Turnarounds: How They Work, and 10 Examples

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Chord Progression TurnaroundA turnaround progression is a series of chords whose most important characteristic is to circle back to the starting point, allowing the music to continue on rather seamlessly. These kinds of progressions are quite common, having been in use for centuries, though they weren’t known by their colloquial term “turnaround.” In fact, though jazz often gets the credit for introducing the turnaround, composers from as far back as the Baroque era were using them (Pachelbel’s famous Canon in D, for example).

In common usage by today’s songwriters, the turnaround refers mainly to the latter part of a progression whose main attribute is to “turn the phrase around”, and get it back seamlessly to the starting point.

The turnaround is the bringing together of two important characteristics:

  1. It is harmonically strong, often using a circle-of-fifths sequence of chords.
  2. It turns back to the beginning by ending on a non-tonic chord (particularly if the first chord of the next phrase is tonic), allowing for another play-through of the progression. This characteristic is known as a melded cadence.

A melded cadence means that a chord that serves as the end of a progression also serves as the start of a new one. So a melded cadence allows two musical phrases to overlap. This is an important feature of the turnaround.

Turnarounds are strong progressions, by which I mean that as they progress, they seem to point unambiguously to the tonic chord as being the most important. The circle-of-fifths progression is a very strong progression, and that’s why we see it so often in turnaround examples. Turnarounds can be the short progression that gets tagged on to the end of a larger progression, but can also be the entire progression itself (“Heart and Soul” is a good model of this.) Any progression that uses consecutive chords whose roots move by 4ths or 5ths will be the basis for a strong progression.

Music theory tells us that a IV-chord moving to a V-chord strongly points to the tonic chord as being the likely harmonic goal, so IV to V is also strong. Pachelbel’s Canon makes use of circle-of-fifths characteristics as well as the IV-V-I cadence.

I  V  vi  iii  IV  I  IV  V

To create your own turnarounds, simply incorporate these two crucial features: 1) Use primarily strong progressions, featuring adjacent chords whose roots are 4ths or 5ths apart; and 2) make sure that the last chord moves easily back to the first chord.

Below, I’ve listed several turnaround progressions, some which revolve about the I-chord, but others which avoid the tonic. The final chord of each progression below will move easily back to the first chord. The longer ones can serve as complete progressions, and the shorter ones will work well as turnarounds added to an existing progression.

I’ve used chord names from C major, as well as Roman numerals to indicate the chords in the following examples. If you need a refresher on how Roman numerals work, read this post.


  1. I  vi  ii  V (C  Am  Dm  G)
  2. I  IV  vii  iii  vi  bVII  bIII  V7  (C  F  Bdim  Em  Am  Bb  Eb  G7)
  3. I  ii  V  vi  (C  Dm  G  Am)
  4. iii7  vi  ii  V (Em7  Am  Dm  G)
  5. vi7  bVI7  V7  I  (Am7  Ab7  G7  C)
  6. I  V7/ii  ii  V  (C  A7  Dm  G)
  7. V/vi  V/ii  V/V  V7  (E7  A7  D7  G7)
  8. I  bIII7  II7  bII7  (C  Eb7  D7  Db7)
  9. iii7  biiio  ii7  V7  (Em7  Ebdim  Dm7  G7)
  10. iiø  V7  iii  V7/ii  (Dødim  G7  Em  A7)


Written by Gary Ewer, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website.
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  1. Thank you Gary for a well written post on turnarounds. I appreciate that you also provided strategies and examples in which to apply in our own, individual musical study. Thank you so much!

  2. Thanks Gary very much for this helpful article on turnarounds. I’ve been playing music for a long time, and consider myself to have a “good ear”, but for the life of me I just can’t figure out the turnaround progression in Andy William’s version of MOON RIVER. There is no sheet music I’ve bought or seen that includes this. Don’t know if you’re familiar with this (I’ve guessing you are!), but could you share this if you know? Thanx, Russ.

    • Do you mean the little turnaround just at the end of the verse before the backing singers take over? I’m hearing Db Cb9 Eadd6 A7 Ab7 |Db


      • Thanx Gary for the quick reply on this. Wasn’t expecting that. I don’t have access to the song right now, but I believe that’s the point I’m talking about. I can’t wait to go home and try it! I perused all the details on your web site about this SONG WRITING COURSE. It looks great, and I can’t believe the price. (Nice web site too.) I’m 68 and have been playing instruments since the mid 60’s. Starting with harmonica. I’ve written and recorded and sold a number of songs (not famously though!) so I’ve figured out a lot of this already. But I can always learn more. I think I will purchase your course as I’m retiring next month, and will have a lot more time to devote to this. (I also teach guitar and uke.)

        BTW, concerning your examples, I’ve very familiar with the RN system. I was a little confused about the examples using the /. To me, that usually means a chord followed by a note designation in the bass. I analyzed it and figured out for instance that V/V is D7 in the key of C because it is “function/key”

        Thanx again,

  3. Hi Gary,
    I think it’s great when examples are posted. However, I am having some difficulty in understanding the turnaround in the progressions that do not begin with the tonic. In example 4 the final chord moves from V to iii7. I’m guessing that this is OK because iii7 is a substitute for I.
    For example 5 I can’t see the turnaround using either a 4th or a 5th in the move.

    Any help would be gratefully received (I have purchased your books, honest lol)


    • Hi John:

      In that 4th progression, you are right — the move from G to Em7 (V-iii7) works because we hear the iii7 as a substitute for the I chord, what’s called a deceptive cadence.

      In the 5th progression, the chords move in a kind of descending parallel kind of way. It’s meant to show that even though circle of fifths progressions make great turnarounds, that you can create others that don’t necessarily follow that tonal formula. So the vi7-bVI7-V motion still has a way of pointing to the tonic chord.

      Hope that helps,

  4. Hola ! Este hilo es viejo pero . . . .
    Em7b5 – A7b9 – Dm7b5 – G7b9 – Cm7b5 – F7b9 – Bbmaj7
    Esto es un Tornaround ??

    • Yes… it might be a bit of a stretch to get from Bbmaj7 back to Em7b5, though. I’m on the road at the moment, and don’t have a keyboard in front of me, but I wonder if following that Bbmaj7 with some form of Eb chord, then sliding back down to Em7b5 might work well as a turnaround.


    • Thanks, John, I’m glad you find the material helpful. The lack of bar lines, time signatures, etc., is purposeful. Occasionally I suggest them, but as there are many, many ways to use chords, I find it’s often best to describe how the chords should move, and leave other aspects up to the creative approach of the musician using them. Most of the ones I suggest (including the ones in this post) work well if each chord is strummed for two beats before moving on.

      Thanks again,

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