7 Blues Guitar Turnarounds That Get Harder

Blues music has many defining characteristics such as song structure, rhythm, chord progressions, scales, as well as the blues turnaround.

The turnaround is most commonly used in the final two bars of a 12-bar blues, but it can also be used as an intro and in other structures such as the 8-bar and 16-bar blues.

A turnaround is so named because it returns the listener’s attention back to bar one of the chord progression.

The 12-Bar blues

Though the 12-bar blues is not the only blues structure used, it is the most common when playing the blues, so the turnarounds in this lesson are intended to fill the last two bars of a 12-bar blues.

The I, IV, and V chords of the key are most commonly used chords in a 12-bar blues progression.

However, unlike in other genres of music (unless blues-influenced), the I, IV, and V chords are usually played as dominant seventh chords in blues.

In the key of E, for example, the I chord is E7, the IV chord is A7, and the V chord is B7. In non-blues influenced music, only the V chord is a dominant 7th chord, the I and the IV would be a major triad (E, A), or a major 7th chord (Emaj7, Amaj7).

A typical 12-bar blues in E goes as follows:

E7 (I7)E7E7E7
A7 (IV7)A7E7 (I7)E7
B7 (V7)A7 (IV7)E7 (I7)E7

After the 12-bar blues is finished, the chord progression begins again and continues to be repeated as many times as necessary throughout the song.

If you follow the above structure, you will notice that the I7 chord is played for six bars (the last 2 bars followed by the first 4 bars), which can become monotonous.

One of the ways blues musicians break the monotony is to use a turnaround at the last two bars, where the I7 chord moves to the V7 chord in the last two beats of the second bar of the turnaround, just before it turns back to the beginning.

E7 (I7)E7E7E7
A7 (IV7)A7E7 (I7)E7
B7 (V7)A7 (IV7)E7 (I7)E7        B7 (V7)

The turnaround is beautiful because, unlike the rest of the 12-bar blues, where the rhythm guitarist repeats the same riff without a lot of variation, the turnaround allows the blues rhythm guitarist to create something more colorful and unique.

The blues turnarounds given below are intended to get you started on building a vocabulary of this essential element of blues guitar playing.

Picking technique

One last thing before we get to the turnarounds themselves.

Turnarounds can be fingerpicked or played with a pick and also using the remaining right-hand fingers (hybrid picking). This is how the blues turnarounds in this lesson were created. 

The first five turnarounds can be played with a pick alone, but the last two require finger or hybrid picking because notes on strings far apart are being played at the same time. 

Blues Turnarounds for guitar

The blues turnarounds below were written on an electric guitar, but they can also be played on an acoustic.

Example 1: Key of E

This turnaround is stripped down to the bare minimum and uses one note at a time, except for the B7 chord at the end.

It’s very simple, but it captures the sound flavor of a blues turnaround.

guitar turnaround 1

Example 2: Key of D

The following example also employs one note at a time when no chords are present, but adds contrasting motion with a pedal note in the last three beats of the first bar.

In this case, as in most blues turnarounds, the pedal note is also the root note, which in this case is D. (3rd fret on the second string).

Blues turnaround 2

Example 3: Key of C

The following example employs similar concepts to the previous one but adds the difficulty of skipping strings on the first two beats of the second bar.

The chord G#7 is used to approach the V7 chord G7 from a semitone above. This is a common occurrence in blues turnarounds.

Blues turnaround 3

Example 4: Key of A

The following example also employs motion that contrasts with a pedal note, but this time the pedal note is the fifth degree of the scale, E, rather than the root note A. (the open E string). 

To play this lick, you can either hit every note with the pick (and practice string skipping) or play the open E pedal note with your right hand’s middle finger (and be practicing hybrid picking).

My advice to electric guitarists is to learn both picking styles. There will be times when string skipping is more convenient to use, and others when hybrid picking is preferable.

Take note of the hammer-on that enhances the first note of the second bar. In blues turnarounds, hammer-ons are commonly used for this purpose.

Blues turnaround 4

Example 5: Key of E

There’s more going on in the next turnaround, with a mix of partial chords and single notes.

If you’re using the string skipping technique, the first two beats of the second bar should be a good challenge.

Blues turnaround 5

Example 6: Key of A

The next turnaround employs contrary motion, which is very pleasing to the ear when used in music.

The notes on the B string ascend chromatically in the last three beats of the first bar and the first beat of the second, while the notes on the D string descend.

If you’re playing with a pick, during the chromatic movement you need to use hybrid picking. Play the notes on the D string with the pick and the notes on the B string with the middle finger.

Blues turnaround 6

Example 7: Key of A

The final turnaround is a variation on the previous one, with the root note A (second fret on the G string) added as a pedal note.

There are different ways to hybrid pick this turnaround. I made it by playing the intervals in contrary motion with the pick and my middle finger, and the pedal note A with the pick.

You can also use your pick and ring fingers to play the intervals, and your middle finger to play the pedal note. 

Even better practice both methods to improve your hybrid picking skills. 

Blues turnaround 7

Learning the Blues

If you want to play the blues, you should build a repertoire of blues turnarounds.

Understanding blues theory, what scales are used in blues, its structure, and building a vocabulary of blues licks and riffs are all important areas to look into if you want to specialize in this genre.

The blues has a long history that extends beyond the music. It began as a way for black slaves to express their pain and evolved into a bridge that helped break down racial barriers.

If you enjoy this type of music, it is also recommended that you learn about its history.

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