top of page

CONCEPTUAL JAZZ: 7 Variations of II-V-I progressions

Updated: Jan 9, 2019

By Frank Caruso

7 variations of II-V-I progressions and their use in “tweaking” changes.

In this article I would like to examine a device I like to refer to as “ 7 variations of II-V-I progressions. Each sequence uses straight or tritone changes. Although the documenting of these in all 12 keys seems “over the top”, I have found that “visual” examples are best for inspiring students/players to master all possible scenarios.

The main objective of studying improvisation from a conceptual perspective is to attain to a higher level of “intuitive memory”. Mastering of patterns and scales and the understanding of their proper use is absolutely necessary. The next important step is to assimilate that information into the area of musical knowledge I like to refer to as “intuitive memory”. It becomes apparent to the listener that some musicians are repeating ideas they have either

transcribed or learned from practicing rote exercises. These are very good, however, the more highly aesthetic expressions are based on various devices which have become “internalized” by the jazz improviser. The distinction between the two types of

improvisation is clear and more musical and “true” to the freedom of artistic jazz expression.

Along with becoming highly proficient at playing any set of changes required by composers there is the basic aesthetic principle creating “brighter” or “darker” aesthetics in solos. I have always been intrigued at improvisational players who use these various musical elements to create a “compositional balance” ,if you will in their solos. I have included the “ 7 variation diagrams along with a suggested simple set of exercises."

Suggested exercises for use with 7 variations

I highly recommend doing these exercises in “comfortable keys” before incorporating less familiar keys. For intermediate students “guide tones” (3rd or 7th) as the starting note on first chord of each set of changes.

1) Examine the chordal qualities of each of the 7 variations ( various major 7, dominant 7th, and min 7ths used in patterns)

2) Practice playing proper scale/scales in each set of changes

3) Use “tweaked” scales ( lydian, lydian dominant, etc.) as an opportunity to experiment with “brighter” or “darker” sounds.

4) Begin to develop an “intuitive vocabulary” with a perspective on “brighter” or “darker” sounds. A perspective on “tone leading” and “common tones” will naturally occur as a byproduct of this “intuitive vocabulary”

5) Practice these variations until they become “Muscle Memory”


About Frank Caruso

Frank Caruso is currently serving on the Jazz Studies Faculty at Elmhurst College. His book on improvisation is available at which can be used by all instrumentalists. Frank also teaches at a private studio (The Music Suite) in Naperville and can be reached at



Winters Jazz Club

Green Mill

Benny's Chop House

bottom of page