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How to get more out of iim-V7-I patterns?

2559 Views 7 Replies 7 Participants Last post by  JL
I spend a fair bit of my practice time working on ii-V-I patterns I've collected. I want to get Steve Neff's collection soon, but I feel like I need to learn to do more with the patterns, to get more out of them practically speaking?

At this point, I pretty much just read them like scales and try to play them as quickly as I can with decent jazz phrasing. I work on playing them from memory, but I usually find myself gravitating back to the book. I have some really nice ones that are only in one key, so I have to transpose them to use them, and these guys rarely get played--it's just too hard on the old noodle:cry:

Any suggestions?

One question I have is: how do you translate the individual notes in these patterns into digital patterns for the purposes of transposition. What I mean is, do you use numbers based on each chord or do you think in terms of the tonic. In other words, in the key of C [Dm7-G7-C-C] is the note C is always 1 or is it 7 on the Dm and 5 on the G7.

This relates to a problem I have conceptualizing these patterns (eg Tim Price's ones): I can usually tell right away what the chord tones are over the iim7 chord, but I really struggle to "see" where I am in relation to the chord when I move to the V7? I can play them, but I'm really not good at "thinking" them.

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I have an audio lesson on my site and I talk about how I practice ii-V-I patterns and give examples playing them through. For me it's all about repetition and internalizing the pattern to make it my own. You have to get it to the point where you don't have to think about it so much. I tell my students that they have to learn it so well that they don't have to think about it. That way you can use your brain power thinking about creative directions and how you want to play something rather than what note to start a lick on......
I use a combination of thinking with numbers but also using my ear. I try to get the lick down in one key and try to play by ear in the next key. i don't really think about numbers but at the same time I'm usually pretty aware of what chord tone or tension I'm on during playing. A good exercise I do with my students is I'll play a chord on the piano and then we play this game where I yell out a number and they have to play it. We run through all the numbers. Ex. I'll tell them I'm going to play a D7 and yell out b9. They have to play an Eb as quick as they can.....This is a good test to get to know all your chord tones and tensions pretty quickly. Of course youu have to do it in all keys. I usually just do one key a week and test them to make sure they are aware of the notes. Good Luck.
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I would suggest playing through ii-V patterns around the cycle playing one or two notes from each chord. ie. play all of them around the cycle playing just roots, then 3's, then 5's etc. . Then 1and5, 1and3, 1and7, etc.... You can keep it interesting by varying the rhythms. Then you're actually improvising on one aspect while keeping another aspect (the note choices) simple and methodic.
It helps with both visualizing the chord tones and dialing in being able to hear the chord tones. I find this the best way to learn changes I find that way I really hear the changes instead of having an abstract, non-aural, mathematical approach to playing the right notes.

rleitch said:
I spend a fair bit of my practice time working on ii-V-I patterns I've collected.

I work on playing them from memory, but I usually find myself gravitating back to the book.

Any suggestions?

Perhaps simplifying your routine would be easier on your "noodle". Consider playing a very generic ii V7 I chord or scale pattern, without reading, around the cycle until you have the sounds and mechanics down: D-F-A-C; G-B-D-F; C-E-G-B, in all keys up and back down. You may find it easier to get around more melodic sounding patterns after you master a simple process similar this.

I am in the learning phase myself and do this daily, before work and before I attempt to improvise. Though I am not rhythmically sound yet, I usually play the right notes on the progressions and I think it is based on this type

Also, try picking a single ii V7 I pattern, learn it around the cycle in all keys and try to embellish that one for a while before trying to learn new ones.

Hope this is helpful.
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If you are looking for a "new direction" then you may wish to program a ii-v7 into a keyboard and repeat it over and over. I'll do this for about 36 bars or so at a time. And then repeat 4 or 5 times in segments. I'll try to limit myself to certain techniques in segments. 1) purely diatonic 2) diatonic with approach tones 3) side slips (sliding in and out of tonal centers from half step above and half below). 4) wholetone, diminished or major third modulations (ala coltrane changes). 5) Symmetrical development game (ala Steve Coleman), Intervallic development (playing centered around using fourths or ninths, whatever you wish to work on) or serial (twelve tone) usage

I try to incorporate this utilizing a motivic piece. Springboard approaches (Frank Tiberi). You take a four note device (longer or shorter to your taste) and practice using these other methods starting with, moving into, or ending with the motivic device. This gets me thinking of where I am going. Patterns become a mix and match. Try challenging yourself to more and more difficult patterns or combinations and keys too. I try straying further and further away from the most familiar, mixing rhytmic devices and stress playing over or through the barlines and targetting my ideas.

And if you can program it into the keyboard, chances are you have a transposition button and then it's off to the next key and or tempo.

Or not. ;)
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One approach that I use for myself as well as with my students: Choose a ii-V-I pattern that you want to "internalize" and then pick a tune that has at least one big, fat ii-V-I in its chord progression (I often use "Autumn Leaves").

Now, practice the pattern/lick in the key(s) that fit your tune.

Put on an accompaniment (Aebersold or Band-in-a-Box, etc.), and DO NOT play anywhere except where that ii-V-I progresson is. Play the lick you're working on in that right place.

The idea is that you want to practice with 100% success at getting the lick in the right place at the right time, with minimal mental or physical tension.

Too often we want to work on applying a new lick or pattern, and when we play with an accompaniment we start blowing right away. Then when the spot comes up where we want to put the lick, we're too busy to get it started in time, or we're in the wrong register to start the lick. By resting everywhere except for playing the lick, the successful application of the lick gets ingrained.

After practicing JUST the lick, with resting everywhere else many times, I'll play several choruses where I do VERY simple stuff between the applications of the lick (simple rhythms, using guide tones, etc.), and I'll start trying to play some kind of line (just a few notes) to lead into the lick, or add a few notes at the end to help me "get out of" the lick. Still, the priority is accurately, successfully playing the lick at the right time. If I get too busy, and fumble the lick, I'll go back to playing JUST the lick.

Pick another tune, with ii-V's in different keys, and do the same pattern in a few different keys, with the same process.

BTW: Steve Neff's books of patterns are GREAT! Highly recommended!
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Hey thanks fellas!

There's some great advice here. I just splurged on some other practice materials (and cds and neckstraps and etc.), but I'm going to put Steve's collection at the top of my must get list.

I went back to my good old Coker Patterns book: I forgot how much good ii-V stuff was in there.

I think playing along with the chords one way or the other is the answer--unfortunately I get so few chances to do that these days.


another Q: with respect to accidentals/non chord tones typically used in these patterns: would it help to practice bebop scales rather than regular scales?
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rleitch said:
another Q: with respect to accidentals/non chord tones typically used in these patterns: would it help to practice bebop scales rather than regular scales?
Bebop scale fragments can be useful, but the best way I've found to incorporate chromatic tones is as neighbor tones to the chord tones. For example on G7, playing Bb into the B, or enclosing the chord tone: C A B, or C Bb B, or using the b9 to 1 on the V7 (Ab to G) etc.

Also, one non-chord tone that is very effective is the major seventh tone over the IImin chord (i.e. C# over the D min chord). In most cases these non-chord tones are used as passing tones, often, but not always, on an upbeat.

On the "numbers" question, I like using numbers because they make it easier to transpose to other keys. I usually use (and think) in Roman numerals (I, V, VII, etc) when thinking in the key, that is, related to the tonic. I think in arabic numerals (1, b3, 4, etc) when dealing with chord tones. For example in the key of C, I'm thinking I=C, II=D, V=G, bVI=Ab, etc. For the IIminor chord, Dm, I'm thinking 1=D, 5=A, b7=C, etc. Does that make sense? It works well for me.
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