II-V Substitution


ii-V-I is the most commonly use chord progression in Jazz; you’ll find it in almost every (Tonal) Jazz Standard. It provides a strong sense of finality and establishes the the tonic chord. This is because we are moving through a functional Pre-Dominant → DominantTonic chord progression. And that V-I Perfect Cadence at the end sounds like a full stop at the end of a sentence.

But you don’t have to resolve to the I chord for a ii-V to sound ‘final’. You can resolve to any other chord and it will still sound like an ending. This is the idea behind deceptive cadences. For example, you could play a ii-V-vi or a ii-V-IV and it will still sound strong and final.

Because ii-V-I’s are so common and overused, they can eventually sound a little bit boring and plain. So we can reharmonise a standard ii-V-I with a different ii-V substitution, but still keep the original I chord. This makes the progression more interesting while still retaining that strong ii-V movement which still acts as a full stop at the end of the phrase.

ii-V Substitution

As well as the regular ii-V-I, some common ii-V substitutions include:

  • The Backdoor Progression – which is used in many Jazz Standards
  • The Tritone Substitution – which is very widely used
  • The Frontdoor Progression – a name I made up and a progression that is less widely used

These are outlined below.

ii-V Substitution

There are a couple of interesting points to note about this progression:

  • The Frontdoor Progression is a ii-V leading to Am7 (the I) but instead resolving to the CMaj7. Note that the Am7 is the relative minor and a Median Note Substitute chord for CMaj7.
  • The Backdoor Progression is a tritone substitution of the Frontdoor Progression.
  • This means all these chord progressions are a ii-V or a tritone substitution of a ii-V leading to the I or a median note substitution of the I.
  • Also notice the root of each dominant chord creates a diminished arpeggio: G B♭ D♭ E

Dominant Diminished

So Dominant chords a minor third apart from each other are all related. There is a number of ways to think about this:

  • If we look at the notes that make up each chord and relate them back to a degree of the G7 chord we notice that they share many of the same notes, including guide tones, or are otherwise available tensions of the chord G7.

Dominant Chord Substitutes

  • Alternatively, a common substitution for a dominant chord is the #Vo7 chord.
    • So a substitution for G7 would be G#o7
    • Notice that the G#o7 is a:
      • Rootless G7♭9
      • Rootless B♭7♭9
      • Rootless D♭7♭9
      • Rootless E7♭9

For more information about this curious fact check out my lesson on the diminished scale.

Pick a Chord, any Chord

A ii-V provides a strong sense of finality no matter what key or what chord you’re resolving to, as long as you use smooth voice leading. For example, you could have:

B♭m7    E♭7  |  CMaj7 ||

In this lesson we restricted out attention to ii-V’s. But, in fact, any chord can resolve to any other chord if you use appropriate voice leading. This is an idea we will come across again when we discuss non-functional chord progressions in future lessons.


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