ii V I chord solo and comping lines can be accomplished through virtually an unlimited number of approaches on the guitar. What is it about one player’s chord approach that makes them sound different from others, and how does one go about developing their own style in the world of chords and comping?
Asking these kinds of questions will help you to distinguish various jazz guitarists’ styles and approaches to ii V I chord solo lines and phrases.
In this lesson, you’ll examine and learn to play 5 different comping and chord soloing examples of II V I progressions in the styles of legendary Jazz guitarists Ed Bickert, Wes Montgomery, Joe Pass, and Jim Hall.
After playing through the lesson you’ll not only have 5 new chord licks to take to the woodshed, but a better understanding of how to approach II V I’s with creative chord choices.
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ii V I Chord Solo Lick 1 – Ed Bickert
The fist lick you’ll play through is a chord solo example from the great Canadian jazz guitarist, Ed Bickert. If you haven’t listened to Ed’s playing before, certainly check him out. In listening to him for only a few minutes, you’ll hear his masterful sense of harmony.
Ed’s chordal playing is known for smooth voice leading, counterpoint, and use of smaller chord voicings.
The chord lick below includes examples of voice leading, as well as the usage of a few smaller chord voicings.
Listen to the recording of this chord lick to get an idea of how the exercise is played. Once you have the chord solo under your fingers, practice playing it over the included backing track.
Listen & Play
You’ll notice that in this chord solo, a few 3-note voicings are used. It’s not always the size or complexity of a chord voicing that makes the best music. Placing 3-note chord voicings with care and thoughtfulness can be one of the most musically satisfying approaches to chord solos.
Included below are notable chords used in the Ed Bickert chord solo excerpt. Check the chords out individually so that you may begin to incorporate them into your own playing.
On beat 2 in bar 1 of the Ed Bickert excerpt, a Gm13 chord is played.
The Gm13 is always a great choice to use as a substitution for a Gm7 chord. With a bass player present, you’ll hear the added color this Gm13 chord brings to your playing.
A fully voiced Gm13 chord contains the following chord tones:
There are two main reasons why some of the chord tones are left out when playing a Gm13 chord.
- The first reason is that a 6-string guitar can only play 6 notes simultaneously, making a 7-note chord impossible.
- Secondly, in order to add character and a unique sound to each chord, certain chord tones are left out.
When dealing with chord extensions, it’s common to leave out the 5th and root of a given chord, such as in the Gm13 chord. The 5th and root are often excluded because they don’t provide as much definition or color to the chord as the 3rd, 7th or extensions.
On the ‘and’ of 4 in bar 1, another variation on a Gm7 chord is featured. This time, the Gm11 is played instead of Gm13. As with the Gm13, the Gm11 is another great color chord to include in your playing.
The exact notes in a fully voiced Gm11 chord are:
In this voicing, the 3rd and 7th are excluded from the chord. This Gm11 chord functions as a passing chord to the C7#5 in bar 2, which is why you can get away with excluding the 3rd and 7th of the chord.
The C7#5 chord in any inversion is an excellent way to add even more tension to a dominant chord in a chord progression. On the ‘and’ of 1 in bar 2 in the Ed Bickert chord excerpt, C7#5 is used as a substitution for C7.
It’s important to remember that if you’re playing exclusively with a bass player, you’re basically free to use any chord substitutions.
However, if you find yourself playing with other chordal players, use extra caution when adding in dissonant voicings as substitutions.
The exact chord tones of the C7#5 chord are listed below and are used in entirety here:
Finally, the Fadd9 chord is the very last chord featured in this II V I chord solo excerpt.
The rootless Fadd9 voicing is a great way to add a simple dash of color when the bass player is covering the root note.
The exact spelling of an Fadd9 chord is listed below. In this example voicing, the root is excluded.
ii V I Chord Solo Lick 2 – Wes Montgomery
Wes Montgomery comped and played chord solos like no other Jazz guitarist. His chord vocabulary isn’t considered the largest, but the way he used chords was unlike anyone else.
In this Wes Montgomery solo example, you’ll play through a II V I progression in Bb major.
Use the live recording as a reference and work your way towards playing with a backing track.
Listen & Play
In the above example you’ll notice a number of stock Drop 2 chords and inversions. However, a great melody line is created nonetheless.
A few of the Drop 2 chords used in this II V I lick are important substitutions as well.
On beat 1 of bar 1, an Ebmaj7 is played over the Cm7. Why is that?
Well, Ebmaj7 contains chord tones Eb, G, Bb and D. Over a Cm7, Ebmaj7 ends up providing the b3rd (Eb), 5th (G), b7th (Bb), 9th (D).
Here is the Cm9 chord shape. Remember that this chord shape can be used as an Ebmaj7 (technically in 2nd inversion) or as a Cm9 chord.
The second important chord substitution from this excerpt is Am7b5 used over the F7 in the second half of bar 2.
Using an Am7b5 over F7 provides the 3rd (A),5th (C), b7th (Eb) and 9th (G) of the F7 chord.
Check out the Am7b5 chord below and be sure to use it both as an Am7b5 chord and F9 chord.
The last notable chord substitution in this excerpt can be found in bar 3.
Instead of playing a Bbmaj7 chord note for note, a Gm7chord is found. Using a Gm7 chord over Bbmaj7 doesn’t provide the 9 like the other chord substitutions did, but provides the 6 instead.
Playing a Gm7 chord over Bb yields the following notes: G (6), Bb (R), D (3rd), and F (5).
When using the Gm7 over Bbmaj7, the 7th of the Bbmaj7 is completely excluded in favor of the 6, which gives the chord another unique color.
Here is the Bbmaj6 voicing. Be sure to use it both as a Gm7 chord and a Bbmaj7 chord in your future comping and chord soloing endeavors.
ii V I Chord Solo Lick 3 – Joe Pass
This next comping example is borrowed from the musical styling of Joe Pass.
The first thing you may notice about this excerpt is that the C13#9 chord is played in the place of Gm7.
Joe Pass often played solo, which would give him the freedom to add additional chords or forego them completely.
Listen & Play
In this example, in combination with a C pedal, Joe plays variations of the V7 chord until resolving to an Fmaj6/9 chord at the end of bar 2.
Both of the variations of the V7 chord are excellent chords that can be used in both group and solo settings. Using these 2 V7 chords in conjunction with each other also works great as an intro for a given tune.
Here are the chords:
A complete C13#9 chord is spelled:
In this C13#9 chord voicing, the 5th and 11th are excluded.
In its entirety, the C9#5 chord is spelled:
For this II V I chord lick, no C9#5 chord tones are omitted.
If you’d like to use the two above chords as an introduction, try vamping between them just like in the first 2 bars of the original Joe Pass excerpt.
ii V I Chord Solo Lick 4 – Jim Hall
In this next musical excerpt, you’ll comp through a II V I progression in the style of Jim Hall.
Jim Hall helped define and push the limits of contemporary jazz guitar with his incredible creativity and musical sensibility.
In playing through this example, you’ll notice a pattern of dissonant chord voicings followed by consonant chord voicings.
This excerpt itself is a microcosm for an important approach to jazz harmony: the concept of maintaining a persistent cycle of tension and resolution through chord progressions and melodies. The more jazz harmony you play, the more you’ll recognize these patterns of tension and resolution.
Listen & Play
This comping excerpt shows an interesting progression of chords through a II V I progression in Bb major.
In the following sections you’ll play through each notable chord and find out what makes them special.
The example starts with a Cm7 chord before shifting to a type of C7 chord on beat 3 of bar 1.
Instead of playing typical Drop chord voicings, Jim often played voicings unique to his playing style. The chord on beat 3 of bar one is an excellent example of the unique voicings Jim would employ in his playing.
The chord itself is a rootless C7b9#9 chord.
A C7b9#9 chord is spelled the same way as a C7 chord with the addition of the b9 and #9 tones.
This C7b9#9 chord voicing can be played over any dominant7th chord to create additional harmonic tension.
See if you can identify the chord tones that have been left out in this chord shape.
Another notable chord in this comping excerpt is the F6/C chord on beat 1 of bar 2.
Additional consonance is created when resolving to any kind of 6 chord, especially if the chord was meant to be a dominant 7th chord to begin with.
In this F6 voicing, no chord tones are omitted.
ii V I Chord Solo Lick 5 – Jim Hall
For the last chordal II V I example in this lesson, you’ll take a look at another Jim Hall inspired lick.
This excerpt is a rather fun, outside and somewhat quirky approach to playing a II V I progression.
Using only 1 chord shape, you’ll play through a complete II V I progression in G major.
Listen & Play
So, what is the chord shape? The single shape used in this lick is an augmented triad.
Augmented triads are a great tool for quickly getting an outside sound in your playing. The C# augmented triad is spelled:
- In bar 1, the two augmented triads played a whole step apart (C#aug and Baug) create a whole note scale vibe, and also produce the root, 3rd, b5, #5, 7th and 9 over an A bass note.Please note that throughout this lick, the lowest note in the 2nd augmented triad is omitted (in this case the B or chord 9th). However, when you play the lick, simply slide the same shape back and forth as if you were going to play the complete augmented triad.In this situation, it’s quick to see that an altered dominant 7th chord is the theme of each passing bar in the lick.This is a very accessible and fun lick to play, but it’s important to remember that if you’re playing with another chordal player or soloist, this lick can easily step on others toes.
- Moving on to bar 2, the exact same lick is played down a half step with Caug and Bbaug. Over a D7 chord Caug and Bbaug provide the exact same chord tensions as in the first bar (Root, 3rd, b5, #5, 7th and 9).
- Instead of playing a Gmaj7 in bar 3, the same relative pattern of augmented chords is played using Baug and Aug, which creates the same relative chord tensions: Root, 3rd, b5, #5, 7th and 9.
A Few Parting Tips…
In conclusion, here are a few important ideas from these licks that you can take to the woodshed (aside from the licks and chord shapes themselves).
1) Melody: in a number of the licks you just played through, melodies were formed through the careful selection of chords. Try to incorporate melody in both your comping and chord soloing when practicing chord progressions or full tunes.
2) Smooth Voice leading: in every example included in this lesson, you’ll notice that when shifting from bar to bar and consequently chord quality to chord quality, very little note movement occurs. Voice leading is a lifelong study, but it’s never too early or too late to start incorporating its concepts in your playing. Start by finding the closest possible voicing when progressing from chord to chord.
3) Finally, be creative! Search for new voicings, take chances with your chords and find what works for you and your ear.