The I-ii7-iii7 progression

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In the past, I have mentioned that rather than discussing single chord changes, I would rather discuss how you can modify chord progressions.  Today, I want to introduce another versatile chord progression.It is natural and beautiful for the chords in a progression to move in steps.  As a matter of fact, when trying to reharmonize a song, a good tip is to try to find chords that step up or down the keyboard.  Either whole or half steps work well.

The I-ii7-iii7 progression is a good application of this principle, and can be used in practically any song.  It works as a substitution for a I chord, a iii chord, and the I-V-I progression.

Let’s talk just for a minute about why this works.  First, remember that I have said in the past that a V7 chord can be replaced with a ii7 chord.  Likewise, a iii7 chord can be used almost interchangeably with a I chord.

Because of this, a I-V7-I progression can easily become a I-ii7-iii7 progression simply by changing the V7 to a ii7 and a I chord to a iii7 chord (it does not matter whether the progression goes from iii7 to I or I to iii7).

Consider just a I chord by itself.  You can replace this chord with either I-ii7-iii7 or iii7-ii7-I quite easily as long as it works with the melody.  Because the new progression ends with either a I or iii7 (which is basically a I chord), the next chord will still sound right.

Let’s say that you are supposed to play a I-IV progression and the I chord is three beats long.  You could play I-ii7-iii7-IV instead with each note getting one beat.  Then, you have a progression that very nicely moves in steps.  If you have to play a IV-I progression, simply reverse the order of the chords.

Here are a few examples from “Trust and Obey”.  This is the first phrase. In a hymnal, it is written I-V7-I.

In this first example, I changed the V7 to a ii7 and the second I chord to a iii7 chord.

In this example, I am going to do something a bit different.  I changed the last chord from a I chord to a IV chord (it works…), and then changed the measure in front of it to a I-ii7-iii7 progression.

This second example may be confusing at first, and you will not naturally start doing this kind of thing overnight.  My point is that you have a lot of flexibility in how you use these progressions.  At this time, you may find it unbelievable, but you can use almost any chord at any point in the song IF it works with the chords around it. Step progressions are almost always possible regardless of how far removed the resulting chords are from the original chords.  I will talk about this much more in the future.

Practice Strategy
Keep working on “Trust and Obey” and look for ways to incorporate this new progression.  By the way, don’t worry if you find yourself replacing some of the ii-V-I progressions you may have incorporated from past lessons.