Jazz Piano Improvising Over The 2-5-1 In A Minor Key

Posted on 17. Sep, 2013 by in Ask Greg, Music Theory

Jazz Piano Using scales to create runs.


I bought your CCF and Worship Intro, Endings & More DVD a few weeks ago. I’m your fan from the UK. The explanation for question 9 on scales was spot on. That question is a good leading question to another. What is the best and quickest way to form or create little runs or licks, which connect movements from one chord to
another? Is there a general formula or approach? For instance, in key of Db:     

7 >>run>> 3  >>run>> 6

Cm7b5  >>> F7#9#5>>>> Bbm9

Hope I am clear enough.


The 7-3-6  progression you are referencing is actually a 2-5-1 progression in Bb minor.  Many so-called online music teachers get this one wrong because they lack formal training in music theory. I cover this topic in a FREE video lesson offer titled “Using Progressions To Play Songs? If you haven’t already done so,  you can sign up now by completing the sign up form on the right side of your screen to INSTANTLY receive My FREE lessons.

You question can best be answered by entertaining a little jazz theory. The entire art of  jazz piano improvisation is based on the relationship between chords and scales. When chords and scales are combined with a little “feel” –we set the stage for what musicians commonly call scales and licks.

In the question above you asked me “is there a general formula or approach” for creating runs and licks? In Jazz education, there are many different scale uses for improvisation. There are many resources that will give you chord and scale applications. Without getting too technical let me explain a few.

If you play a Cmaj7 (C E G B), the most obviously choice of scale to use is a C major scale

(C D E F G A B C). Notice that all the notes in the chord are also in the major scale. In order to create a run or lick using a C major scale with the Cmaj7 chord, you have to do a little experimenting. The object of the game is to get your “lick”  in and on time so that the chord falls in its correct place in the song.

From example if your song tempo is moving fast then it wouldn’t be wise to try and us all 8 notes of the C major scale to create your run or lick. You need to randomly create  2, 3, or 4 note melodic patterns using the notes in the scale. So I bet your question now is which notes do I choose? I’m glad you asked. This is where you sit down at your instrument and try several different combinations of patterns. At first you may not be extremely happy -with your choices, but over time as you develop this skill you will find yourself creating melodic riffs that you will be proud of. Once you develop a good idea, make it a part of you permanent library of melodic ideas.

The major scale is not the only scale you can use with a Cmaj7 chord. There are many more. The pentatonic scale is another popular option. This is a 5 note scale (C D E G A). Try this one using the principles mentioned earlier.

For the final part of your question, you asked about the following chord progression:

Cm7b5  – F75    –  Bbm9. You wanted to know what type of runs can be used with this chord progression. Let’s revert back to our jazz theory. The chord progression in your example is a 2-5-1 in Bb minor. So now we have some options. Let’s match our chord with some popular scales used in jazz. For a mature sound, a jazz artist would possibly create licks using a different scale for each chord. See the following examples below.

Cm7b5 – Use the C Locrain Scale – C Db Eb F Gb Ab Bb C (Same as Db major starting on the C

F75 – Use the F Diminished whole-tone scale – F Gb G# A B Db Eb F

Bbm9    – Use a Bb Dorian Scale – Bb C Db Eb F G Ab Bb (Same as Abs major starting on the Bb)
For a simpler option frequently used in gospel music, use the blues scale. For example, if we used the 2-5-1 in Bb minor above we can use the Bb blues scale over all three chords in this progression. See the Bb blues scale below.  This application can be applied to any the 2-5-1 progression in a minor key.

Bb blues scale – Bb Db Eb E F Ab Bb

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