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Basic Jazz Piano Turnarounds

turnaroundsWhen we write music or play certain progressions, we need a way to tie everything together. A turnaround is a great way to end a section of a song so that it leads into the next section.

In this article, we will discuss basic jazz piano turnarounds.

Before we approach jazz turnarounds, it is best that you take a moment to analyze your skillset. Understanding turnarounds, how they work, and when they will work all requires basic knowledge of musical intervals, scale degrees, and key signature properties.

If you don’t have these basic sets of knowledge, it is important that you take the time to learn them. While you won’t need to memorize every key, you will need to memorize your scale degrees and your musical intervals. These skills are dire in learning how to use jazz turnarounds.

Jazz turnarounds typically lead back to a section either melodically or harmonically. Many musicians tend to confuse one for the other, so we will break them down. Melody is a linear pattern in ascending, descending, ascending and descending, or descending and ascending order. Harmony is two or more notes played in unison to create a single, larger voice.

Starting off with the most basics, let’s try to use the jazz piano turnaround with the twelve bar blues.

One of the most popular turnarounds is the I—IV—ii—V. To use this turnaround, we would substitute this progression for the last four bars of our twelve bar progression.

Let’s say that we are playing the twelve bars in C Major. Let’s also use a basic pattern:

C,  C,  C,  C,  F,  F,  G,  G,  C,  C,  C,  C

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In this case, we are moving from our subdominant straight into our dominant. With our I—IV—ii—V basic jazz piano turnaround, we are eliminating the last four bars for these chords:

C, F, D, G

This means that we will be ending on the dominant instead of the conventional tonic. That’s okay; turnarounds aren’t meant to be a permanent part of our progression. They turn it around, and then they are gone.

With our turnaround added, our twelve bar progression would look like this:

C, C, C, C, F, F, G, G, C, F, D, G

If we wanted, we could also use a more conventional turnaround that would bring is back to the tonic to retain the same properties, such as the V—IV—I. With it, we would have the following chords:

G, F, C

With our overall progression, we would get:

C, C, C, C, F, F, G, G, C, G, F, C

You may notice that all of the progressions can be either harmonic or melodic. We left the choice open to you. Experiment with different ways to implement the turnaround. Try playing it as a harmony, then try playing it as a melody. Choose whatever feels best for the piece at hand.

Once you are comfortable with these turnarounds, try your own. Try adding them to your favorite progressions to give them a whole different feel. Have fun with piano lessons, and keep an open ear; you never know what might sound good.


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