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Thread: ii V I vi...?

  1. #1
    Registered User jimc8p's Avatar
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    ii V I vi...?

    Hey, I've been wondering something about this type of progression...

    ii V I vi

    This is a common sequence with a familiar and simple sound. But it isn't a Dorian sound, right? It doesn't resolve to the ii, despite it often being written in this order. The reason it confused me is because it seems to be an endless cycle that doesn't actually resolve on any chord?

    The typical jazz sequence would go:

    ii7 V7 Imaj7 VI7

    The b2 alteration for the VI7 chord creates a (pseudo) perfect cadence in the sequence, which I suppose could be seen as conceptually reflecting a 'harmonic dorian' with a #7. But even with that, the progression has no natural resolution.

    The only way to make it resolve is either to turn the vi/VI7 into a final I(maj7), or make the sequence into:

    I vi
    ii V (> I)
    Imaj7 VI7 ii7 V7 (> Imaj7)Interested to know others thoughts on the nature of the progression and how it's used...

  2. #2
    Registered User JonR's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jimc8p
    Hey, I've been wondering something about this type of progression...

    ii V I vi

    This is a common sequence with a familiar and simple sound. But it isn't a Dorian sound, right? It doesn't resolve to the ii, despite it often being written in this order. The reason it confused me is because it seems to be an endless cycle that doesn't actually resolve on any chord?

    The typical jazz sequence would go:

    ii7 V7 Imaj7 VI7

    The b2 alteration for the VI7 chord creates a (pseudo) perfect cadence in the sequence, which I suppose could be seen as conceptually reflecting a 'harmonic dorian' with a #7. But even with that, the progression has no natural resolution.

    The only way to make it resolve is either to turn the vi/VI7 into a final I(maj7), or make the sequence into:

    I vi
    ii V (> I)
    Imaj7 VI7 ii7 V7 (> Imaj7)Interested to know others thoughts on the nature of the progression and how it's used...
    I'm a little confused...
    To me, this is a plain and simple sequence in the I major key - as you've written it, in fact. It resolves to I - a very natural resolution. You just have to stop before playing the vi (or VI)!
    The major (dom7) VI chord is a secondary dominant, a "turnaround" which tonicises the ii chord - but doesn't change the overall key effect. The "primary" dominant is clearly V7, resolving to I.
    (This is a very common major key cycle.)

    You'd get a different effect by substituting iii for Imaj7 (IOW, removing the root of Imaj7). Then you'd get a non-resolving cycle of chords, which could (arguably) end on ii, if you made it a plain triad.
    But for me, the irresistible key centre is still I, even with the root chord missing - it just feels constantly delayed.

    If you wanted to make it into a dorian sequence, you'd first need to rename the chord functions:
    i-IV-VII-V (>i)
    IMO, the reason this can't work as dorian is that "VII" sounds so strongly like the tonic "target" of the first 2 chords.
    If you replace VII with ii (as described above, the "i" can become a clearer tonic.
    Eg: Dm-G(7)-Em7-A7-Dm.
    It would be important not to make either Dm a Dm7 (IMO). That's too reminiscent of a major key ii chord. More secure as Dm6, as an alternative to the triad.

    Dm7-G7 does work as a dorian vamp (it's the most common kind in fact), if repeated often enough. But it's important never to play a C chord - because that will immediately translate the whole thing into the C major key.

  3. #3
    Registered User Malcolm's Avatar
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    Speaking from the chord's standpoint --- what the vi chord likes to do......

    vi likes to move to a sub-dominant chord -- ii or IV. As Joh pointed out....
    ii7 V7 Imaj7 VI7 then a loop to ii7

    Thus a I vi ii V I or a I vi IV V I works well.

    The iii chord likes to drag the vi with it, and because of this the iii vi to a sub dominant makes a great turn around progression.

    I see the vi as being a lead to chord, or passing chord not a tonal chord, i.e. not something to hang your hat on.
    Last edited by Malcolm; 03-21-2008 at 11:53 PM.

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    In general, one way to get to know a progression, is to play it again modulated to the 4th or 5th, and go from there...

    of course, another way is substitution as illistrated above.
    Last edited by dublshot; 03-22-2008 at 12:44 AM.

  5. #5
    Registered User jimc8p's Avatar
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    Yea I agree Jon and Malcolm, the progression naturally resolves to the I, but only when it's suspended over the final VI chord (for the effect of completing the bar). I suppose my question is, what is the reason for playing and writing the chords in this order, centering the ii chord? You see this prog talked about a lot, but if it's rooted at I why not play it from there?

    To my ear the VI7 does little to tonicise the ii, but just leads nicely as it would in any position within the progression. Also I don't think any I substitutions could further tonicise the ii. I is implied all the way through to my ears (to the point where iii sounds like a rootless I!) Natural Dorian progressions are possible, but I don't think the Dorian sound could ever come out of this.

    Interestingly, an Aeolian sound can easily acheived by switching the order to vi-ii-V-I where vi clearly becomes a new tonic...

    So yea, basically does the different order give something extra to the progression despite having no effect on the tonic?

  6. #6
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    Starting on the ii or starting on the I will ultimately give no change to the direction of the chords. Playing a ii-V-I from the ii simply gives the I more impact since you have not heard it in the sequence yet.

    Take 'scrapple from the apple' as an example.

    It starts ii-V-ii-V-I ect... To me starting this tune on the ii gives it an instant drive and feels unstable from beat 1, with this longing to arrive, but as we hit bar 5 it resolves and pushes on with the full ii-V-I-vi turnaround.

    Rhythm Changes on the other hand begins on the Tonic.

    I-vi-ii-V-I-vi-ii-V Starting on the I allows the tune to take off naturally and drive itself.

    So to answer your question. It ultimately has no change on the tonic when used in this way. It, to me anyway, speaks more about the composers feelings about the tune itself.

    While were talking about Dorian though. I still don't get how people can call this or anything similar a 'dorian' progression. The ii chord sure, you CAN play the dorian mode over it but the other chords have nothing to do with dorian.

    Just because the progression begins on ii does not make it a 'dorian' progression.

    By definition progressions are not actually modal. Vamps are modal and even then the mode changes when ever the chord does.

    Such as Eb/C, Db/C. This would be a C Dorian/C Phrygian Vamp.

  7. #7
    Registered User JonR's Avatar
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    Another example of a major key ii-V-I-vi is the Beatles "All My Loving":

    |F#m / / / |B / / / |E / / / |C#m / / / |
    |A / / / |F#m / / / |D / / / |B / / / |

    |F#m / / / |B / / / |E / / / |C#m / / / |
    |A / / / |B / / / |E / / / |E / / / |

    The key is clearly E major throughout - bar the interesting bVII D chord, which makes you a little uncertain until the B major re-establishes the E major tonality. (The melody remains pure E major, the note on the D chord being F#.)
    The 2nd 8 bars has no such uncertainty.

  8. #8
    Registered User jimc8p's Avatar
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    Been playing around and I guess the effect of this re-ordering is to indefinitely suspend resolution? That's the only difference as far as I can tell.

    When ordered I-vi-ii-V the effect is of the familiar resolving loop. The resolution is felt at the beginning of each new cycle.

    When ordered ii-V-I-vi the cycle continually drives at the I but the arrangement causes it to never get there (always feeling the leading motion of the 'passing' I chord.)

    Quote Originally Posted by JazzMick
    While were talking about Dorian though. I still don't get how people can call this or anything similar a 'dorian' progression. The ii chord sure, you CAN play the dorian mode over it but the other chords have nothing to do with dorian...Just because the progression begins on ii does not make it a 'dorian' progression...By definition progressions are not actually modal. Vamps are modal and even then the mode changes when ever the chord does.
    I don't know, what if you have a sequence that resolves on the modal tonic AND contains chords uniquely pertaining to the mode? So in the same way as above you could try V-ii-IV-I . The effect here is very different. I can't put my finger on why, but any resolution to I feels very awkward. In fact, the V feels very much more like the tonic of a Mixolydian progression. (It in fact feels a very familiar and natural resolution.) I think it must be something more than the plagal cadence in a I-v-bVII-IV progression?(ii-IV-I-V has an equally awkward resolution to the I. ii sounds much more like the tonic of a Dorian prog to me.)

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    Let me rephrase unless I was not clear.

    The whole idea of modal music was to abandon our familiar concept of 'functional harmony'. Removing those predictable resolutions completely and leaving you with a vague, if not absent, sense of direction.

    Although I'm not quite sure what your getting at with your last paragraph. None of the progressions suggest any 'modal' quality.

    What exactly do you mean by 'the tonic of a Dorian progression' ? A Dorian progression has no tonic. It can have a starting tone or pedal which exists on bar 1 but defining it with resolution and still calling it 'modal' is, to me, like saying that a 12tone composition has a tonic.

  10. #10
    Registered User jimc8p's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JazzMick
    Let me rephrase unless I was not clear.

    The whole idea of modal music was to abandon our familiar concept of 'functional harmony'. Removing those predictable resolutions completely and leaving you with a vague, if not absent, sense of direction.

    Although I'm not quite sure what your getting at with your last paragraph. None of the progressions suggest any 'modal' quality.

    What exactly do you mean by 'the tonic of a Dorian progression' ? A Dorian progression has no tonic. It can have a starting tone or pedal which exists on bar 1 but defining it with resolution and still calling it 'modal' is, to me, like saying that a 12tone composition has a tonic.
    AFAIK it would be more correct to say that functional harmony 'abandoned' modal music.

    The major and minor tonalities are best defined by Ionian and Harmonic Minor with their unique tritone positions, allowing for the full perfect cadence. Mixolydian with its b7 lacks this quality, although the concept of a key (stringing chords that resolve on a tonic) can still be applied, as it can to other modes.

    C-Gm-B-F

    This progression resolves nicely to C via the plagal cadence indicating some level of functional harmony creating tonality. It contains unique b7 chords all native to the harmonised Mixolydian scale. A Mixolydian melody works naturally over the entire progression. The whole thing has the Mixolydian feel. Diatonically it is related to the F major key, but the tonal centre most definitely is not F. Surely that demonstrates a Mixolydian key?

  11. #11
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    I have to disagree.

  12. #12
    Registered User jimc8p's Avatar
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    Ok.

    So do you know what you think about those chords? I mean, do you see them as F major? Or C major with borrowed chords? Do you hear them resolving elsewhere or not resolving at all?

    I'm open minded about it, but it just doesn't seem contentious to me. Try resolving the progression anywhere other than C. Try not resolving the progression and hanging on the F. There's a clear tonic, and therefore function, (and therefore key.)..?

  13. #13
    Registered User JonR's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jimc8p
    Been playing around and I guess the effect of this re-ordering is to indefinitely suspend resolution? That's the only difference as far as I can tell.

    When ordered I-vi-ii-V the effect is of the familiar resolving loop. The resolution is felt at the beginning of each new cycle.

    When ordered ii-V-I-vi the cycle continually drives at the I but the arrangement causes it to never get there (always feeling the leading motion of the 'passing' I chord.)
    I don't get that myself. To me, the vi is the "passing" chord, which turns the sequence from the point of rest (I) back to the initial ii.
    I'm still a little mystified that you don't hear the I as the tonic - but I know people hear things in different ways, for different reasons. Melodies can make a difference - actual or imagined - as can tempo or harmonic rhythm (rate of chord change).

    I think, in general, if every chord has equal weight in a cycle like this, the major key (ionian) tonic will prevail. IMO, the starting chord is of no consequence once the cycle is moving - but the final chord (that you stop on) may well matter.

  14. #14
    Registered User JonR's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jimc8p
    AFAIK it would be more correct to say that functional harmony 'abandoned' modal music.
    Several centuries ago, yes. A few decades ago (in jazz) it was the other way round.
    Quote Originally Posted by jimc8p
    The major and minor tonalities are best defined by Ionian and Harmonic Minor with their unique tritone positions, allowing for the full perfect cadence. Mixolydian with its b7 lacks this quality, although the concept of a key (stringing chords that resolve on a tonic) can still be applied, as it can to other modes.

    C-Gm-B-F
    You mean Bb!
    Quote Originally Posted by jimc8p
    This progression resolves nicely to C via the plagal cadence indicating some level of functional harmony creating tonality. It contains unique b7 chords all native to the harmonised Mixolydian scale. A Mixolydian melody works naturally over the entire progression. The whole thing has the Mixolydian feel. Diatonically it is related to the F major key, but the tonal centre most definitely is not F. Surely that demonstrates a Mixolydian key?
    Yes and no. It could easily be a sequence in F major with a plagal cadence. If it ends on the F.
    And as a cycle, I still think F will dominate.

    I agree the Bb-F-C sequence is a familiar mixolydian cadence (esp in rock), but I wouldn't hear C as the tonal centre unless it had more weight (more time spent on it) than the other chords, and the sequence finished on it. Mixolydian is weaker than Ionian, and its "tonic" needs underlining by repetition.
    (I do agree with you that modes can have chord "progressions", although they are of necessity more limited in scope than key-based ones.)

  15. #15
    Registered User jimc8p's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JonR
    To me, the vi is the "passing" chord, which turns the sequence from the point of rest (I) back to the initial ii. I'm still a little mystified that you don't hear the I as the tonic.
    Oh, I do definitely hear 'I' as the tonic, I just don't feel its occurence as a resolution. To me, I continue to hear the sequence partially resolving to ii over and over via the incessant vi chord! (despite always having the tonic in mind).

    Quote Originally Posted by JonR
    IMO, the starting chord is of no consequence once the cycle is moving - but the final chord (that you stop on) may well matter.
    I would definitely say the starting chord is of importance -otherwise, these two progressions would sound the same and not be considered separately, as they are. They definitely have different sounds, and so there must be some effect going on.

    Eg.

    Am-F-C-G


    versus

    C-G-Am-F

    The starting chord completely governs those two distinctive sounds

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