Jazz Chord Progressions: The Music Theory

This article is a collaborative effort, crafted and edited by a team of dedicated professionals.

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,

If you’re a jazz musician, learning about chord progressions is essential to understanding the music theory behind the genre. In this blog post, we’ll explore some of the most common jazz chord progressions and how they work.

What are chord progressions?

In music, a chord progression or harmonic progression is a succession of musical chords. Chord progressions are the foundation of harmony in Western musical tradition from the common practice era of Classical music to the 21st century. Chord progressions are usually expressed by Roman numerals. A chord may be built upon any note of a musical scale, therefore a seven-note scale allows for seven basic chords, which are extended with secondary chords and tertiary chords, which produce many different further possibilities.

How do chord progressions work?

From a music theory standpoint, chord progressions work by creating tension and release. The chords you use will typically be either major or minor, with each having a different effect on the listener.

The most common type of chord progression uses what’s called a root progression, which means the chords are based around the root note of the scale. For example, in the key of C Major, the root notes would be C, D, E, F, G, A, and B. If we were to create a chord progression using only these notes, it might look like this:

C Major: C-D-E-F-G-A-B

In this example, we start on the root note C and end on the root note B. This gives us a sense of resolution because we’ve come full circle.

Chord progressions can also be created by starting on any other note in the scale and working your way up or down. For example, we could start on the note D and end on B like this:


What are some common chord progressions in jazz?

In jazz, chord progressions are often spread out over several bars or even several measures, and may involve complex harmonies that “float” over the basic chord changes prescribed by the progression. Nonetheless, certain progressions occur with enough frequency in jazz that they have been given names; progressions such as the ii-V-I progression are universally recognized among jazz musicians. Some of the most commonly used progressions in jazz are:

I-vi-ii-V: One of the most common progressions in all genres of music. In C major, this would be C-Amin-Dmin-G7. This progression is known for its strong forward motion and for being particularly easy to improvise over.

ii-V7-I: Another very common and important progression in jazz. In C major, this would be Dmin7-G7-C. This progression is often called a “turnaround”, because it can be used to bring a phrase full circle – for example, you could start a phrase on the I chord, move to the ii chord for two measures, then move to the V7 chord for two measures before resolving back to the I chord. Because of its symmetrical structure (the V7 always resolves to I), this progression can also create a feeling of tension and release.

ii-V7b9-Imaj9: A variation on the ii-V7-I progression that adds a bit more color. In C major, this would be Dmin7b9-G7b9-Cmaj9. The b9 on the V7 chord creates a bit of tension that adds interest when improvising over this progression.

cadential 6/4: A type of ii-V7-I progression that is characterized by its use of 6/4 chords (chords with an added 6th degree). In C major, this would be D6/4-G6/4-CMaj6/4 or D6/4(no5)-G6/4(no5)-CMaj6/4(no5). This type of ii=V=I is often found at the end of sections or pieces of music, as it has a very strong sense of resolution due to its use of root position 6th chords.

How can I create my own chord progressions?

Any chord can be used as the starting point for a chord progression, but some chords are more commonly used as starting points than others. The most common starting point is the tonic chord, which gives a sense of conclusion and resolution. Other commonstarting points include the dominant chord, which creates a sense of tension that needs to be resolved, and the subdominant chord, which provides a sense of movement.

Once you have chosen your starting point, you can begin to construct your progression by moving to any other chord in the scale. The most common movement is to the chord a fourth or fifth above the tonic (subdominant or dominant), which provides a sense of forward momentum. You can also move to the chord a second above the tonic (the supertonic), which gives a feeling of suspense or tension that needs to be resolved.

There are an endless number of possibilities when it comes to creating chord progressions, so don’t be afraid to experiment! Try out different combinations of chords and see how they sound together.

What are some tips for using chord progressions in jazz?

There are a few things to keep in mind when using chord progressions in jazz. First, it’s important to understand the basic principles of music theory. This will help you understand how chords are constructed and how they work together. Second, it’s helpful to familiarize yourself with common jazz chord progressions. This will give you a starting point for creating your own progressions. Finally, don’t be afraid to experiment! Jazz is all about creativity, so don’t be afraid to try new things.

How can I practice chord progressions?

There are many ways that you can practice chord progressions. You can use a metronome, chord progression generator, or even just a simple practice riff. The best way to learn how to play chord progressions is to start by playing along with a recording. This will help you get the feel for how the chords flow together. Once you have the hang of it, you can start experimenting with your own progressions.

What are some common mistakes when using chord progressions in jazz?

There are a few common mistakes that musicians make when using chord progressions in jazz. One mistake is to use too many chord changes in a progression. This can make the progression sound cluttered and can make it difficult for the listener to follow the melody. Another mistake is to use too few chord changes, which can make the progression sound monotonous. It is important to find a balance between too many and too few chord changes in order to create an interesting and enjoyable progression.

Another common mistake is to use chords that are not commonly found in jazz progressions. For example, using chords from other genres such as rock or pop can make a jazz progression sound forced and unnatural. It is important to stick to chords that are commonly used in jazz progressions in order to create a cohesive and enjoyable sound.

Finally, another common mistake is to use progressions that are too simple or too complex. Progressions that are too simple can sound boring, while progressions that are too complex can sound overwhelming. It is important to find a balance between simplicity and complexity in order to create a progression that is both interesting and easy to follow.

How can I avoid making mistakes when using chord progressions in jazz?

When playing jazz, it is important to be aware of the different chord progressions that are commonly used. This will help you to avoid making mistakes and sounding out of place.

There are a few progressions that are used more often than others in jazz. The most common progression is the ii-V-I. This progression uses the chords of the second, fifth, and first scale degrees. It can be played in any key and is a good foundation for further exploration.

Another common progression is the iii-vi-ii-V. This one starts on the third scale degree, then moves to the sixth, second, and fifthscale degrees. This progression can also be played in any key and provides a different sound than the ii-V-I.

The iii-vi-ii-V7-I is another variation on the iii-vi-ii-V that includes a seventh chord on the fifth scale degree. This adds extra tension and makes for a more exciting sound.

A final chord progression that is commonly used in jazz is the ii7-V7-I6. This one starts on the second scale degree, then moves to the fifth, seventh, and first scale degrees. It has a similar sound to the iii7-vi7-ii7 V7 I6, but with a different order of chords.

What are some other resources for learning about chord progressions in jazz?

There are a few different ways to approach learning about chord progressions in jazz. You can start by listening to a lot of music and trying to identify the progressions yourself. You can also check out resources like fake books, which provide lead sheets with chord symbols that can help you figure out progressions by ear. If you want a more systematic approach, there are also some excellent books and online resources that will teach you the basics of harmonic theory as it applies to jazz.

Where can I find more information about chord progressions in jazz?

There are a few different places you can look to find more information about chord progressions in jazz. One option is to consult a music theory book or textbook. This can give you a detailed and formal introduction to the topic.

Another option is to search for online resources. A quick Google search will turn up a number of articles, blog posts, and videos that can provide helpful information about chord progressions in jazz.

If you want to learn from a more personal source, you could also ask a jazz musician or music teacher for their advice. This can be a great way to get tailored advice and insights into the topic.

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