Tip #85 – Basic Cheat Sheet to Jazz Style Harmonic Substitution

“It’s just a ii-V-I”

I heard that phrase a lot whenever I took a class in jazz or played with a jazz group. And rightfully so, as there are a lot of ii-V-I chord progressions found in jazz standards.

That being said, would jazz music get boring over time if it uses this progression over and over again? Maybe “predictable” is a better word, but the great jazz composer’s & arrangers new how to use harmonic substitutions to create interesting progressions that still resembled the original.

In the famous ii-V-I progression, the ii is the pre-dominant area. The V is the dominant area. And that leads into the I that is the tonic area.

A crash course in harmonic substitutions:

The I tonic chord can be replaced by bIII , III , IV , bVI , and VI since they all share a common tone on the tonic scale degree. In addition, minor and diminished versions of the I chord can work as well.

As for the dominant chord, they can be replaced by the dominant or major chord versions of the bII harmony. Also, they can be the dominants or tritone substitutes of the tonic area’s substitutions acting on the original.

Pre-dominant areas are more open, being the ii, iv, and tritone substitute in relation to the dominant area harmony.

Below is a compromised (but still relatively large) sheet of various combinations of the harmonic substitutions mentioned above with a few extras, based in a starting key of C:

Thank you so much for taking the time to read! Feel free to comment, share, and subscribe for more daily tips below! Till next time.

Author: Bryan M. Waring

Bryan Waring is a graduate of USM's School of Music with a B.M. in Performance – Composition and is now attending Belmont University for a M.M. in Commercial Media – Composition & Arranging. During his time at USM, he studied violin with Dino Liva and composition with Dr. Daniel Sonenberg, as well as has premiered several pieces during the semiannual Composer's Ensemble concert series. In 2017, Bryan was a writer for the original musical theater work of "Molded By The Flow," directed by Paul Dresher and Rinde Eckert. Outside of school, Bryan has been involved with writing music for videogame developers at Portland's CI2 Lab, collaborating with the King Tide Party, and studying with Larry Groupé (Straw Dogs) in San Diego. Now living in Nashville. Along with composing, Bryan teaches music to children, receiving the Master Teacher Award for his work at ESF Camps; and does audio engineering for live ensembles. Besides talents in music, Bryan is a team-player in any competitive work environment; equipped with skills in leadership, organization, mathematics, creativity, communication, and managing. On the side, Bryan has worked as a model for several skilled artists in the New England area. Among his other accomplishments include obtaining the rank of Eagle Scout in April 2013 with a project of building a side parking area with guide rails for Webb Mountain Park in Monroe, CT.

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