you this month. To reiterate the prevalence of this chord progression, it is literally in thousands of songs and therefore an important sequence to have a handle on. For both, playing bass lines and improvising arpeggios can be a great starting point (as mentioned last issue).
Figure A is in the key of D Major and uses the chords Em7-A7-D. Get used to the sound of the arpeggios and listen to the V chord (A7) wanting to resolve to the I chord (D). There are many options for fingerings and positions when playing arpeggios, so feel free to work out others (and move them to other octaves and keys too). This kind of line could be used in jazz as a walking bass line or funk/Latin/reggae (perhaps played as crotchets instead of quavers). You could also use this line when improvising. Try playing it over the chords and you’ll hear how the notes fit and relate to each change. It’s a good start, but obviously does sound quite literal. We can make it sound a little more hip just by changing the note order and rhythm a little.
Although Figure B uses the same chords as Figure A, try it at a slower tempo to start with to allow for the semi quavers. It could be played over a straight funk groove or a half time funk shuffle if you’d like to try and swing it.
Extending the arpeggios out to include the 7th note offers extra scope. Check out Figure C to hear the chords extended to m7, dom7 and Major 7 (this time in the key of Bb Major). Like before we can then add some more rhythmic ideas and intervallic ideas to come up with something a little more interesting such as Figure D.
Again, there are a number of fingerings for Figure D, and of course you could play it in different positions (and octaves). Try recording/looping the chords (or using YouTube backing tracks) to hear the line against the harmony. You can also try it played both straight and swung.
Lastly, let’s add in some chromatic ideas. All of these examples so far have been diatonic (using notes just from the key and, in turn, each arpeggio). Chromaticism involves the use of other notes not necessarily in the key and often utilises notes in between diatonic notes (and often semitones apart consecutively). It can definitely add colour and tension, especially when approaching a diatonic note or chord tone.
Figure E is again in the key of Bb Major, but adds some chromatic notes for extra flavour and movement. This example is still quite melodic and outlines the chord progression. Try stretching your ear a little and add more chromatic choices to really push the sound of the II-V-I. There are then many substitutes, theories and approaches for superimposing other chords/notes over these chords to add more complex sounds. More next month.
Image via Glen Jackson.