4 Jazz Turnarounds You Need To Know

jazz turnaround chord progressionsIf you want to successfully learn jazz piano it is extremely important that you spent time learning jazz tunes and studying common jazz chord progressions.

The more knowledge of chord progressions you have the easier it will be for you to learn jazz songs efficiently and quickly grow your repertoire.

We all want to be efficient and learn quickly right?

So, in today’s lesson we’re going to learn 4 very common jazz turnarounds that you will find in 100’s of jazz tunes. By learning these jazz turnarounds you’ll open a lot of doors in your creativity.

Let’s get starting learning these important jazz chord progressions right now! (Audio recording and notation below.)

I also have some special news to share at the end of this lesson too.)

What Is A Jazz Turnaround?

In jazz, a turnaround is usually the 2 bars at the end of a section of music. It’s function is simply to help you transition into to the next section of music . 

The turnaround creates a really strong sense of forward motion harmonically speaking. It needs to be resolved. By resolving on the first bar of the next section of music it definitely propels the music forward!

When Do Turnarounds Occur?

You’ll often find turnarounds occurring in the last 2 bars of a song. They function as a means to get you back to the beginning of the song again.

You’ll also commonly see them being used at the end of a bridge as a means of getting back into an A section of a tune again. To put it simply, turnaround usually function as transitions.

Now, lets take a close listen to all these turnarounds.

Jazz Turnaround #1

The I-VI-II-V-I (1-6-2-5-1) turnaround is definitely the most popular turnaround. You’ll hear it being used everywhere! It features a I chord, a dominant VI7 chord, and then just a basic II-V at the end.

The final I chord at the end usually occurs in the first bar of the next section of music. It’s simple but super effective!

Take a look at the chord chart and listen to the 2 recorded examples.

1-6-2-5-1 jazz turnaround

Tip: Notice that the VI chord is dominant and not minor. This is a chromatic alteration that usually occurs in jazz.

(I looped the 2 bar turnaround 4 times and threw on a little tag ending)

I-VI-II-V-I Chord Progression Audio Example 

If you want to learn a lick that features this chord progression check out this jazz turnaround lick.

You can also learn some voicings to use over this chord progression in this lesson on 2 5 1 chord progressions.

Jazz Turnaround #2

The next turnaround we’re going to check out this the Imaj7 – bIIImaj7 – bVImaj7 -bIImaj7 (1- b3-b6-b2-1).

This jazz turnaround is often times referred to as the Lady Bird turnaround because it was famously used as the turnaround in the last 2 bars of the jazz standard Lady Bird.

Take a look at the chord chart and listen to the 2 recorded examples.

ladybird turnaround

(I looped the chord progressions 2x so you could hear it better.)

1- b3-b6-b2-1 Jazz Turnaround Audio Example 

Here’s another take with some slightly different chord voicings but still the same chord progression

1- b3-b6-b2-1 Jazz Turnaround Audio Example #2 

Jazz Turnaround #3

The I-bIII dim7-II-V-I (1-b3dim7 -2-5-1) turnaround was very common in the swing era of jazz music. You’ll often hear it being used in gypsy jazz and even in traditional gospel music too.

I love all the turnarounds but this one is definitely one of my favorites. For my ears it has kind of a retro vibe and reminds me of 1920’s jazz. (Maybe this comes from my love of the book The Great Gatsby )

The thing that makes this turnaround unique is it’s transitional b3 diminished chord.

In general, diminished chords are transitional in nature. They are usually used as passing chords and either resolve up a half step or resolve down a half step.

In this turnaround the diminished is used to lead into the II-V-I.

Take a look at the chord chart and listen to the 2 recorded examples. (I looped the chord progressions 2x so you could hear it better.)

b3 diminished 7th turnaround

1- b3 dim-2-5-1 Jazz Turnaround Audio Example #1 

Here’s another take of this one now where I use some different chord voicings and articulation

1- b3 dim-2-5-1 Jazz Turnaround Audio Example #2 

Jazz Turnaround #4

The last turnaround we’re going to talk about today is the The I-bIII7-II7-bII7-I turnaround. This particular turnaround is really just chromatically descending dominant chords that eventually resolve back to the I chord.

This turnaround works by using tritone substitutions over and over again.

If you want to learn more about the tritone substitution check out this tritone jazz chord substitution lesson.

Take a look at the chord chart and listen to the 2 recorded examples. (I looped the chord progressions 2x so you could hear it better.)

jazz turnarounds

I- bIII7-II7-bII7 Jazz Turnaround Audio Example #1 

Here’s another take with some different alterations of the chords, some slightly different rhythms, and some slightly different voicings.

I- bIII7-II7-bII7 Jazz Turnaround Audio Example #2 

Jazz Tunes You Can Use These Turnarounds In

You can use these turnarounds and their variations on literally any tune that starts with a I chord. There are hundreds of them in the Great American Songbook. Here is a list of 10 to get you started.

  1. My Romance
  2. Cherokee
  3. Rhythm Changes
  4. Straight No Chaser (or any blues head)
  5. Out Of Nowhere
  6. There Is No Greater Love
  7. Take The A Train
  8. Lady Bird
  9. How High The Moon
  10. Misty

To use them just plug them into the last 2 bars of a tune and you’ll have several ways of getting back to the beginning of the tune. If you want more of a list you can also check out this list of important jazz standards you should learn.

Always remember to apply what you learn to tunes! I know you’ll have fun with this lesson.

Now, before you go practice this lesson I want to share some quick news with you guys.

My New Product Is Just A Few Months From Being Released

jazz turnarounds

So many of you have expressed that you enjoy the free lessons on this site but you want to explore jazz on a much deeper level.

That’s why I’m truly excited to announce that in a few months I will be launching a much more in depth premium monthly membership version of this site.

Update: The Premium Membership Course has launched! You can join in on the fun with thousands of other jazz piano students right here.piano technique

What Will Be In The Premium Membership Area?

The goal of this new monthly membership area is to be an ultimate resource for you to become a great jazz musician…at an extremely affordable price.

Each month I release very in depth lessons featuring:

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Here’s a brand new sample of one of the lessons in the premium membership. There are a ton of chords and reharm tricks for you to learn in there. You can check it out here.

I can’t wait to launch the premium area and see your playing grow! I of course will make announcements on the site as we get closer to launch date and share more about it. Stay tuned!

In the meantime enjoy today’s free turnaround lesson.

Happy practicing everybody and thank you so much for your continued support!


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Steve Nixon