In this article I have written out 5 ii V I licks in notation, tab, and audio to help take your improvisational skills to the next level over the most commonly used progression in jazz.

Each of these licks uses different rhythmic and harmonic techniques discussed in depth on seperate articles on the site if you wish to explore them further .

Remember the most important thing when learning any new melody is to get it in your head and the best way to do that is by singing it.

When learning these ii-V-I licks take note of the smaller ideas like for example starting with the #7 before the off before the root because smaller things like this are easier to use on the fly.

Because of this it is important to isolate small parts of each lick that you like and try to use them in several different situations besides just using the full lick the same way each time.


ii V I Licks Example 1


This first ii-V-I starts fairly diatonic before venturing out into some altered material over the V chord, D7. Note that each of the non diatonic extentions of D7 are on the off beat of the bar.

Although this rule is by no means set in stone, it’s usually a safer bet to place the crunchy chord tones on the weaker beats of the bar as demonstrated in ii-V-I licks example 1


ii V i Lick 1 ii V I Licks 1


ii V I Licks Example 2


This ii V I lick starts with a 16th note triplet rhythm that approaches the minor third of A-7, C, from a half step below. A common device used by jazz guitar great, Grant Green.

Some bluesy chromatic movement follows in bar 2 by starting on the Bb and finishing on the D natural.

Play the Bb with the first finger so the 3rd finger is free for the 4th movement on separate strings later in the bar.


ii V i Lick 2 ii V I Licks 2


ii V I Licks Example 3


This ii-V-I licks features two classic pieces of jazz language; the honeysuckle motif and the dominant 7th bebop scale pattern.

The lick has as nice syncopated feel to it due to starting with the honeysuckle rose motif on the and of 2 in the first bar.

Bar 2 features an enclosure to the F#, the 3rd of D7, and finally a dominant bebop scale mini lick which resolves to B, the 3rd of G major 7th in the last bar.


ii V i Lick 3 ii V I Licks 3

YouTube Preview Image


 ii V I Licks Example 4


Minor bebop patterns are always effective to use in ii V I situations and that’s how this lick starts which makes it fit perfectly as the pattern finishes on the 3rd of the D7 chord, F#.

There is some altered treatment of the V chord, D7 before resolving to the root of the G major 7th in the last bar.


ii V i Lick 4 ii V I Licks 4


ii V I Licks Example 5


The last ii V I licks example starts by approaching the root of the first chord from the 2nd and #7 which is a classic way to start a jazz line.

There is again, some chromatic movement in bar 2 with a nice triplet on the last beat of the chord which finishes nicley on the 5th of the G major 7th chord.


ii V i Lick 5 ii V I Licks 5

In each of these ii V I licks, guide tones are apparent and strong. I can’t recommend focusing on these enough.

As great as the fancy material is, having guide tones at the core of the licks helps strongly define the changes.

Another observation is that most of the altered and non diatonic notes tend to happen over the V chord.

I hope that you have enjoyed playing and working through each of these ii-V-I licks. If you are looking for more information on playing over ii-V-I’s check out this 5 Must Know Major ii-V outline article and these 3 Must Know V-I Bebop Licks lesson.

What do you think of these ii-V-I licks? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.



Be Sociable, Share!

Jamie Holroyd Guitar Frequently Asked Questions

Check out any link below for the answers to my top 10 most frequently asked questions that I am asked by students, teachers, readers, and subscribers.