Jamie Holroyd Guitar

Jamie Holroyd Guitar

10 Must Know I VI II V Substitutions

10 Must Know I VI II V Substitutions

For today’s 30 Days to Better Jazz Guitar Comping lesson we’ll be checking out 10 must know I VI II V substitutions you can add over this common progression to give it some new spice.

This lesson will be diving into more of the theory end than usual, but you can use all the following examples in your comping, chord solos, turnarounds and chord melody arrangements to better your jazz guitar playing.

The I VI II V chord progression was used extensively in the rhythm changes section, so this section is to provide a resource of 10 common and usable substitutions for this popular progression.


I VI II V Substitutions Video Lesson



These substitutions can be applied to any point in a tune where a I VI II V is used, so intros, endings, vamps and turnarounds are the most common places this progression is found. Knowing when to use them is often a case of ‘if it sounds good it is good’.

The I VI II V is a progression based of the 1st, 6th, 2nd, and 5th degrees of the harmonized major scale. The following example shows the major scale and how to work out the degrees needed for the progression,


Each scale degree can be harmonized with one of the four main chord types, shown in the chart below, but this section only focuses on the first degree, sixth degree, second degree and fifth degree.

Start from the common and diatonic I VI II V the following charts shows eight possible substitutions that can be used for this chord progression.


  • Example 1:  For the first example only one chord has changed; the C major 7 has been replaced by the III chord (E-7). This is a diatonic substitution is referred to as a III-VI-II-V and is very commonly used, most famously in bars 3-4 of a rhythm changes progression.


  • Example 2: Only a small change here again, the A-7 has now become a dominant 7th chord type. This gives two descending sequential II-V’s. Altered tones can be added to the A7 to provide a smooth resolution into the D-7.


  • Example 3: Each chord type has been changed to a dominant 7th. This cyclic dominant movement is very common in the bridges of bop tunes such as Anthropology and Scrapple from the Apple. If you are at a jam session and someone tells you the tune has a ‘Rhythm Changes’ bridge they will be referring to this example so it’s worth knowing.


  • Example 4: Example 3 can be taken one step further by applying tritone substitution to the VI chord (A7) and the V chord (G7). For those that don’t know what a tritone substitution is, it’s replacing a dominant 7th chord with a chord a b5 from the root of the dominant 7th chord in context. Tritone substitution works because both the original dominant chord and the b5 sub share the same third and seventh.


  • Example 5: the E-7 in the first bar has changed to a dominant 7th and applied the tritone substitution to the E7 and the D7 in the third bar, which has now made the progression cyclical again.


  • Example 6: The preceding II to each of these V chords for more movement and single line solo potential.


  • Example 7: The second bar has been changed to a II-V in D and that gives II-V’s descending by semi-tones


  • Example 8: As with the earlier example each chord type can be made dominant for additional crunch.



Additional Turnarounds


Another substitute to be aware of that is commonly applied to the rhythm changes progression is the I maj7, #Io7, II-7, V7. The diminished chord is acting as a G7b9 chord providing a smooth V-I resolution to the D-7.


Rhythm Changes I VI II V


The last turnaround is featured in Tadd Dameron’s composition ‘Ladybird’, and is either referred to as the Tadd Dameron turnaround or the Ladybird turnaround.



Tadd Dameron Turnaround


This turnaround works because each of the major 7 chords is a b5 sub of the chords usually found there. For example Eb is the b5 of A, the VI chord, Ab is the b5 of D, the II chord and Db is the flat 5 of G the II chord.

Remember that you can superimpose this harmony for your single line solos too.

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Do you have any favourite I-VI-II-V subs that are not discussed in this article? Share them below in the comment section.

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Rune Berre

In the "-Additional Turnarounds"-section, the correct chord should be I#dim7 and function as the V to Dm; A7.

Jamie Holroyd

Just noticed that, thanks for pointing it out!

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Thanks for the lesson! :-) You have written "I IV II V" some places which can be somewhat confusing, it should say "I VI II V", right?

Jamie Holroyd

Yep, thanks for pointing it out!

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Very nice summary. Makes sense. So, for clarity, if a bass player is outlining the CM, Am, Dm, G7 in example one, a single note line could (if executed well) could come from any of the other substituted examples and work well over the standard progression? Thanks again.

Jamie Holroyd

Thanks. I think you answered your own question - as you rightly said it all depends on how well the subs are executed. Personally I go for the more 'out' sounding ones at fast tempos and at slower tempos I'll imply the entire sub only over the V chord so that the altered tensions resolve faster. This is just what works for me anyways. Hope it helps!

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Thanks Jamie ;)

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Larry Siden

Jamie, you are a great teacher. I think this presentation would be even better if you spent some time showing the fundamental guide tones in each step along most of these substitutions to the I-vi-ii-V progression. When I do that for myself, the obscure becomes obvious and a unifying musical thread or line becomes apparent in all these variants on the theme.

Even the brilliant Tad Dameron ending of Ladybird becomes more obvious when we view it through this prism. For example, in EbM7 we have a D and G, the 7th and 3rd, respectively of E-7. In AbM7 we have G and C, the 7th and 3rd, or guide tones, of A-7. Finally, in DbM7 we have C and F, the guide tones of D-7. If we write those implied chords in sequence, we get

CM7 (E-7) | E-7 | A-7 | D-7

which is very similar to the first substitution in your presentation.

If we go one step farther replace tge last three minor 7th chords with the dominants they imply, we get

CM7 | A7 | D7 | G7

which is again almost identical to one of the substitution lines you presented.

A clear and beautiful pattern emerges of a chromatic approach back to CM7.

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Larry Siden

Jamie, one correction. C*dim is not a sub for G7b9, but for A7b9 in the "Rhythm" example. Otherwise, all good!

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Also in the "Additional Turnaround" Section;

"Another substitute to be aware of that is commonly applied to the rhythm changes progression is the I maj7, #Io7, II-7, V7. The diminished chord is acting as a G7b9 chord providing a smooth V-I resolution to the D-7."

Rather, it should say the diminished chord is acting as an A7b9 (without the A root) that resolves to the D-7.


Otherwise, super awesome!

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