Turns crop us a lot in music and are really common in transcriptions of recorded solos. Turns are a great decoration in music, they sound great when played well but it’s important to understand how they work and how to play them.
If you look at the shape of the symbol you get a clue about how to play it. Always, a turn is played by starting on the main note (the note with the symbol above it!), then play the note above, return to the main note, the note below, then finally return to the main note.
Here’s an example:
This would be played with these notes;
One very important fact about turns is that all notes are “diatonic“, meaning they stick to the key signature of the piece.
Check out this example:
So, for this turn in the key of G major (F# in the key signature), you would play these notes:
It’s really important to take note of the key signature when playing a turn – it’s a common mistake to miss this!
Ok, so what about the rhythm?
This is a bit tricky if you try to over analyse it. The best approach is to concentrate on the note after the turn.
Which beat, or part of a beat is that note on?
In the examples above, the note after turn happens on the second half of beat 2.
The first step is always to play the phrase without the turn making sure you have the rhythm correct.
Then, add the “turn notes” making sure the rhythm stays correct. Focus on the note after the turn, fitting in the turn notes just before. There is no need to exactly subdivide the beat to know where the turn notes go. Just aim to neatly fit them in before the following note, but keeping that following note in the right place.
With a bit of practice you will get the flow of it and be able to make it sound slick!