Blues Turnarounds

April 22, 2011


IN THIS LESSON WE’LL BE LOOKING at blues turnarounds, or “turnbacks” as they are sometimes called. Turnarounds normally occur in bars 11 and 12 in a standard 12-bar blues, and having a few good ones under your fingers is invaluable for jam sessions, solo playing, or writing tunes in the blues idiom. This month’s examples would work best using a fingerstyle or hybrid picking technique. Let’s have a look.

Ex. 1 is a classic Robert Johnson-style turnaround in the key of A using a common descending bass line starting on the lowered 7th (G, in this case). Ex. 2 in the key of E is something a mid-’70s Johnny Winter might do. It ascends starting on the major 3rd (G#) and finishes nicely with some chromatically ascending 7th chords. Ex. 3 applies the ideas from the previous two examples with bar 1 using a pedal tone with descending 6ths, bar 2 using a familiar bass line with a bluesy melody in counterpoint, bar 3 employing descending 12ths with a repeated riff on the high E string, and bar 4 featuring chromatically descending diminished chords, the opposite of what occurred in Ex. 2.

Grab any or all of these turnarounds for use in your own playing. They also sound great in a band situation by having the bassist play the lowest notes with you.

Scott McGill is an instructor and BA (hons) Course Leader at the Brighton Institute of Modern Music in England.

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