The Giant Steps Turnaround

by | Chord Melody, John Coltrane

Do you ever get bored of playing the same turnarounds over every standard? Well if so, I want to teach you some cool alternatives in this lesson…and even if you’re content to play your true and tried turnarounds, I think you’ll still find this info handy to expand your harmonic palette!

The fact is that if you play jazz you are continuously playing turnarounds, whether or not you are aware of it. A turnaround usually consists of 2 to 4 chords which are used to add harmonic motion to a tune before resolving to a target chord. Turnarounds can happen at the end of a tune as a way to lead back to the beginning, or anywhere within its structure to lead to a new section.

Ordinarily turnarounds progress through the cycle of 5ths as is the case with a II-V-I or VI-II-V-I cadence. In this lesson however, we are going to explore a different alternative. Instead of progressing through the cycle of 5ths to our target chord, we are going to do so employing Coltrane changes…namely, ย Giant Steps. This progression combines a cycle of 3rds and 5ths. As a result you’ll find that the initial chord in this turnaround is functionally distant from your current key center. Therefore it may take some getting used to if initially you don’t find it “pleasing” to your ears. Coltrane changes are an acquired taste for some. Personally, I find them very exciting to my ear when used sparingly and in the right places. Having said that, in this lesson I will over use them, but only with the goal of teaching their application.

Giant Steps is a difficult progression to improvise over, but using just a portion of it as a turnaround I believe is a task that most intermediate guitarists can accomplish with a little practice. In the video I demonstrate its use over “Body and Soul” and “Take the A Train“. I then show you how to substitute different ย II-V based turnarounds with the Giant Steps alternative.


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6 II-Vs from Giant Steps by Mike Stern



  1. Chris Crider

    Having trouble signing for Elite. I read your description but I don’t get that far. It keeps wanting me to establish a pay pal acct.

    • Richie Zellon

      Unfortunately for now, you need to have a PayPal account to sign up for the Elite.

  2. Thibaut Larcher

    Love that “liberal” sound indeed. Your examples were in major key but I was wondering if it was possible to apply this concept in a minor key ? hat would be the “coltrane” turnaround chord progression leading to a minor chord resolution ?

    • Richie Zellon

      You can try it, but you will have to turn the final V7 into an altered dominant or it won’t resolve properly to the minor chord.

  3. Brent Mac innis

    what a great idea

  4. Jazzy Beatle

    Conservative vs liberal ear, thatโ€™s a good one! ๐Ÿ˜Ž Seriously, Coltrane changes sound real good to me and I donโ€™t find them too far out at all. ๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿ‘

    • Richie Zellon

      So you have a liberal ear? ๐Ÿ™‚

      • jay anderson

        I have a good ear or I wouldn’t have retired in the biz but still working on it!

  5. Chris Gosman

    Hi Richie – love the lessons, but I am confused about the thinking behind substituting the Coltrane changes – specifically, how you know what the first chord should be. In the first 2 examples, when you are resolving to the G, your first chord is a minor 6th above (Eb). But in the third example, when you are resolving to C, why is your first chord a major 3rd above (E)? Thanks

    • Richie Zellon

      The 2nd one which starts in E goes into an additional chord in the cycle of 5ths and therefore resolves to a C. Since the first one is shorter (by one dominant) and closer to the target key, it resolves to G which is the previous chord in the cycle of 5ths. Overall it has to do with the intervallic relationship of the Coltrane changes to the target chord and where you decide to resolve and end the progression. I know…it can be confusing and hard to explain the mathematical logic behind it, but it works…or so I think :).

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