Mike Stern Subs – ii V I Half Step Approach Chords

One of the most exciting guitarists of his, or any, generation, Mike Stern has created a unique voice in the jazz guitar world. Besides his signature tone and energetic time feel, Stern loves to use certain substitutions in his playing to create a tension-release vibe. One of the most common ways Mike does this is by using the ii V I half-step approach.

In this lesson, you learn what those subs are, how to apply them to ii V I progressions, patterns for practice and a full solo.

Have fun exploring these subs as you bring some burning Stern material into your jazz guitar solos.

Half Step Approach ii V Is

The first step to adding these Stern subs to your playing is to understand how they’re built and were you can use them in your solos and comping.

To begin, here is a typical ii V I progression played on guitar. Notice that where it says Dm7 you play Dm7, where it says G7 you play G7, etc.


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Now, you’re going to apply the Stern ii V I subs to these changes.

To do that, you replace the chords in bar one, and you squeeze the previous chords from bars 1 and 2 into bar 2 only.

In bar 1, you now play a ii V a half step above the written ii V, then play the original ii V compacted into bar 2.

In this key that means playing Ebm7-Ab7/Dm7-G7 over bars 1 and 2 of the progression.

This creates an inside-outside sound that brings new interest in your playing. The resolution is built into these subs in bar 2.

Play this example to get the concept in your ears and on the fretboard before moving on to the soloing patterns below.


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Half Step Approach ii V Patterns

To help you bring the Stern subs to your solos, here are 4 patterns that you can practice over ii V I progressions in different keys in your studies.

Each of these patterns come from Stern’s solos and use the Ebm7-Ab7/Dm7-G7 subs over the Dm7-G7-Cmaj7 progression.


Pattern 1

The first example plays up the first arpeggios, 1-b3-5-b7, then continues up the second arpeggio with a 3-5-b7-R interval pattern.

The movement from the b7 of any iim7 chord to the 3rd of a V7 chord creates smooth voice leading in the line.

This helps bring out the sound of the subs and creates logical movement between chords.


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Pattern 2

In the next example, you use a variation of the first as you now play 2-b3-5-b7 over the iim7 chords and 3-5-b7-9 over the 7th chords.

It’s always a good idea to have a few variations of these common patterns so you can stretch them in your jazz guitar solos.

Also, over time you can build your own variations in the moment as you focus on these patterns in your solos.


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Pattern 3

Here’s a Coltrane pattern that Stern and many others use in their solos.

Built with the intervals 1235 of each chord, this pattern outlines the triad (135) and one color note (the 9) over each chord.

After you have this pattern down, mix it with the previous two as you start to combine these ideas in your workout.


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Pattern 4

The last pattern descends the Bebop scale over the ii Vs as you work closer intervals into your Stern ii V subs.

When this pattern is comfortable, come up with 3-5 variations of your own to expand this scale-based idea in your solos.


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Pent Up House Solo

Now that you know what the Mike Stern ii V I subs are, you can apply them to a tune, in this case Pent Up House.

Start by learning the solo below as written. Then, when ready, solo over the backing track and create your own improvisation over the tune.

As you solo with your own material, sneak in a few Stern ii V I subs of your own as you work on integrating that concept into your solos.

Have fun with this solo and with blowing over Pent Up House with the Mike Stern ii V I subs.


Backing Track

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2 thoughts on “Mike Stern Subs – ii V I Half Step Approach Chords”

  1. Sclikes

    Mike Stern is a great American jazz guitarist. This is my good luck that I am listening to his unique voice in the jazz guitar

  2. Michel

    Mike is the Boss !! His technique, his sound….

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