A turnaround is a short chord progression that takes you back to the start of a song, a solo section or even takes you to a new key. Sometimes they are used as an introduction or an ending to a song. The chords of a turnaround range from simple to complicated, but all turnarounds are basically a harmonic embellishment or an expansion of a basic I-V-I progression. Let’s see how to build a turnaround from scratch!
First, start with a I-V-I progression. In the key of C, the I chord is C and the V chord is G. In a blues, it’s best to use 7th chords, so the I-V-I progression is C7-G7-C7.
Next, expand the progression by backfilling it with secondary dominants. A secondary dominant is just the dominant chord of a dominant chord. In this example, D7 is the V of G7, A7 is the V of D7. (Note that this expanded progression, A7-D7-G7-C7, is a segment of the circle of fifths.) Shorten the duration of the new chords to keep the overall length the same as the original progression.
Now that we have the basic harmonic structure of the turnaround, we can add some embellishments to it to make it sound more musical. Let’s start by adding a bassline. To add a simple walking bassline, approach the root of each chord by half step from above or below. Here, G# goes to A, Eb to D, Ab to G, and B to C. Try experimenting with other possibilities.
Finally, add some upper notes to fill out the chords. I like to squeeze in the chords between bass notes to create a comping effect. Try not to use too many notes in your chords. 3rds and 7ths work best.
Please check out these blues studies for guitar!
Easy: Blues Study in E
More challenging: Etudes in Blue