The Art Of The Blues Guitar Turnaround Part One
What is a turnaround? What is it good for? How can I create my own turnarounds? These are questions I hear frequently.
The turnaround is probably the most important part of the Blues progression, it’s the place where the men are separated from the boys. So are you ready to dig in a become mature Blues guitar player?
What is a Turnaround? And what is it good for?
‘Turnaround’ is the name of the last two bars of a blues progression. The turnaround creates tension by going to the V chord (say ‘five chord’) so the listener feels the urge to hear another chorus of the song. This is because the first chord of the next chorus is the I chord (say ‘one chord’) which resolves the tension.
This is one of the fundamental priciples of music: Tension (dissonance) and release. The V chord creates a tension that needs to be resolved and this resolving is the consonant (harmonious) chord on the I (root).
A Turnaround could also be used as an intro for a Blues song and – with a slight modification – also as an ending. We’ll take a closer look a this later, first we need to understand the turnaround itself.
So do I have to play a turnaround in every chorus of every Blues song?
Sometimes the best turnaround is … no turnaround at all!
If a riff is worth playing it’s probably worth playing once more. So if a song is based on a great riff often this riff is also played during the last two bars of the Blues progression
Listen to songs like ‘City Of Gold’ by BBM (CD ‘Around The Next Dream’) to hear this concept. But more often than not a turnaround is played.
If you are the lead guitar player, you probably want to play a differnent variation of the turnaround in each chorus and if you play the second guitar, you probably want to stick very close to the original turnaround.
The nuts and bolts of Turnarounds
There are virtually thousands of turnarounds and nearly all of them can be traced back to a couple of basic patterns. Usually turnarounbd patterns consist of two parts:
1.) The first part on the I chord (in the key of A this would be an A7 chord) and
2.) the second part on the V chord (in the key of A this would be an E7 chord).
During the first part we play a line that leads from the I to the V chord. This can be done upwards or downwards. During the second part we fool around with the V chord, which can be done in two ways also: From above (usually with one half step) or from below (usually with two half steps). It’s best to learn that by doing, so let’s grab the guitar!
1 a) First part, upwards
We start on the root of the I chord and end on the root of the V chord in the next bar. In between we have space for three other notes. We simply use the three chromatic notes just below the root of the V chord. The second note happens to be a chord tone of the I chord, the major third, which makes a great start for this line
1 b) First part, downwards
Again we start on the root of the I chord and end on the root of the V chord in the next bar. In between we have space for three other notes again. And again we simply use the three chromatic notes just beside the root of the V chord, but this time it’s the three notes above the V. Again the second note happens to be a chord tone of the I chord, the minor seventh, which again makes a great start for this line:
2a) Second part, from above
Once we reached the root of the V chord, we embellish it. After a short rest (an eigth note rest) we play the note just a half step above – which creates a lot of tension – and then we immediately resolve that tension again by going back that half step.
2b) Second part, from below
This time we embellish the root from below. After we reached the V chord, we immediately play the note two half steps below (no rest this time). Then we move back up in half steps till we reach the V again.
Putting the two parts together
The two possibilities for the first part and the two possibilities for the second part can be combined freely. That’s makes the following four basic turnarounds, from which all the cool turnarounds we’ll learn later are derived:
First part upwards, second part from below:
First part upwards, second part from above:
First part downwards, second part from below:
First part downwards, second part from above:
This is the basic principle of just about every turnaround there is. Simple, uh? In the next article I’ll show you how to spice things up a bit. Well, a lot actually! Stay tuned!
Author - Andi Saitenhieb
Andi Saitenhieb is a professional guitarist, singer and a highly respected and much sought after guitar teacher from Germany. He has over a decade of teaching experience and has taught hundreds of musicians over the years both privately and within countless workshops. Andi specializes in old school blues: Delta and Country Blues on acoustic guitar and…Author profile
Since purchasing Joseph’s Book 1 of the Complete Guide to Playing Blues Guitar, I’ve gained a much deeper understanding of the options available to me when playing the blues. He writes clearly and methodically, giving just enough information on each topic so that I can confidently integrate new techniques and expand my playing knowledge.
The book provides alternative approaches to each method to drive home the idea that you the player should experiment and find what works best in different situations based on your preference. Clear explanations of different chord voicings and rhythm options have really opened up the palette of sounds to choose from, and I look forward to continuing the series.