Understanding Chords and Progressions

Photo Credit: The Lost Chord-Piano St. Helen's Church

I t is true that when you know your chords, they in turn will make a progression. For example, the I, II and V chords of any key are found in a II-V-I chord progression. This 2-5-1 becomes the most common chord progression played in jazz. Jazz musicians know that the 2-5-1 chords are the modes of the major scale. If you are just starting out on the keyboard, while playing the songs in the Key of C, remember that the II-V-I progression will be Dm7, G7 and C major 7th. The steps of a major scale are numbered from I to vii.

I ii iii IV V vi vii°
C Dm Em F G Am B dim
I ii iii IV V vi vii°
G Am Bm C D Em F# dim
I ii iii IV V vi vii°
D Em F#m G A Bm C# dim
I ii iii IV V vi vii°
A Bm C#m D E F#m G# dim
I ii iii IV V vi vii°
E F#m G#m A B C#m D# dim
I ii iii IV V vi vii°
F Gm Am Bb C Dm E dim
B Flat
I ii iii IV V vi vii°
Bb Cm Dm Eb F Gm A dim

The chord progression that moves from the ii chord, that is the 2nd step of the scale, is frequently played like this: D and F (Dm7) which is the ii and then move to the V, GB (G chord).

Here is a chord chart that I use to play this popular progression on the piano:

Dm7 = DC/DF
G = GB/D
C = C/CE

When I'm playing a song in the Key of F, I look for the second, fifth and first note of the F Major Scale.

Here is a rule that will help you remember the pattern in all keys: 

1. The II chord is always a minor 7th chord.
2. The V chord is always a dominant 7th chord.
3. The I chord is a major 7th chord.

So, for the II-V-I progression in the Key of F, you would play a G minor 7, C7 and F major 7th. A good understanding about playing this progression in all keys will help you to be fluent with improvising.

Here is another tip. Play this particular progression with four bars for starters and then stretch the progression to eight bars of music. That means a chord could last a measure or two.
I love jazz and one of my favorites is Duke Ellington. He is considered one of the greatest composers of jazz music. He is famous for his swing music and incorporates the expanded ii V chord progressions in many of his songs.

When I play The Duke Speaks, I use D/DF, then G/GB and finish with C/DEG.

We have just touched upon this chord progression study in major keys. Get comfortable learning the 2-5-1 chord progressions and then move on to the minor keys.

I thank you for the many notes I receive from readers and I regret I am not able to respond to everyone. Many have suggested I post more often, some wanting song charts, worship songs and more theory. Plus, I have received requests for Halloween music... interesting.

Most importantly, do you know your chords? Here are a few resources that I think will help improving your piano playing:


"The beautiful thing about learning is that no one can take it away from you." B.B.King
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