How to Improvise Over Minor ii-V-I Progressions
This article presents a 3 step guide on how to improvise over minor ii-V-I progressions.
Each of the steps uses arpeggios from the harmonic minor scale.
The Harmonic Minor scale can be used over static chord vamps.
But, the notes within this scale are also useful for outlining minor ii-V-I progressions.
To get the most from this lesson, a firm understanding of the scale itself is needed.
The example below shows two, 2-octave fingerings for the harmonic minor scale.
Though it is important to know this scale all over the neck, stick with one or two positions in the beginning.
Harmonic Minor Scale Formula: 1, 2, b3, 4, 5, b6, 7
C Harmonic Minor Scale Notes: C, D, Eb, F, G, Ab, B
How to Improvise Over Minor ii-V-I Progressions: Step #1
This first step in learning how to improvise over minor ii-V-I progressions is locating each of the arpeggios.
Each of the minor ii-V-I arpeggios can be found within the Harmonic Minor scale.
The example below shows ascending 1 octave fingerings for each of the arpeggios in a minor ii-V-I.
Note that the minor 7th arpeggio contains a raised 7th and the diatonic chord contains a flattened 7th.
However you can use a Bb instead of a B to get a diatonic C-7 arpeggio if you prefer.
Practice these arpeggios ascending and descending and slowly increase the speed.
How to Improvise Over Minor ii-V-I Progressions: Step #2
The next step in learning how to improvise over minor ii-V-I progressions is to voice lead the arpeggios.
The next exercise demonstrates how to play up one arpeggio and get to the next arpeggio by going to the nearest available note.
The exercise starts in the same way as the last, by going up a D-7b5 arpeggio.
The line then ascends up the G7 arpeggio from the 3rd and finally descends down the minor 7th arpeggio from the 3rd.
Once the exercise below can be smoothly played, have a go at voice leading arpeggios yourself in the same way from different chord tones.
How to Improvise Over Minor ii-V-I Progressions: Step #3
By this point it should be possible to think ahead of the chord and voice lead each of the arpeggios together in a smooth way.
This last step is really more a lick that uses arpeggios and other notes from the harmonic minor scale.
A descending diminished pattern is used over the V chord, G7.
Using b9s over a V chord, especially in a minor ii-V-I situation, is an effective way of applying tension before resolving to the I chord.
Because the C Harmonic Minor scale contains a B note, you can also play a D diminished scale over the first chord too.
Once all the exercises can be played, apply them to different tunes that you are working on.
A great beginner jazz guitar tune that uses minor ii-V-I’s is Blue Bossa.
Click here to get a free YouTube backing track to practice the techniques from this lesson over.
Check out this minor ii-V-I licks lesson for more minor ii-V-I language.
It is also important to apply each of the exercises from this article to the other position of the harmonic minor scale looked at in the first example.
What are some of your favorite ways to practice minor ii-V-I progressions? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.