Because the 2-5-1 is used so much in jazz music, your improvisation can be a lot easier, if you know a few licks that you can play over this segment, ideally in any key. This will make it possible to play something familiar while improvising, whenever you hit a 2-5-1, or using a lick as a starting point and modifying it on the fly.
Here is a lick in the key of F to get you started or enhance your repertoire of 2-5-1 licks.
Even though the lick consists only of the notes of the F major scale, it sounds quite good if you add bass and drums:
It starts with an A as an approach to an arpeggio of the G minor 9 chord, with the first notes played in a triplet. It then moves down again on the same notes.
G minor 9 arpeggio
The notes in bar 2 are mostly taken from the C13 chord including the root C.
Notes from C13 (C, E, Bb, D, A)
The last section is moving around until it gets to rest on the root F. The ninth, G, is also part of the F major 9 chord and sounds very nice in this context.
Notes from Fmaj9 (F, A, C, E, G)
Practice this lick so that you can apply it when you see a 2-5-1 while soloing.
If you want to play your own licks, try to apply these elements to see how they work for you:
- playing arpeggios
- playing triplets
- creating a line that moves up and down
- using chord tones of the chords you are soloing over
- playing approaches or ‘playing around’ the root or third of the chords
This way you can create nice licks even if you only use the major scale of the key you are in.