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Section 9.3 Shorter Progressions from the Circle of Fifths

Subsection 9.3.1 II-V-I

The “\(\left.\text{ii}\right.\)–\(\left.\text{V}\right.\)–\(\left.\text{I}\right.\)” progression can be found in many pieces of music in all styles—classical, popular, but especially jazz, since the Great American Songbook (popular songs from the 1930s, 40’s, and 50’s) on which jazz repertoire is built contains many examples of this progression.

Figure 9.3.1. Duke Ellington, “Take the ‘A’ Train”
Figure 9.3.2. Miles Davis, “Tune-Up”
Figure 9.3.3. Herman Hupfeld, “As Time Goes By” (1931)

Subsection 9.3.2 VI-II-V-I

This progression can occur in one of the following three ways (or orderings):

  • \(\left.\text{vi}\right.\)–\(\left.\text{ii}\right.\)–\(\left.\text{V}\right.\)–\(\left.\text{I}\right.\)

  • \(\left.\text{I}\right.\)–\(\left.\text{vi}\right.\)–\(\left.\text{ii}\right.\)–\(\left.\text{V}\right.\)

  • \(\left.\text{ii}\right.\)–\(\left.\text{V}\right.\)–\(\left.\text{I}\right.\)–\(\left.\text{vi}\right.\)

One can think of these reorderings as rotations, as shown in the example below.

Rotations of the vi-ii-V-I progression
Figure 9.3.4. Rotations of the \(\left.\text{vi}\right.\)–\(\left.\text{ii}\right.\)–\(\left.\text{V}\right.\)–\(\left.\text{I}\right.\) progression

Subsubsection vi-ii-V-I

The \(\left.\text{vi}\right.\)–\(\left.\text{ii}\right.\)–\(\left.\text{V}\right.\)–\(\left.\text{I}\right.\) progression contains the last four chords of the circle of fifths progression.

Figure 9.3.5. Jerome Kern, “All the Things You Are”

Here is another example from more recent popular music.

Figure 9.3.6. Søren Rasted, Claus Norreen, René Diff, and Lene Nystrøm, “Barbie Girl” (chords only)

Subsubsection I-vi-ii-V

Here are examples of the \(\left.\text{I}\right.\)–\(\left.\text{vi}\right.\)–\(\left.\text{ii}\right.\)–\(\left.\text{V}\right.\) progression, sometimes called the 1950s progression because of its prevalence during that decade, although this progression was also widely used in the 1930s and '40s.

Figure 9.3.7. Richard Rodgers, “Blue Moon” (1934)
Figure 9.3.8. Charles Trenet and Albert Lasry, “Beyond The Sea” (1945)

Listen for this bass line in the next recording.

Figure 9.3.9. Frankie Lymon, Herman Santiago, Jimmy Merchant, “Why Do Fools Fall in Love” (1955)

Subsubsection ii-V-I-vi

Below is an example of the \(\left.\text{ii}\right.\)–\(\left.\text{V}\right.\)–\(\left.\text{I}\right.\)–\(\left.\text{vi}\right.\) progression. In this example, the \(\left.\text{vi}\right.\) chord acts as a link between the \(\left.\text{V}\right.\)–\(\left.\text{I}\right.\) cadence in the middle of the phrase and the \(\left.\text{ii}\right.\) chord at the beginning of the next phrase. This harmonic activity after the arrival on the \(\left.\text{I}\right.\) chord is like a “turnaround” in jazz. We discuss turnarounds more in a later chapter on jazz harmony.

Figure 9.3.10. Robert Wright, George Forrest, Alexander Borodin, “Stranger in Paradise” (1953)

If you view this video on YouTube, you will briefly see the double bass part, which has lead-sheet symbols on it.

Subsection 9.3.3 III-VI-II-V

The \(\left.\text{iii}\right.\)–\(\left.\text{vi}\right.\)–\(\left.\text{ii}\right.\)–\(\left.\text{V}\right.\) circle of fifths segment is sometimes repeated (or looped) within a song.

Figure 9.3.11. Michael Masser and Linda Creed, “Greatest Love of All” (1977)

Sometimes, this progression is rotated to \(\left.\text{ii}\right.\)–\(\left.\text{V}\right.\)–\(\left.\text{iii}\right.\)–\(\left.\text{vi}\right.\), as in “September,” the well known song by Earth, Wind, and Fire.

Figure 9.3.12. Maurice White, Al McKay, Allee Willis, “September” (1978)

This \(\left.\text{ii}\right.\)–\(\left.\text{V}\right.\)–\(\left.\text{iii}\right.\)–\(\left.\text{vi}\right.\) progression is also seen in the following song.

Figure 9.3.13. Mike Stock, Matt Aitken, and Pete Waterman, “Never Gonna Give You Up” (1987)