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Jazz Piano Lesson: The ii-V-I Progression


The single most common chord progression found in jazz music is the ii-V-I. In fact, entire jazz compositions are crafted around this seemingly simple, yet harmonically rich and attention-grabbing progression. One such example is the Miles Davis classic, “Tune Up,” which almost exclusively features a series of cascading ii-V-I chord progressions rotating through various key centers.


Considering that the ii-V-I is the most common chord progression in the genre, it’s important for jazz musicians of all instruments and levels to analyze this progression intimately, unpack its nuances, understand its applications, and be able to implement it into their playing and vocabulary.


In this online jazz piano lesson, master jazz pianist, recording artist, producer, and ArtistWorks instructor, George Whitty, explains the concept of the ii-V-I, details how the progression is constructed, dissects its theoretical applications, and illustrates how it’s used in the context of Miles Davis’ “Tune Up.”


LEARN MORE: Want to learn how to play jazz piano from a master musician like George Whitty? Try some free online piano lessons now!


“The ii-V-I is the most important sequence of chords in jazz, and, to be honest, has been the most important chord progression for centuries,” George explains. “I’ve always thought that there’s some sort of universal human instinct to want to hear the progression from the ii to the V chord, almost like moving from a sad sound to a hopeful sound, and then from the V to the I chord as a final happy resolution.”


What is a ii-V-I Chord Progression?

A ii-V-I is progression comprised of a series of three chords. The first chord is a minor triad (although often times a minor seventh chord) whose root note is the second scale degree of the key center in which you’re playing. The second chord is a major triad (although often a dominant seventh chord) whose root note is the fifth scale degree of the key center in which you’re playing. The final chord onto which the progression resolves is a major triad (although typically a major seventh chord in most jazz contexts) whose root note is the tonic, or first scale degree, of the key center in which you’re playing.


“The strongest tonal resolution that you can get is a note packed with tension resolving a half-step down to a chord tone of the next harmony,” explains George. “The beauty of the ii-V-I cadence is that it’s packed with these half-step resolutions. It’s part of why the progression is so pleasing to the ear and why jazz music employs these harmonies so frequently.”


To learn more about the ii-V-I chord progression, its significance in jazz music, and how to begin navigating it when comping and improvising, dive into this online piano lesson from George Whitty:


The ii-V-I Progression with George Whitty:



While this lesson is extremely content-rich, this is only the first of a vast series of lessons from George on the ii-V-I chord progression. To access more of these lessons and dive into the intricacies and nuances of this critical progression further, sign up for George’s online jazz piano course here.



Have you always wanted to learn how to play jazz piano? Through our comprehensive piano lessons online and Video Exchange Learning platform here at ArtistWorks, you can learn from internationally renowned players, like George Whitty, and get personal feedback on your playing.


George’s course starts with the basics and teaches everything from beginner piano to advanced performance techniques, improvisation methods, jazz standards, and beyond. So, whether you’re a beginner, intermediate, or advanced player, all levels are welcome and all students will grow and improve their skills as pianists and musicians.


Sample some free music lessons here and see what makes ArtistWorks courses some of the best online music lessons around!



Jazz Piano Lesson: Learn How to Play “Tune Up” with George Whitty

Jazz Piano Lesson: An Intro to Improv Using the Pentatonic Scale with George Whitty

ArtistWorks Jazz Allstars: How to Prepare for a Gig




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