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Fretboard Workshop: 10 Essential Turnarounds


Here’s a simplified variation of the previous example (Fig. 6). I put the pedal tone on the bottom and the chromatic sixths now become thirds.

The next three examples use very full-sounding voicings. In Fig. 7, the melody moves to the bass while there’s minimal movement in the upper voices.

The melody notes and bass notes move in opposite directions in Fig. 8. This is also known as contrary motion. When you have such a strong outline in the outer voices you can go to unlikely places harmonically. In this case the VI7 (Eb7) resolves to the tonic. This is a sound that is popular in late 19th-century classical music and in early 20th-century American music. The second half of the example is a quick I–VI–II–V turnaround.

Fig. 9 is another example of how you can get all kinds of different tonal colors just by using chord inversions, tritone subs, and contrary motion. The bass and treble are now inverted, resulting in a much different sound.

Finally, Fig. 10 is meant to open the door of no return and prove that you can use pretty much any chord in a turnaround. In this case the root movement is I–VI–bIII–bVI–I. These are parallel chords built by stacking fourths. These chords can be interpreted as 6/9 chords with no 3 and can be pretty ambiguous. These type of ideas are common in ’60s-era jazz and later when harmonies expanded in all directions.

I packed quite a lot into these exercises. I think the study of this little part of harmony can really open your ears and fingers to many new worlds of sounds. In these short exercises you can get familiar with important building blocks like contrary, oblique, and parallel motion, plagal cadences, tritone substitutions, inversions, pedal tones, and voice-leading. Once you have these under your fingers, you can insert them into all kinds of songs.