Jazz Swing Piano on the Turnaround Progression

Instructor
Jonny May
Quick Tip
Level 2
Level 3
19:32

Learning Focus
  • Chords
  • Groove
Music Style
  • Jazz Swing
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In almost every song in the styles of jazz and blues, you’re probably going to find a turnaround chord progression. This is usually a very specific set of chords that occur at the end of a section or song, and it helps literally to “turn you around” and go back to the beginning of the song or section. Since it’s so common, we want to make sure we have a very good handle on it. That’s why in this lesson, we’ll go over 3 ways to play the turnaround for jazz swing piano.

This turnaround chord progression sounds so nice that sometimes it forms the main chord progression of a song, not just at the end of sections. When this happens, we can describe it as using “Rhythm Changes” after George and Ira Gershwin’s famous tune “I Got Rhythm,” which uses the turnaround chord progression and variations as a basis for its harmony throughout the song. Keep in mind though that in the professional jazz world that saying a tune has rhythm changes implies the use of the entire chord progression of the head of “I Got Rhythm,” not only the turnaround progression.

In this lesson, you’ll learn:

  • What the turnaround progression is
  • 3 ways to play the turnaround progression for jazz swing piano
  • Each way increasing in difficulty, starting from easy and progressing to advanced piano
  • Melody to use over the turnaround progression for jazz swing piano
  • Use of chord shells, rootless voicings, and two-handed chord voicings to harmonize the melody
  • Sheet music PDF and backing track included for download and practice

Let’s dive in!

What Is The Turnaround Progression?

As stated in the beginning, the turnaround progression’s goal is usually to stimulate motion and get us back to the top of the form. It functions almost as a reset and tells the listener that we’re at the end and we’re about to restart.

It usually consists of the following chords, 1-6-2-5, then it takes us to the top of the form which is usually a 1 chord. Here’s what it looks like in the key of G, all chords in root position:

The turnaround progression root position chords in the key of G
The turnaround progression root position chords in the key of G

If you haven’t learned all your 7th chords, then check out Intermediate Piano Foundations.

From traditional harmony, we know that the strongest pull in music is a V chord that brings us back to the I. For example, if you play a G7, its pull will take you to a C chord, an interval of a 5th downward. The turnaround progression, starting from the 6 chord, is like a longer chain of V-I chord progressions. This type of progression goes around the Cycle of 5ths and can be thought of as a circle progression. This is why it’s such a strong chord progression and creates strong motion.

Many progressions follow the Cycle of 5ths, so it’s worth becoming familiar with. If you haven’t mastered the Cycle of 5ths, then check out Cycle of 5ths in 3 Jazz Styles (Beginner/Intermediate, Intermediate/Advanced).

3 Ways To Play The Turnaround Progression for Jazz Swing Piano

1. Easy Piano (Beginner)

Here’s the simple version of the turnaround progression and melody for jazz swing piano:

Jazz swing turnaround progression easy version for piano with melody in the key of G major
Jazz swing turnaround progression easy version for piano with melody in the key of G major

The first step is to separate the hands. Learn the right-hand melody on its own, then learn the left-hand chords. Afterward, you can put them together. Be sure to look at the fingering for the melody as written below, and be sure to use the same finger on the slide notes, from the black key to the white key. They are written as the little grace notes in the sheet music:

Easy turnaround progression with fingering and slides
Easy turnaround progression with fingering and slides

The left hand here is mostly 2 notes as you can see. They are actually cleaner and clearer than playing root position chords in the left hand. We call them chord shells, and they usually contain the root at the bottom and either the 3rd or 7th of the chord above.

If you want to learn more about this method of accompaniment, then check out Play Piano Lead Sheets with Shells & Guide Tones.

2. Intermediate Piano

This version of the jazz swing piano turnaround progression uses more rich and colorful chord voicings in the left hand. The rhythm also now mirrors the melody, so it’s now functioning as one unit.

Jazz swing turnaround progression intermediate version for piano using rootless voicings in the left hand
Jazz swing turnaround progression intermediate version for piano using rootless voicings in the left hand

These types of voicings are actually part of a collection of voicings, called rootless voicings. They are super popular stock voicings for jazz pianists on every chord. We have A and B rootless voicings. Check out an analysis of the rootless voicings in the excerpt below as well the chord tones they outline from the turnaround chords:

Intermediate turnaround progression for piano with rootless voicings analyzed
Intermediate turnaround progression for piano with rootless voicings analyzed

If you want to learn more and know all your rootless voicings, then check out Rootless Voicings – Chord Types & 2-5-1 Application. 

3. Advanced Piano

This version now adds even more richness and color than the intermediate version. Check it out and listen below:

Jazz swing piano turnaround progression advanced version for piano using two handed spread voicings to harmonize the melody and a counterline
Jazz swing piano turnaround progression advanced version for piano using two-handed spread voicings to harmonize the melody and a counterline

Now it’s starting to sound like true jazz pros! We’ve now harmonized the melody with two-handed voicings. These types of chords come from taking time to arranging the specific chords in various ways underneath the melody. The left hand, as standard in jazz, contains the 3rd and 7th, but also an extra note for a crunch. We even have a small counterline at the end. The right-hand mixes spread and close voicings underneath the melody.

Check out below an analysis of the chord tones the voicings cover:

Advanced turnaround progression jazz piano two hand arrangement analysis
Advanced turnaround progression jazz piano two-hand arrangement analysis

These types of voicings take a little more work and practice, as well as taste to create since there are many options. If you want to know more on the subject and possible options then check out Jazz Swing Accompaniment (Beginner/Intermediate, Intermediate/Advanced). 

Summing It All Up

That’s it for this lesson on the turnaround progression for jazz swing piano. I hope you’ve enjoyed it!

The methods outlined here give a nice overview of the various ways jazz swing piano can be played. Jazz can run deep in nuance but it’s worth the effort to learn. We’re here to help get you all the way from beginning to end to learn this beautiful, yet challenging style.

Be sure to download the PDF sheet music of each version of the jazz swing piano turnaround progression at the bottom of this page. There is also a backing track that I’d highly recommend you play along to with these exercises discussed. We also have smart sheet music that our members can download and transpose into any key for each exercise and listen to the playback.

If you want a deeper dive into this and other topics discussed in the lesson, then check out some of the following courses:

That’s it for this Quick Tip. Happy piano practice!

Blog Written By Daine Jordan/Quick Tip by Jonny May

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