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:
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.