Blues Plus (2):
Updated: Feb 14, 2022
The I-VI-II-V Turnaround and Tritone Substitutions
In the first blog of this series I talked about getting a call from a professional guitarist (20+ years as a pro) from Austin who had relocated to Kansas City and discovered that the "Blues" here is a different animal than in Austin.
Before getting into what I showed him, I felt I should cover what he already knew; the basic 12-bar Blues form and some common variations thereof. I explained the Roman numerals and also mentioned how guitar players tend to be guitar-centric in their comfort level as far as keys are concerned.
The material there isn't anything an experienced Blues player wouldn't know. However, I run into "professional" players who don't know some pretty fundamental things; that's why I spent the whole last post on the basics.
Now to get into some of the "plus" aspects of "Blues Plus."
When Jazz musicians get a-hold of a Blues, things get more complicated. Let’s talk about the Turnaround:
I - VI - II - V Turnaround
VI - II - V is a cyclical progression.
If you don't know what I mean by, "cyclical progression” stop right here and download the 5-Lesson Foundational Series.
The 5-Lesson Foundational Series teaches the Circle of Keys as an organizational mechanism by which you ensure that whatever you learn is drilled in every key in all possible positions.
It also gives you a method to find any note, anywhere, without memorizing note names on every string. That is a beautiful thing!
Since cycles are one of the main ways chords move in music, you really should get a handle on it!
You can download the 5-Lesson Foundational Series right here for free with no further obligation or commitment:
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Back to the Turnaround: VI and II can be Minor or Dominant. Most of the time, if it’s up to me, I prefer Dominant for reasons I’ll explain in a minute:
The reason I prefer Dominants is because they're extendable, and alterable. Dominant extensions (9ths, 11ths and 13ths) are common in this context; extending Minor 7 chords is tricky. Minor 9 on the II chord usually works, but many times other extended minors won't sound good.
Altering Dominant chords - sharp 3 (or “sus”, which means, “suspended”), sharp/flat 9, sharp/flat 5 or any combination thereof - is common. There are few functional possibilities for altering Minor 7 chords in a Blues context.
So using Dominants for VI and II presents more options and therefore a broader range of texture, color and feeling. For some of those possibilities, see Quick & Dirty Altered Dominants.
Having said that, playing II as a Minor is very common; VI less so.
The I - VI - II - V Turnaround is also a great context to introduce the concept of the Tritone Sub:
A Tritone Substitution is the substitution of one Dominant 7th chord (possibly altered or extended) with another (possibly altered or extended) that is three whole steps (a tritone) from the original chord. It's also known as a Flat-5 Substitution, since a tritone is a flatted 5th (technically speaking, a Diminished 5th) from the original root.
Here's the Turnaround with the Tritone Subs in parentheses:
Note: the "x" by the Roman Numerals of the Tritone Subs means "Dominant."
Additionally, III may be substituted for I. It's not the tritone of I; it's minor and you can see (and hear) how it leads into the VI, or in the case of the tritone sub, into the bIIIx.
Furthermore, when going from I to VI, the bVIIx can be used as a passing chord. Guess what? bVII is the Tritone Sub for III.
Any and all combinations of these chords can be used in a Turnaround. Here are 3 of the most common:
Here’s a Turnaround that uses both I - VI - II - V and all the Tritone Subs:
Keep the Tritone Substitution concept in mind, it will apply in the next blog, The Walkdown, the Walkup and Stormy Monday, coming next week!
Want more stuff on the Blues? There are 10 free Blues lessons on the FREE LESSONS page of the website. Plus there are 22 free lessons called Soloing in a Blues Context on the same page.
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The soloing lessons are also available as a PDF download; for some free content (signup not required) and to get an idea of what's in the PDF, go to: Concepts for Basic Improvising.
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