30-day guitar challenge, day 1: Learn to play 3 simple blues turnarounds

Three simple variations on a highly versatile theme
Three simple variations on a highly versatile theme

30-day guitar challenge: So, here we are: day 1. Let's start with something straightforward yet essential for all players: variations on the classic blues turnaround.

Adapted for styles as diverse as rock, blues and jazz, the humble turnaround has been used for more than 100 years.

These cunning changeovers lead the listener's ear with a strong 'pull' back to the beginning of the progression, giving the feel that you are recycling or 'turning around' the whole chord sequence.

In a standard 12-bar blues, the turnaround typically occurs in the last two bars. The simplest idea is to use a 'V chord' to lead you back to the root chord. In the key of E, B7 (the V chord) has this leading effect into the E root chord. There are many variations on this theme, and we'll look at three common ideas.


This turnaround in E uses a common descending pattern in bar 1 that's based on an E major arpeggio, moving down chromatically. The B9 chord in bar 2 is a bluesier variation on B7 (made more bluesy by approaching from a C9). If this were a full 12-bar blues, you'd expect an E root chord to follow the B9 as you restart the progression.


There are two common moves in a blues turnaround: a descending run (E, D, C#, C, B) and an ascending (E, G#, A, B b , B). They both finish on the crucial B root note of the all-important V chord. Here, we combine both patterns, moving in opposite directions. Practise first with the higher notes to hear the strong sound of this turnaround.


The blues turnaround isn't limited to a V-I move. In some blues progressions, and especially jazz, a I-VI-II-V chord progression extends the idea with more complex harmony. Normally in C, the chords would be Cmaj7, Am7, Dm7, G7. We've 'jazzed' them up with a Joe Pass-style walking bass line.

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