The turnaround in music

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There is a foundational principle in harmony and it goes something like this: the path between two chords can be altered in many ways as long as the end points are preserved.

That may sound confusing but let’s take an example. Let’s say you are in church and you end a verse of a hymn with two bars of a I chord and the next verse starts on a I chord too:

What the rule means here is that you don’t really have to stay on a C chord for those two bars at the end of the first verse. You just have to START with a C chord and a play a progression that will naturally END on a C chord at the start of the next verse. In other words, you have almost two bars to play a cool chord progression rather than just hanging out on C for the entire time. Everything between these two arrows can be changed.

In modern music, we call this kind of chord progression a turnaround. A turnaround creates harmonic movement but does not change the important underlying chords at the beginning and end.

We are going to play with turnarounds today and I am going to give you a lot of options. Let’s start with what is already there between the two arrows above. Here are those two bars by themselves.

A turnaround needs to be functional. In other words, the chords need to move smoothly. You can’t just pick chords at random. The most obvious example of functionality is the V – I progression. So to get this started, we could do this.

Changing C to G in the second bar is an easy decision because G will naturally lead back to the C chord that starts the next verse. Why? Because G is V and C is I. So what I have done here is to create a V – I progression.

Now once we have opened the door to do this, you might as well open a floodgate because the opportunities are limitless. I will give you one more turnaround possibility in this post and tomorrow, will give you a lot more.

The V – I is fine but the ii – V – I is better.

When I post anything to do with changing harmony, I invariably get the same question: can you do this when people are singing or when playing with other instruments? The answer is no. If anybody else is going to be playing the C chord for these two bars, you can’t go changing your chords. You can only do this when you are the only musician providing harmony or when you are playing by yourself.

I will mention though that a great application for turnarounds is introductions to hymns for congregational singing. Give it a try and you will see what I mean. Using a turnaround at the end of an introduction naturally leads into the first verse. It is way smoother and less formal than just camping out on the same chord for two bars.

Tomorrow, we will get into some much more interesting turnarounds. See you then.