Approach for playing over I - VI - II - V

Hey dear friends.
So I’m to do a solo over a ‘I - VI - II - V’ chord progression Gmajor. But the 7 and 5 chords are in major instead of minor, I have build some pentatonic scales with the relates notes over the chord shifts, yet I’m still abit confused over the terminology and approach due to this regard. Can someone help to explain and maybe share some tips and trix?

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Hey there! A bit confused about which chords are major/minor.

Is it like this?

  1. G maj - Emin - F# maj - Dmaj

Or like this?

  1. Gmin - Eb min - Fmaj - Dmaj

My mistake I took wrong notes here. Apologies.
Its. G - E - A - D. all major.
( I - VI - II - V). I’ve edited it already

Oh interesting, that does not sound so familiar! Do you know any existing songs that use this?

One possible interpretation is that E and A are working as “dominant V chords” to get you to the next chord.

But in general I’m not sure - it really depends on the arrangement of the song as these major chords could be many different things!

Edit: in a Jazzy context, a common way to do this would probably be

Gmaj 7 - Edom7 - Adom7 - Ddom7

So, maybe one of the more jazz-heavy guys here could answer better than I, but if you’re talking straight major chords then maybe you’re looking for more of a rock approach anyway, so maybe I can help nonetheless.

There’s a couple of things I could see doing here, and the “right” answer is going to depend on finding the one that takes a solo in the direction YOU want it to go to, but right off the bat, your challenge is going to be that these chords are non-diatonic, or they’re not all from the same scale. In particular, the G and the E are going to cause you problems, because the G has a root of G, and the E has a major 3rd of G#, while the A’s major 3rd of C# is an outside tone in the key of G, which has a C and a D but no C#.

You COULD “fix” this issue by making the E an Em, and the A an Am but what fun is that? The tension between the chords here is probably what you like about this progression.

So, here’s a few approaches to try.

  • The G and D, and E and A, can both be seen as enharmonic to each other. You could look at this as two separate progressions, with the E and A as a modulation to E major, while the D and G as in G major. So, you’d tackle this by soloing in the key of G major over the G chord, shift to E major over the E and the A, and then back to G major for the D, staying there when you return to the G. Really focusing on your chord tones, the move from G to G# when you hit the E chord, and the C# to D when you hit the D chord, would be a great way to “sell” this to the listener.
  • You can also group three of the four chords into a single harmony - G, A, and D, for example, you could look at as G Lydian, a major scale with a #4. That way, you’d be staying in the same harmony for three of the four chords, and you’d just need another approach to the E chord - E major would be an obvious one, but any E scale with a major 3rd and perfect 5th could work here (for example, you could stick with the Lydian theme and play E Lydian here, with a A# instead of an A, which could make some interesting color when you resolve back to the A chord). Try soloing over that G chord but playing G Lydian rather than G Major, and see how you feel about that C# against the G. If you like that sound, then awesome, this is an approach that could work.
  • Alternately, E, A, and D could all be thought of as E mixolydian (E major but with a flat 7th), and G could be treated as the odd man out.
  • Another viable approach, especially if you’re looking to “write” a solo rather than impovize one, is to just forego scales all toghether and play arpeggios over this, playing major arpeggios over each chord. Again, thinking about the half step resolutions in each of these changes - the G to G# going from G to E, the G# to A from E to A, and the C# to D going from A to D, for example (and, the F# to G from the D chord back to the G), could be really important notes in “gluing” this together. The human ear really likes half step resolutions, going from one note to another one fret above or below.

Lots of things you could try, but the important part is recognizing no single scale will work here, so if you want to write a solo over it you’ll have to settle on an approach that involves using a couple scales (or arpeggios).

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Thank you for sharing your great insight. That’s some good ideas to play with!
I was making separate pentatonic scales to fit the chords and it sounds cool, but I don’t wanna be stuck to that only and would like to learn some different approaches. So thanks again!
Im playing the song from the jungle book ‘bear necessities’ for a gig. But the chord changes are so fast that I get lost on just following my melodic ear, so great opportunity to study and learn something new. :blush::+1::call_me_hand:

When I play this, it sounds like a G major chord progression with some secondary dominants (E resolves to A, then A resolves to D). That’s the only reason the E and A chords sound a little ‘outside’. I feel like it’s G though, because that’s the first chord of the progression, and the last chord (D) strongly resolves to it. The E and A are just setting that D chord up. So a more traditional theory 101 analysis of the progression should really be I - V/ii - V/V - V

EDIT: I see @tommo mentioned this already. I must have skimmed right over that. Sorry tommo!

We (guitarists) tend to get caught up in theory, but melody is the important thing. Over the first three chords, there’s a really nice melodic line of G, G# and A. If you craft a melody that hits these notes right on the chord changes, you’re bound to sound smooth.

The other thought should be what happens right before these target notes happen. I feel like when people just rip a mode that works over a chord, it can sound really disconnected at the point the chords change, if you aren’t careful. If you nail down that main melodic line first, the note that directly proceeds it should be either a half or whole step way from it. This will be particularly true for the secondary dominants. @Drew mentions this and it’s so crucial IMO when you have non-diatonic chords to solo over. I like all his suggestions. I’d just reiterate, melody melody melody! Theory can help guide you, so it’s nice to know what will work and what won’t, but don’t forget about the ‘line’ :slight_smile: best of luck, my friend, it’s a neat progression!

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I mean, targeting each chord individually, and playing a G major pentatonic over the G, E major over the E, etc, is also a totally valid approach, too. The biggest takeaway here, I’d say, is that you have a LOT of options, and trying a few and deciding which works best for you based on the way the different approaches will have a different sound over these chords, is the way to go.

It’s like the progression is pasta, maybe a nice fettuccini, and you’re just trying to decide what sauce to put on top. If you’re in a pesto mood, maybe that’s one of the approaches where you treat one of the chords as the odd man out and find a common scale for the other three, but if this is a fro diavolo sort of dish you have in mind, maybe that’s targeting each chord with its own scale. Idunno. All of them can make awesome music, it’s just finding which one is the one that is a little more to your taste, even if only in this one moment in time.

If you don’t want to play something fancy you cold use what I call ‘minimal changes principle’. Basically, you stay diatonical as long as you can. If you can’t (you have a non-diatonic chord) you change only those non-diatonic notes. As for V7… as usual, you can play wahtever you want over it )
For example, in this exmaple it gives you: natural major over I, melodic major over VI, mixolydian over II, and whatever over V.

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Could you give the context for the progression? That would narrow the discussion considerably. Is this from a specific song you are working on? Something you wrote? just curious?

Any notes can work over any chord, you could go ahead and play Db major scale over the whole progression and nobody will arrest you. But pitch choices are usually informed by stylistic traditions as much as harmonic logic, so it’s helpful to know the context.

If this is essentially from a jazz standard and the VI, II, and V are dominant chords, there’s more of a standard answer.

So this is your outline;






Your VII chord is the real outlier since there’s no C to anchor it but these chord groupings are pretty common in rock music. Basic cowboy chords although I think some may not like that term.

I will give some basic theory and sorry if you already know. If you’re going to refer to chords by their root location in the scale; I, IV, V etc. CAPS mean major and lower case means minor. Also applies to more modern chord notation where a G is a g major chord but Gm is minor. If you named them on purpose, kudos, but you got some confusion when you said G Major with II and VI which changes the key drastically.

For example G major looks like this;

I-ii-iii-IV-V-vi-vii*. You won’t see too much of the iii in rock. :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

Em pentatonic is an easy answer, aim for tonal centers within that scale because they all occur there. G blues would work as well which I would think most rock players would do. You could be thinking modalities but since we don’t know the cadence of your chord progression it’s hard to judge.

I think this is the basic chords of Man in the Box and Alive by AiC/ PJ amongst a bunch of others I’m sure. Look at those solos. It’s as complicated as you want it to be. Or just easy-peasy. Good luck!

Just catching a typo, I think you mean the vii?

I think this is the basic chords of Man in the Box and Alive by AiC/ PJ

Commenting to help alleviate confusion for anybody following along - the chords to those tunes may be the same, but the harmony is different than what’s being discussed, at least in the terms presented.

E G D A in those tunes is key of E, I, bIII, bVII, IV, mixing modes of E.

So it’s true that if you swapped the order you would get G E A D, but the significant difference is the tonal center; whatever the order of chords, if our context is key of G/tonal center of G we’re dealing with different harmony here than if the tonal center is E. The order does also matter a lot, so it’s important to see that these aren’t the same progression at all, only two sequences of chords with some similarities.

The most significant difference would probably be how the C pitch interacted with the chord progression.

@JakeEstner the “*” on the vii was notating a diminished chord. But thank you.

So you’d suggest Em pentatonic as well.

First part - I was referring to the “you don’t see the iii much in rock.” I was misinterpreting the * as an asterisk, but still, it’s the viiº that’s the least common of all the seven diatonic triads, in rock.

Regarding the Em pentatonic, you may have misunderstood my post. I wouldn’t suggest any specific collection of notes to improvise with without knowing more context for @Papjort’s question.

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@JakeEstner where’d you get that damn little circle for diminished chirds?

It was a gift from my father, who received it from his father, who was given it by his father, who had spent time near the Dolomites in Italy as a young traveller. The locals of that region expanded my great grandfather’s understanding of what it meant to create, to communicate, and most importantly, to listen. They admired his curiosity and adventurous spirit, and decided to give him a little circle for diminished chords, which he cherished dearly, and used only for good, despite at times being tempted to do otherwise.

The circle has a complex history in my family. All my life I thought that it would be my own son that would receive this little circle, passed down through generations up until now. But I can see, without hesitation, that the time to let go is now; the circle must be part of a new legacy. You may not feel that you are ready yet, but I can hear my great grandfather telling me that you will be. On mac you hit option and zero together, on PC it’s probably something like that.


I’m with @joebegly and @tommo on the role of secondary dominants in this sequence. It’s not truly a I-VI-II-V sequence.

I fiddled around with it based on the notion that there’s a walk-up from G to G# to A with the G, E and A chords respectively. Easy to emphasize this on the G string with a bit of a walking bass line to it, then chase it with a D7 which obviously moves nicely back to the G.

I think I would start thinking about the solo in terms of the chords’ respective triads. Seems like F#, G and G# would be integral notes along the way, but I haven’t tested this myself.

You know, here’s the thing I like about this thread.

I’ve been talking about music on the internet for a LONG time - I’m in my late 30s, and got involved in guitar discussion boards on the internet in high school, in the mid-late 90s. Time and time again, I’ve heard some variant of “I don’t want to learn theory, because I don’t want my playing to be limited by any rules.”

So, here we are, discussing a chord progression that, on its surface, would seem to “break” some of the “rules” of diatonic harmony. Italics because I don’t agree with that read, exactly. And, a bunch of people have all chimed in, and have generally pointed to the same couple of ways in which the chord changes resolve from one to another, and have all presented a range of - all theoretically “correct” but very different - approaches one could take to soloing over this progression.

I’ve long thought of music theory as more like a toolbox than a book of rules. When you have the right tools to understand how chords are relating to each other in a chord progression, you can apply any number of different tools to come up with ways to create melodies over those chords, and there can be a whole bunch of different “right” answers if you know your tools well. That’s pretty cool.

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@JakeEstner I’ve read your story about the little circle like 18 times and I laugh my ass off every time. Thanks for that. Hilarious.


As far as I can tell its a turnaround, like what you’ll find in the last two bars of a jazz blues. And as the guys here pointed out, you’ll probably get a better result viewing the chords as dominant and not as major. On dominant chords you have a lot of options depending on how much tension you want to have in your lines: you like it vanilla? Stay with dom7 arpeggios, or mixolydian scale, want it more spicy? You can try whole tone, diminished or altered scale over and of them and see what you like :slight_smile: :relaxed:

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