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Minor II-V-Is

Minor II-V-Is make up a large part of the jazz repertoire varying from whole
songs in minor keys (like Yesterdays, Beautiful Love and Minor Blues) to
tunes that have sections of minor tonality (such as Autumn Leaves, No
Greater Love and Softly As in a Morning Sunrise). Due to this, it is important
to be able to negotiate around them in any key. There are two ways of
thinking about Minor II-V-Is; harmonic minor and melodic minor. This session
is concerned with the latter; the melodic minor scale.

The melodic minor scale is the ‘descending’ melodic minor scale used in
classical harmony. A simple way of remembering how they are constructed
is ‘it’s the same as a Ionian scale (major scale) with the flattened 3rd or minor
3rd. Therefore C melodic minor will be :


One of the challenges with playing over Minor II-V-Is is that each chord in the
progression comes from a different key. Rather than bombard you with
theory (and you’ll have to trust me on this) I’m going to label them

II – the two chord in a melodic minor key is actually from the 6 th

mode of
the melodic minor scale (sometimes called Locrian II). The alterations in the
scale means that the II chord has a b5th naturally occurring in the chord. So
a II in a minor II-V-I in the key of C would look like this:

D-7b5 which is the same as DØ the spelling is D F Ab C in root position.

Because we are thinking of this chord as the II of C it is easy to forget that it
doesn’t actually come from the key of C (there is no Ab in Cmajor!) Think of it
as being the 6th mode of the melodic minor scale. Therefore DØ comes from
F melodic minor. You can also think of it as coming from the key a minor 3rd
up from the root of the chord.

V The five chord in a melodic minor key comes from the 7th mode of the
melodic minor scale (often called the altered scale). The chord symbol for
this in the key of C would be G7alt. So which melodic minor scale does G7alt
come from? The answer is Ab melodic minor. You can also think of it as
coming from the melodic minor scale a semitone above the chord.

I The one chord actually comes from the root of the chord. The alteration
makes the one chord a minor/major. This might sound strange but it is
possible to have a chord that has a minor 3rd and a major 7th. The symbol for
this can be : C-maj, C-∆. This spells out the following chord in root position:
C Eb G B (it’s the last chord in the famous James Bond Theme – play it on
piano and you’ll know what I mean).

So, as we can see, the Minor II-V-I is more complex than it’s ‘major’ brother
but memorise the following chart and refer to it when you need to

IIØ - The scale comes from a minor

3rd above

Valt – The scale comes from a

semitone above

I-∆ - The scale is the Melodic Minor of

the Root of the chord.

Chord/Scale Relationships of the first four chords;

Concert: Bb Eb
D- (D dorian) E- (E dorian) B- (B

BØ (D melodic minor) C#Ø (E melodic minor) AbØ (B

melodic minor)

EØ (G melodic minor) F#Ø (A melodic minor) C#Ø (E

melodic minor)

A7alt (Bb melodic minor) B7alt (C melodic minor) F#7alt (G

melodic minor)

Even though the chord symbols on the lead sheet are slightly different (the
dominant chords are notated as +9) you can change them into full minor II-V-
Is as above. Look for minor II-V-Is in new tunes you learn and apply the
above to find out what scales to use.

Scales to Music
OK, so now you know how to derive the scales and chords but how do you
turn the scales into music? Well, if I’m honest, you will spend the rest of your
life doing this. Fear not though, its fun! The following patterns are really
only as a guide to get you hearing the sounds of the scales. Listen to your
favourite players and copy them, write down your favourite patterns and
licks, start to build up a vocabulary. Recommended further reading is the
Aebersold II-V-I book and CD. Patterns for jazz by Jerry Coker – check out
www.jazzbooks.com for more info.




Triadic Shapes as a basis for Improvisation

As mentioned last week, you can improvise on chords using triadic shapes.
This produces a particularly modern sound creating interesting combinations
of dissonance and resolve. You can use the following triadic shapes on the
minor II-V-Is in ‘Yesterdays’. Practice triadic shapes (including all inversions)
over other minor II-V-Is.
Concert Bb
EØ – G minor Triad and Bb major triad F#Ø – A minor Triad and C major

A7alt – G minor Triad and Eb major triad B7alt – Aminor Triad and F major

Dmin – Dminor triad Emin – Eminor triad

C#Ø – Eminor Triad and G major triad

F#alt – Eminor Triad and C major triad

B- - B minor triad.