Jazz is one of, if not the most complex music styles. That being said, even the most complex of music styles has a starting point. The most common starting point in jazz, the one I myself first learned, is the 2-5-1 chord progression.
Today we will learn the 2-5-1 chord progression using the key of C Major. The best reason to start with C Major is that it involves no flats or sharps, making the building of seventh chords fairly easy for beginners.
In the key of C Major the 2-5-1 progression starts out on a minor chord and ends with two subsequent major chords. This gives the progression a great resolution, which is in turn pleasing to the ear of the listener.
When you write out your 2-5-1 progression, it will look like this:
ii – V – I
The lower Roman numeral two represents the second scale degree of the C Major scale which is D. In almost every major key the second scale degree, or the supertonic, is a minor. In every major key the first Roman numeral, or the tonic, is a major, which in this case is the note C. Finally, the fifth scale degree, or the dominant, is almost always major in a major key, and in this case is the note G.
Now that we know our properties, we need to construct our seventh chords. Minor seventh chords are built of a Major seventh, which means the distance from the root to the last note is ten-half steps. Basic minor chords such as the one we will be using for this lesson are built of a minor third (three half steps), a major third (four half steps), and a second minor third.
Using this information, let’s build our first seventh chord. We know that the second letter name in C Major is D, so our outcome should follow the steps demonstrated below.
First minor third: D#, E, F.
Major third: F#, G, G#, A.
Second minor third: A#, B, C.
This leaves us with the notes D, F, A and C for our second scale degree seventh chord. Next, let’s build our fifth scale degree (dominant) seventh chord. This time it’s a major seventh chord, and we know that the fifth scale degree of C Major is G.
First Major third: G#, A, A#, B.
Minor third: C, C#, D.
Second Major third: D#, E, F, F#.
Now notice how we end on F#. Because this is C Major, a key with no accidentals, we turn F# into F natural, voiding the accidental. We are left with the notes G, B, D, and F for our dominant seventh chord. Finally, our last seventh chord is our C Major tonic seventh chord.
First Major third: C#, D, D#, E.
Minor third: F, F#, G
Second Major third: G#, A, A#, B.
This leaves us with the notes C, E, G and B for our tonic seventh chord.
Now that we have our seventh chords built, we can build them on our guitars. There are a few different octaves in which they can be played, but the simplest way to play our newly created ii-V-I progression is in our example below.
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Once you can play these chords, try adding the jazz chord progression into your own music. You will be surprised at how many guitarists you’ll be able to jam with!
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