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Chord Progression #3

Minor Harmony in Jazz

The chord progression is the backbone of western civilization music. The harmony created by chords provide added expression to the melody. Jazz harmony consists of a set of typical progressions directly derived from the European classical music tradition.

The goal of the jazz accompanist is to compliment the soloist’s ideas while outlining the given chord progression clearly. As we know, most jazz improvisations use and outline the harmony as a foundation for melodic ideas

This chord progressions series demonstrates the most common progressions found in jazz. They will help you hear and understand the recurrent harmonic traits found in traditional jazz repertoire.

Jump to a page:
Chord Progression #1: Major Harmony
Chord Progression #2: Basic Modulation
Chord Progression #3: Minor Harmony [You are here]

The Diatonic Cycle in Minor

Every major key has a relative minor. For instance C major contains the same notes as A minor. We can play the same progressions in minor keys simply by changing the chords’ qualities. Make sure you check out this page of diatonic chord cycles also!

Let’s play the diatonic cycle in C minor (same notes as Eb major):

Chord Progression - Jazz in Minor

This progression can be found in the tune “Autumn Leaves” by Johnny Mercer and in many other songs. As you can see, the roman numerals are the same as in major. It is only slightly altered to fit the minor quality:

IV – bVII – bIII – bVI – II – V – I

This progression can also be seen as a II-V-I in the key of Eb followed by a minor II-V-I in C. In fact it could even be seen as a II-V-I in Eb major followed by a modulation to the key of VI minor (which is C minor) Whatever way you look at it is fine as long as you play and hear all this!

I – VI – II – V and friends

Like the major I-VI-II-V there are plenty of variations in minor. Here’s the basicone from which you can derive more progressions:

Chord Progression - Jazz in Minor

And don’t forget my suggestion from the major harmony page (first article in series) … start on the II! We then get II-V-I-VI as follows:

Chord Progression - Jazz in Minor

Minor Blues

The basic blues progression is also played in minor tonalities. And guess what? … yes: it contains a modulation to the IV … minor! Their exist two main kinds of minor blues progressions:

The first one uses a “tonic minor” sound (melodic and harmonic minor scales) with the I and IV as minor 6th (or minor maj7th) chord quality:

Chord Progression - Jazz blues in Minor


The second one, often called “modal” blues, uses the minor 7th chord quality (Dorian sound) for the I and the IV:

Chord Progression - Jazz blues in Minor

This is the progression found in John Coltrane’s “Mister P.C.”


All done? You can play every possible jazz progression in world on the guitar? in all keys? In all styles? At all tempos? (etc etc.) Great! (-;

(just kidding)

Seriously, if you feel comfortable with most of the progressions above, consider using some chord substitutions ideas. Chord changes are fascinating and I believe every jazz guitarist should continually study jazz and classical harmony. Don’t forget: we comp… lots! Have you every noticed your “comping to soloing ratio” on a gig? In the context of a band, we obviously accompany more than anything.

Make sure you check out this page of diatonic chord cycles also, and the “No Nonsense Guide to Jazz Harmony” here.

Happy Chording!

Jump to a page:
Chord Progression #1: Major Harmony
Chord Progression #2: Basic Modulation
Chord Progression #3: Minor Harmony [You are here]

2 thoughts on “Chord Progression #3

  1. Minor ii V i progression.

    If I understand the right way this progression in the key of C is Dmin7b5 G7alt Cmin7 or Dmin7b5 G7alt Cmin6. I don’t understand where this progression is derived from. The closest I get is by taking the modes of the harmonic minor scale, but if you build the progression from there you get in the key of C the progression Dmin7b5 G7alt Cminmaj7.

    Can you explain where this progression comes from?


    • Hi Arnold, this is a very good question, because it trips up a lot of people trying to wrap their heads around the various minor scales at first. The key that you have to realize is that C minor is C minor, whether or not it’s C natural minor, harmonic minor, or melodic minor. The notes that get changed between these three scales (the 6th and the 7th scale degrees – the A and the B notes) are really just changed for the sake of ensuring that standard harmonic progressions that exist in the major key ALSO exist in the minor key.

      Specifically, the V chord (G7) would not exist in the C natural minor scale because the scale contains a Bb – not the B natural leading tone in a G7 chord that we’d need for that critical tension-resolution to C natural. As a result, we have a HARMONY problem. This problem can be solved with the HARMONIC minor scale: simply raise the Bb to a B and our V chord is back to the way it should be!

      In other words, any of the notes in ANY of the variations of the minor scale are fair game, depending on what function you’re trying to fulfill and/or what sound you’re trying to go for (these are two sides of the same coin). In this minor ii-V-i progression, you would be totally fine ending on Cm, Cm6, Cm7, or Cm(maj7) – it all depends on the extent to which you want the chord to sound resolved.

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