Improv Column: Terry Seabrook’s Jazz Tip of the Month No. 22

Pianist Terry Seabrook continues with his series of Jazz Tips with No. 22

Turnarounds and Substitutions (part 1)


    A turnaround is a sequence  of chords which starts form the tonic (I) and moves through a short “progression” (mostly through the circle of 5ths) back to the tonic.

    This is typically as follows:



eg: |Cmaj7 – Am7 |Dm7 – G7 || Cmaj7 etc


    This sequence is very common in the last 2 bars of song sections (e.g. Misty) but also occurs throughout songs. The A section of Blue Moon is just a turnaround 4 times. I Got Rhythm is also a turnaround twice in the first 4 bars.

Notice the circle of 5ths movement here from A to D to G to C; only the first movement form C to A is not by 5th (it’s a 3rd)

    However it is common to substitute E for the first chord C to conform to the movement by 5ths entirely:


|Em7 – Am7|Dm7 – G7 || Cmaj7

ie: III – VI – II – V – I


    The chords here have a quality (m7 or 7 or maj7) which naturally occurs according to the key (no foreign or non-scale notes – see below). But this doesn’t have to be so. Each of the m7 chords (the first three) can be turned into or substituted with dominant seventh type chords:


|E7 – A7|D7 – G7 || Cmaj7


    Now we have E7 A7 and D7 (III7  VI7  II7 ) but the only true dominant seventh in C is G7, any other dominant seventh chords are called “secondary dominants”. This is so because the naturally occurring chords in any major key are as follows:


Imaj7  IIm7  IIIm7  IV maj7  V7  VIm7  VIIm7b5

Eg: Cmaj7  Dm7  Em7  Fmaj7  G7  Am7  Bm7b5


So far we have 3 turnaround sequences:


|Cmaj7 – Am7|  Dm7 – G7 || Cmaj7

|Em7  –   Am7 | Dm7 – G7 || Cmaj7

|E7   –     A7     | D7    –    G7|| Cmaj7


But you can mix and match eg:


|Cmaj7 –  A7| D7 – G7|| Cmaj7

|Em7 –    A7| Dm7 – G7|| Cmaj7

|E7 –    Am7|Dm7 – G7 || Cmaj7


    The permutations are many especially when you bring tritone relatives and substitutions into the picture More on that next time.


Terry Seabrook