5 essential blues guitar turnaround solos

Expand your key blues vocabulary

(Image: © Future)

When you're looking to refresh your blues vocabulary, you can turn things around with these characteristic and enduring motifs

One of the staples of blues playing, both ancient and modern, is the turnaround - and it offers a great opportunity to add some real authenticity to what might otherwise be just another pentatonic solo.

A small twist on a classic formula can remind us why these motifs became so popular

It's easy to be cynical and call some of these ideas clichés, when in fact a small twist on a classic formula can remind us why these motifs became so popular and deserve instead to be called 'essential vocabulary'.

We have five examples here, which are based around an eight-bar gospel-style 12/8 blues, many of them incorporating a hybrid picking approach, as so many old blues licks do.

We've tried to put each idea in a musical context - the aural equivalent of a 'serving suggestion', if you like.

For more blues playing tips, check out our revitalising 12-bar blues tips and 8 essential blues guitar lead tricks.

Lick 1

Lick 1

Lick 1

Perhaps more usually heard descending in a lower register, this example reverses those conventions, keeping a traditional feel but treading slightly newer ground. It mixes in really well with the C blues scale, which, of course, we've kept in mind all along!

Lick 1 tab (fullscreen)

Lick 2

Lick 2

Lick 2

Using these chromatic shifting triads, keeping the C on top is another classic move, often used in blues piano. It's worth taking the time to choose the most comfortable fingering for you, but at this tempo it shouldn't present too many problems.

Lick 2 tab (fullscreen)

Lick 3

Lick 3

Lick 3

This example takes a more fragmented approach, borrowing the moving 6ths motif from many a classic turnaround, mixing in some blues scale and a 'piano' lick to finish. Robin Trower certainly makes ideas like this sound fresh and dynamic.

Lick 3 tab (fullscreen)

Lick 4

Lick 4

Lick 4

These Red House style descending dominant 7th triads are a really traditional device, going all the way back to Robert Johnson and probably before. As with the other examples, we've changed the pickup selection around to put a different slant on this. A bit of a wobble with the bar makes things more contemporary, too.

Lick 4 tab (fullscreen)

Lick 5

Lick 5

Lick 5

Moving to the often misunderstood bridge pickup, this is probably the simplest of all the examples, but brings in a couple of 6ths as a nod to more traditional turnarounds. The tone is more aggressive, too, but the sound is slightly crunchy rather than dirty, so it still sits happily in this context.

Lick 5 tab (fullscreen)

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