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Beyond Blues: Turnaround Tactics

Tackle those tricky turnarounds head-on with a simple arpeggio-based strategy.

Chops: Intermediate
Theory: Intermediate
Lesson Overview:
• Learn how to tweak vanilla turnaround progressions to make them more intriguing.
• Create logical lines that weave through the harmony.
• Develop a chord tone-based approach to soloing.

Click here to download a printable PDF of this lesson's notation.

In past lessons we’ve spent a lot of time experimenting with the basic I-IV-V chord progression to see how we could expand on it and make things a little more jazz-inspired. As part of that process, we’ve explored quick changes, altered chords, 7#11 sounds, IIm-V cadences, and more. So now it makes sense that we put some time into the final part of the progression—the turnaround.

As its name suggests, a turnaround is designed to complete a progression and send it back to the start of the form. For example, in a standard 12-bar blues in the key of E, the turnaround often appears as B7 (the V) in measure 12. This creates a nice V-I movement when the progression starts again on E7 (I). And it works fine, but when you’re playing from a more jazz-oriented perspective, it’s nice to have more chords in the turnaround—an expanded harmonic bed to weave melodies over.

The starting point for our examples in this lesson will be a I-VI-II-V progression in the key of Bb. This translates to Bb-G-C-F. If we include diatonic extensions (other notes that fit in the key of Bb), we get Bb6-Gm7-Cm7-F7. Ex. 1 shows an easy Freddie Green-inspired way of approaching these chord changes.

Click here for Ex. 1

You could experiment with that all day long and go further with diatonic extensions, maybe Bb6-Gm9-Cm11-F7sus, for example. That said, this progression sounds very vanilla—there’s nothing bluesy about it. But this is Beyond Blues, so we can’t just settle for bland! That’s why I borrowed a few chords from other keys to make Ex. 2 more interesting.

The two main differences happen in the first measure. I changed the Bb6 to Bb7, which is nice and bluesy, and swapped out the Gm7 for a G7. This creates a greater sense of resolution as we move towards Cm7. Try alternating between the two and describing the difference. It’s subtle, but important enough to be significant.

Click here for Ex. 2

For our final progression (Ex. 3), we’ve gone all the way and made all four chords dominant. Again, this has a slightly different feel to it, with a constant sense of forward motion. G7 resolves to C, C resolves to F and then F brings us back to Bb. You may remember looking at ideas like this in our cycle of fourths lesson many moons ago [“12 Keys, Five Shapes, and the Blues”]. (LINK:

Click here for Ex. 3

It’s important to revisit our arpeggio patterns while we prepare to solo over these progressions. For Ex. 4 I wrote out a quick fingering for each chord. With two chords per measure, you don’t have much time to reflect on the chord before the next one comes around. There really isn’t time to be thinking in terms of scales—we need to quickly boil things down to notes that sound like the chord. It doesn’t get better than arpeggios for that.

Click here for Ex. 4

I’ve opted to use the Bb7-G7-Cm7-F7 variation here because there’s a better resolution leading into Cm7. It’s worth practicing with a C7 too. Once you go up and down each one a few times, try changing chords at the top and bottom of each fingering. Practice changing after eight, four, or even two notes. The more you do this, the faster you’ll be able to make music.

As a starting point, you may want to take notice of just how many of the notes are chord tones. There are a few other notes, but we can look at these in a lot more detail when we start to incorporate altered chords and substitutions into the turnaround.

Ex. 5 opens by approaching the 3 of Bb from a step below and moving down a Bb triad before shifting up to a G7 arpeggio. To cover the Cm7 to F7 section, I played a cliché IIm-V phrase that relies heavily on chord tones.

Click here for Ex. 5

In Ex. 6 we begin by moving up a Bb7 arpeggio, then coming down a G7 idea that includes Ab to give the lick a G7b9 sound. We’ve got another nice phrase over the IIm-V that starts out the same as the previous one, but resolves higher up after traversing a F7 arpeggio.

Click here for Ex. 6

Ex. 7 opens with a descending Bb7 arpeggio, then moves to the G7 and targets the 5 (D) by circling it with a note above and then below. Over the Cm7 we have a basic Cm7 arpeggio that moves to a simple idea over the F7 that actually features the major 7. This is a common passing note to add between the root and the b7.

Click here for Ex. 7

Ex. 8 begins with a simple motif of descending three notes for an arpeggio. We then jump up and move down five notes to outline the next chord. This sort of playing gives your lines a direction—something the listener can latch onto rather than simply experiencing a stream of seemingly random notes.

Click here for Ex. 8

Ex. 9 moves up a Bb7 arpeggio, and then dives into a G7 arpeggio via some chromatic notes. Next, over the Cm7 we outline an Ebmaj7 sound (this yields a nice Cm9 effect) and finally resolve to an F7 arpeggio.

Click here for Ex. 9

Finally, Ex. 10 features more chromatic approaches to chord tones. This really highlights the fact that players in this style often think in terms of chord tones, rather than scales. If you think of scale tones as notes that live around chord tones, you’ll generate lines with a strong harmonic contour. We conclude this lick with a classic bebop ending that outlines both the Cm7 and F7 quite nicely.

Click here for Ex. 10

I’ve provided a little track you can play these ideas over (or toss in some of your own), but it’s worth noting this has a swing feel. These ideas will also work in a straight rhythmic context, so don’t be afraid to try them in any blues setting. Just make sure the band is playing a standard turnaround. Have fun and I’ll see you next time.