The II-V-I progression (IIm7 - V7 - Imaj7)

The II-V-I progression is the most important chord progression in jazz, but of course you'll find it in other styles too. It exists in major (IIm7 V7 Imaj7) as well as in minor (IIm7b5 V7 Im7). In this lesson we'll only cover the II-V-I in major.

The chords without open strings can easily be slided to another key. The variations with open strings may sound better in some styles (especially with acoustic guitars), but you have to find out specific chord shapes for every key (and in some keys you may not find any open chord at all).


A new thing in this lesson is the use of chord extensions ("tensions"): 9, 11 and 13 are tones, that result from stacking more thirds over the basic chord tones 1, 3 (m3), 5 and 7 (maj7).

  • IIm7: 9 or 11 go great with the IIm7 chord
  • V7: you may (even should in some styles) add a 9 or 13 to the V7 chord (we'll save altered tensions like b9, #9 and b13 for another lesson).
  • Imaj7: add a great color to the Imaj7 with a 9 or get a more "final character" by replacing the maj7 with a 6.

I want to avoid to go too deep into tensions here. This is a practical lesson and after practising some of the more complex chords here (that are sometimes even easier to play) it will later be much easier to understand the theory.


In some of the examples you can find sus chords. Sometimes it sounds great to use a half bar of V7sus and then V7 instead of a whole bar of V7. The sus chord (sus = sus4 = 4th instead of the 3rd) may also contain tension tones. The sus9 chord = 7sus4(9) is very common and can also be seen and written as slash chord (e.g. Gsus9 = F/G).

Two-Five-One in all twelve keys

In this video I'm strumming the II-V-I progression through all 12 keys (with just some of the chord variations shown above):