Exploring Turnarounds

Q: I really enjoy and find great value in your columns on No Treble. In your last column, you discussed the modal and chordal approaches and mentioned this: “Don’t forget to also practice and transcribe things, which will make you a stronger bassist (walking, common endings and turnarounds, time, various time-feels, and so on.)”

Could you expound further on what you consider common endings and turnarounds? I’m sure there are hundreds of good examples, but do you have any recommendations for certain standard tunes that you would consider a “must” regarding transcription. Or, just particularly good examples for walking lines, endings, turnarounds, and common patterns, etc.

A: Thanks for the question and the nice words.

For starters, there are almost as many ways to modulate, end a song or resolve a musical phrase as there are was to formulate a sentence.

But lets break it down with some common turnarounds.

First, for those unfamiliar with the phrase, a “turnaround” is a chord progression which can lead to the next section or end a tune.

An easy example is a 12 bar blues. The 12 bar phrase could resolve with a:

  • IV-V-I
  • V-IV-I

This was the foundation of jazz. As I understand it, Bebop was basically the blues with some ii-V’s added to the mix (initially). V7 chords resolve down a fifth so, if you added a dominant chord a fifth (or half-step) away from a chord, you could extend it’s harmonic cadence.

For example:
A common jazz resolution is ii-V-I

We can add a ii-V to that initial ii chord to extend that chord progression. in C Major, a ii-V-I would be:
D-7 – G7 – CMaj

If we add a ii-V of that ii, we get:
E-7 – A7 – D-7 – G7 – CMaj

Now technically, that first ii-V is resolving to a minor chord, so we could also make it:
E-7?5 – A7(?9) – D-7 – G7 – Cmajor

The proper way to write this (numerically) would be:
ii/ii – V/ii – ii – V – I

That is just an example of how different common turnarounds came to be.

I’m not a super wiz at theory (especially with regard to the how’s and why’s of chord progressions) but I am a very good reader and have explored in detail the myriad of ways in which one could play through different types of changes.

In response to your question, here are a few common turnarounds and endings to look for:

  • IV-V-I
  • ii-V-I
  • vi-ii-V-I
  • iii-vi-ii-V-I

As you can see, many common turnarounds are based on a cycle of fourths. Generally chords most commonly move in 4ths and 5ths or chromatically, like this:

Modern jazz doesn’t always adhere to this. As I said, there are any number of ways to write chord changes and there really is no right or wrong way, as long as it sounds good to you (although there are plenty of theoretically “better” ways to do it).

Take John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” for example. This tune proves difficult for generations of players, in many ways because of the chordal movement. It’s just not what we’re used to.

But we have to learn to walk before we can run, so I would first get comfortable with the “meat and potatoes” turnarounds and get the sound in your ears and fingers and then graduate to more difficult tunes with different chord types.

You really want to get comfortable with blues endings and turnarounds as well as ii-V’s in jazz. Everything after that will come much more quickly to you if you have a good handle on those first!

Now, I’m sure many of you reading this have some more examples (or want to correct something I’ve said!) Let’s get the discussion rolling below

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Share your thoughts

  1. the only thing I would like to add or perhaps more precisely, take away, is the way you have expressed the E-7?5 – A7(?9) – D-7 – G7 – C major cadence. we have now entered the melodic minor scene with the half diminished E chord and the altered A7b9.

    you expressed it in this manor :

    The proper way to write this (numerically) would be:
    ii/ii – V/ii – ii – V – I.

    while not incorrect, we jazzers like our short hand. I would express this cadence in this fashion:

    ii/V of ii – V – I.

    i know it’s a bit knit picky but I just needed to chime in (cuz I haven’t in a while) plus, I wanted to kick off a debate.

    u have also motiv8d me to write out a bunch of blues progressions with differing turnarounds. it’s beginning to look like a mathematical equation.

  2. Helpful indeed.