I love heady, high-concept guitar lessons, but this isn’t one of them! I wanted to share some very cool and extremely useful blues turnarounds with you that I use quite a bit. A turnaround is usually the last 2 bars of a 12 bar blues, although it can also be the last 4 bars, so the terminology can be a little loose, but you know it when you hear it. I would make it a point to learn as many turnarounds as you can and try moving them to different keys. I put the first 4 in the key of E, because we are guitar players and we love E!
Turnaround #1 is a staple in the key of E and has been used in so many songs it goes beyond the idea of it being a cliché. It is essential to the music. I think I first learned a variation on it in the beginning of Cream’s version of the Skip James tune I’m So Glad. There are a number of ways to sound the notes, but my favorite is by using hybrid picking. Hybrid picking is where we use the pick and fingers together. On this lick, I use my pick to play the notes on the low E and A strings, my middle finger and ring finger sound the rest.
Turnaround #2 basically starts with the classic descending turnaround in E. You most likely already know this one, but if not, it is essential. Variation number two, we do away with the open E string in favor of a fully descending chord motion. Finally in variation #3, we mix the two together to spice it up a bit. Pretty cool isn’t it? Spend some time on these three and experiment with different tempos and feels. You’ll find that this one is one of the most common and important turnarounds in your bag.
I’ll come clean on this one, I learned this one from Eric Clapton’s version on Rambling On My Mind from John Mayall and The Bluesbreakers record, often called the Beano record. If you don’t have this record, I cannot recommend it enough. This one is an example of a turnaround that is 4 bars long starting on the B7 chord in bar 9 of a 12 bar blues. I love this one as it is riff-based as opposed to chordal. I use this one all the time!
Turnaround #4 is quite a bit more involved and is also 4 bars long. I learned this one from Magic Sam’s Sweet Home Chicago. I actually first heard it in the Blues Brothers movie to which I am eternally grateful for introducing me to some fantastic music, and also being one of my favorite movies. Pay close attention to the lick in bar 2 played on the A7 chord as you can use it as a stand-alone substitution for an A7 chord. It works especially well on a IV7 chord (it’s also a staple of Little Walter’s music).
In this final turnaround, I wanted to give you one that is easily transposed into a different key. This one uses what is called contrapuntal motion, two melodic lines moving in opposite directions. The top line is descending and the bottom ascending. In the middle we have the common tone on the A note. Take your time and get used to it. It’s easy once you have it!
A final thought on turnarounds, you can use them as introductions or endings to a tune as well. There are many variations out there that will spice up your playing, I suggest making it a goal to know as many turnarounds as you can.