The I-vi-ii-V Chord Progression

In this lesson we'll look at one of music's most enduring chord progressions—the I-vi-ii-V (One-Six-Two-Five) progression.

You can expect to encounter this progression in most styles. It's especially common in jazz and R&B.

The I-vi-ii-V Progression

In the previous lesson, we explored the diatonic chords in fourths. The I-vi-ii-V progression uses the last 4 chords of the fourths sequence (vi-ii-V-I).

It makes sense that this progression is so popular. The fourths sequence has so much harmonic momentum leading to the I chord, and a progression containing four chords (one every 2 or 4 beats) is common and feels natural.

I-vi-ii-V as a Song's Progression

Many songs, or sections of songs, simply use the I-vi-ii-V progression throughout. It makes a natural-sounding, revolving harmony.

Listeners are subconsciously familiar with the sound, and they find it satisfying. It helps create the "journey" of the music as I mentioned in earlier lessons.

Bruce Springsteen's Hungry Heart:

The I-vi-ii-V Turnaround

Another way the I-vi-ii-V progression is used is as a turnaround.

A turnaround is a short chord progression which brings you back to the beginning of a section of music.

For example, in many jazz standards the last two bars of a 32-bar song contains the I-vi-ii-V progression. Each chord is two beats long. The turnaround sets you up to return to bar 1.

Some songs are a bunch of turnarounds strung together. For example, the jazz standards Blue Moon and Long Ago and Far Away are mostly two-bar turnarounds over and over. If you plan to play jazz, you'll never escape this chord progression.

The genius bassist Ray Brown with the Oscar Peterson Trio:

Play the Arpeggios

Once again, a great way to get the feel and sound of a progression is to simply play the arpeggios to it.

Make this a habit when learning any new progression or trying to create a bassline.

Here are the four chords of this progression in the key of G:

 
 
 
 

The I-vi-ii-V Progression in Every Key

Here are the chords to the I-vi-ii-V progression in every key:

KeyIviiiV
C Cmaj7 Am7 Dm7 G7
F Fmaj7 Dm7 Gm7 C7
Bb Bbmaj7 Gm7 Cm7 F7
Eb Ebmaj7 Cm7 Fm7 Bb7
Ab Abmaj7 Fm7 Bbm7 Eb7
Db Dbmaj7 Bbm7 Ebm7 Ab7
C# C#maj7 A#m7 D#m7 G#7
Gb Gbmaj7 Ebm7 Abm7 Db7
F# F#maj7 D#m7 G#m7 C#7
Cb Cbmaj7 Abm7 Dbm7 Gb7
B Bmaj7 G#m7 C#m7 F#7
E Emaj7 C#m7 F#m7 B7
A Amaj7 F#m7 Bm7 E7
D Dmaj7 Bm7 Em7 A7
G Gmaj7 Em7 Am7 D7

Study the Examples/Create Your Own

Play through my example basslines over the I-vi-ii-V progression on the exercises page. Then see if you can create and improvise your own basslines.

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