Every style of music has its own “go to” progression. For jazz, the most common guitar chord progression is the 2-5-1 progression. In fact, you might have a hard time finding a jazz song which doesn’t follow the progression. This is because the 2-5-1 progression is simply perfect for jazz musicians.
So how do we go about creating this common jazz chord progression?
As with all examples the easiest place to begin is by using C Major because it has no sharps or flats. To make a 2-5-1 progression using C Major, we need to look at the scale degree property of the key.
The second scale degree in most every major key, or the super tonic, is usually minor. The fifth scale degree of a major key, or the dominant, is usually major. As you can probably guess, the first scale degree, or the tonic of a major key is always major.
With this information, we now know that our 2-5-1 C Major chord progression will look like this:
ii — V — I
Now we will need to find the second note name of our scale, which in this case is D. We know that we need to build a minor seventh chord because the super tonic is minor. We end up with a D minor seventh chord constructed of the notes D, F, A and C.
Next up we will need to create a dominant seventh chord. The fifth note name of C Major is G, and when we build a seventh chord we are left with the notes G, B, D and F.
Lastly we need to build our C Major tonic seventh chord, which leaves us with the notes C, E, G and B. Our 2-5-1 progression, when played, will look like this:
Dmin7, Gmaj7, Cmaj7
Another common jazz chord progression is the 1-2-5-4. This progression is fairly interesting and fun to play off of. Once more using C Major, let’s create a 1-2-5-4 progression. This progression will look like this:
I — ii — V — IV
We already know that our tonic will be major, so we need to build a C Major tonic seventh chord. When we do, the notes we get are C, E, G, and B.
Because we are in a major key, our super tonic will be minor. The super tonic of C Major is D, and our seventh chord will consist of the notes D, F, A and C.
Our dominant, because we are in a major key, will be major. The dominant of C Major is G, and our seventh chord will be built of the notes G, B, D, and D.
Finally, our subdominant, the fourth letter name of C Major, is the note F. Just like the dominant, the subdominant in a major key is primarily major. Our F major seventh chord in the key of C Major will consist of the notes F, A, C and E.
When we play our C Major 1-2-5-4 chord progression, it will look like this:
Cmaj7, Dmin7,Gmaj7, Fmaj7
This type of progression is perfect for advanced guitar players. It is also one of the most common jazz chord progressions played in the key of G. The chords for this type of progression will be Gmaj7, Cm7, Am7, and D7.
For Gmaj7, you will be using G, B, D, and F#. For Cm7, the chords you need are C, Eb, G, and Bb. The notes for Am7 are A, C, E, and G. And for D7, you will be using D, F#, A, and C.
Now that you know three of the most common jazz chord progressions it’s time to play them. To better help familiarize yourself with these progressions, try improvising over them. If you need help improvising refer to our article entitled Guitar Improvisation. Good luck and have fun!
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