The Art of the Blues Turnaround

Many classic blues turnarounds are built on a simple phrase that descends chromatically (ie, in half steps) from the minor seventh to the fifth of the I chord.

In the language of the blues, the term turnaround refers to a musical figure played over the I and V chords in the last two bars, setting up the form to repeat. Many classic blues turnarounds are built on a simple phrase that descends chromatically (i.e., in half steps) from the minor seventh to the fifth of the I chord. (For that matter, many blues tunes open with a turnaround.)

Throughout the history of the blues, great players have used this simple figure as a foundation on which to build elaborate turnarounds that can be freely transposed from one blues tune to another. Concentrating on the key of A, this lesson will show you how to harmonize the basic figure with other notes to create some versatile turnarounds that you can use in your blues playing.

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music notation and tab for example 1

Play the typical eight-bar blues in Example 1 and note the turnaround figure (G–F#–F–E), played on the fourth string, in bars 7 and 8.

One of the simplest ways to dress this up is to play the root note of the chord on a treble string while playing the turnaround figure in the bass. This turnaround, shown in Example 2, was a favorite of the great Delta bluesman Robert Johnson.

music notation and tab for example 2

Country Blues Guitar Basics

Ron Forbes-Roberts
Ron Forbes-Roberts

Ron Forbes-Roberts is a Vancouver-based writer and holds a degree in guitar performance from the New England Conservatory.

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