In blues music, the turnaround is a familiar companion. You may recognise the sound of a turnaround from the start or end of your favourite blues tracks.
Typically, a turnaround is a 2 bar phrase that sits over the 11th and 12th bars of your usual 12 bar blues and acts to “turn around” the phrase back to the first chord. There are plenty of instances where turnarounds have been used to start a track, the 2 bar phrase would lead into the first bar where the whole band might enter.
A turnaround can also be used to end a song, and often is. Many blues artists will use the turnaround to end a track followed by the root chord of the song in the form of a big sounding ending with every member of the band making some noise around that chord.
In this lesson we will be looking at 15 fun and easy turnarounds you can add to your blues repertoire today.
Guitar Tab showing Turnaround 1 containing picked notes in the key of E Minor.
This first turnaround is in the key of E minor. The rhythm in the first bar is broken up into triplets, meaning each beat will contain three notes. If you play the initial two notes on the 9th fret with your third finger on the D string and little finger on the G, this will free up your other fingers to play the descending notes as the little finger holds the G in place.
Guitar Tab showing Turnaround 2 containing picked notes, string skipping and slides in the key of E Minor.
The triplets in this example are quarter note triplets meaning each three notes will cover 2 beats of the bar as this turnaround is a slower one. This would work great at the end of an acoustic blues.
This turnaround contains a string skip all the way through, with fretted notes on the G and open notes on the E. For a real delta blues feel, slide into the first note of each group.
The third bar of this turnaround ends on an E chord, if you are using this as an ending this is a great way to wrap it up. If you are using this turnaround mid phrase, then replace that E chord with the first bar of your next 12 bar cycle.
Guitar Tab showing Turnaround 3 containing descending chords and a lead line from the E Minor Pentatonic Scale with an added Major 3rd.
This E minor turnaround starts with a triplet feel, descending chordal pattern. The chord takes the shape of a standard D7 chord but descending chromatically from the 4th fret down to the 2nd, before switching at the end of the second bar to the highest 3 notes of an E Major chord. This turnaround also has a third bar incorporating a short lead lick descending in the E Minor pentatonic scale with an added Major 3rd note (1st fret of the G).
Guitar Tab showing Turnaround 4 containing descending dyads on the B and E strings with a short lead line.
This turnaround has a triplet feel, except we are missing out the middle note. A great way to get into this rhythm is to play each triplet three times, then when you have the passage in your mind, skip the middle note. This will give the impression that you are accenting the descending changes.
There is a third bar containing a short lead line running up the E Minor pentatonic using the Major 3rd on the G string. While the major 3rd note technically isn’t in the minor key, it adds an interesting flavour to any blues lick. The lick ends by playing two notes on the 5th fret of the B along with the open E. This is the same note, but sliding into the 5th fret will cause a slight clash before your slide reaches the unison note.
Guitar Tab showing Turnaround 5 containing a moving bass line with a constant high note and string skipping.
This turnaround has two parts working together at the same time. Along the high E string, the triplet pattern only plays this string open, however, on the Low E and A string, there is a melodic movement that follows the same rhythm. At the start of the third bar the run comes to an end with the second fret of the A string coupled with the open E.
This is then rounded up with the A string played open and on the 1st fret before landing on an E chord.
Guitar Tab showing Turnaround 6 containing a repeated picking pattern with a descending bass note before ending on a C9 and B9 chord.
This turn around contains triplets but in an ascending picking pattern with a fretted note on the D string and the open G and B strings. The patterns fretted note descends along the D string before the final bar ending with two chords, C9 and B9. This makes for a great ending to a song and you may hear this type of chordal ending in many blues classics.
Guitar Tab showing Turnaround 7 containing a delta blues style turn around with higher register chords played in a triplet feel.
This E minor turnaround has a delta blues feel. Starting higher up the neck playing the 12th fret on the D and B strings along with the open G string in between. Each triplet is made up of the three notes played together, followed by the lowest note and finally all three again.
The fourth triplet group will slide back and forth from the 8th to the 7th frets and back again before ending back on the 12th fret chord you started with.
Guitar Tab showing Turnaround 8 containing a turnaround that chromatically ascends from a G# to a B before ending with a C9 and B9 chord.
This turnaround is a fun one to play, it has an ascending pattern rather than a descending. It starts with the initial triplet group all focused around open strings. Each of the remaining triplet groups have a rest on the first note.
The fretted notes ascend on the second and third notes of each triplet group and this carries over into the second bar before ending with the C9 and B9 chords. Ascending on the back end of each triplet makes this turnaround feel like it’s pushing the rhythm. This is a great one to end a fast blues track with.
Guitar Tab showing Turnaround 9 containing a Robert Johnson style delta blues turnaround played in a high register on the guitar involving wide stretches and barring of strings.
Here is a Robert Johnson style delta blues turnaround, once again quite high up the fretboard. Position your little finger on the 12th fret of the E string and I would recommend barring the 9th fret. Although when picking, you are skipping out the G string, having the first finger barre this fret means when you move to the 10th fret you can simply shift the whole finger up a fret.
You may be able to maintain the barre when you reach the 11th fret, if not, don’t worry. You can simply bar it with your first finger and use another finger to play the 12th fret.
When you reach the 12th fret barred, you can do this with one finger. Notice the picking pattern on this final chord shape does not play the single string at the end of each triplet. This turnaround should have a building feel and works well if you gradually get louder up to the last chord.
Guitar Tab showing Turnaround 10 containing a lead guitar style turnaround in the style of Eric Clapton. The notes are taken from the E Minor pentatonic scale with the added Major 3rd and Flat 5th notes.
Turnarounds can often take shape as a lead line and this is a perfect example. This is reminiscent of the turnaround phrase that opens Eric Clapton’s blues hit Before you Accuse Me. The notes are taken from the E Minor Pentatonic scale and include the Major 3rd (1st fret on the G) and the b5 (1st fret on the A – otherwise known as the blues note).
The lead line should be played as straight eighth notes to start until the end where you can hold the final notes as long a you please before ending on the two chords shown. This turnaround is designed to be played as a “feeling it” piece where the length between the last note and the chords can be decided on the go if you’re playing in a band situation.
Guitar Tab showing Turnaround 11 containing a descending, string skipping pattern before ending on a bar chord which contains a hammer on taking the chord from minor to major.
This turnaround is in the key of A Minor and is based around single note triplets that frame the shape of some of the chords we used in earlier turnarounds. The descending triplets should feel somewhat natural by this stage as you will have seen this idea a few times in this lesson.
This turn around ends with a barred chord across the 5th fret of the G, B and E strings. This is the higher part of an A Minor chord. Once you strum the barred notes, with your middle finger, hammer on to the 6th fret of the G. This turns the chord into a Major briefly before you end on the 7th fret of the D string.
Guitar Tab showing Turnaround 12 containing a slide guitar style triplet feel before going into a lead guitar line.
This turnaround starts with a chord that you slide into position, this will give you the sort of sound you could expect from a bottleneck slide style lick. Play this as a triplet over the first bar before going into a straight eighth note lead line to finish.
This line uses the A Minor Pentatonic scale but with the added major 3rd in the first part and in the chord to end.
Guitar Tab showing Turnaround 13 containing ascending dyads with a constant note on the 9th fret of the G and a moving note on the D string. The turnaround also contains an F7#9 and E7#9 chord.
Here is another ascending turnaround in the key of E Minor. This uses the same form as the first turnaround in this lesson except the notes on the D string are now being played ascending and at the same time as the 9th fret on the G.
Anchor your little finger on the 9th fret of the G to allow you to stretch back to the 6th fret of the D comfortably and play a triplet motion, moving the index finger up a fret each triplet.
When you reach the 9th fret on both strings, let this ring to the end of the bar. End the turn around by playing two chords, F7#9 and E7#9, otherwise known as the Hendrix chord. This is a fantastic chord to end a blues jam with.
Guitar Tab showing Turnaround 14 containing a contrapuntal melody made up of an ascending bass line and a descending melody line in the key of E Minor.
This turnaround is an example of a contrapuntal melody. A contrapuntal melody is two melody lines that run in tandem, one ascending and one descending.
If you view this turn around as a high and a low part you will see that the lower notes ascend and the higher notes descend. These sorts of turnarounds can create the impression of two separate instruments playing and work great when playing acoustic blues as the player can fill a lot of space.
This is in the key of E minor and ends on an E7 chord.
Guitar Tab showing Turnaround 15 containing a contrapuntal melody the same as the previous turnaround but transposed into the key of A Minor. This contains some large stretches.
This turnaround is the same contrapuntal melody as the previous, but transposed to the key of A Minor. The difference between the two is that previously, you had some open strings but transposing this means there are some stretches.
Notably the stretch from the 4th fret on the A to the 8th fret on the B. Take your time with this one as each two note segment will require a different finger shape.
The ending chord is an A7 played as a barre chord but this can easily be substituted for an A7 chord in the open position.
All these turnarounds can be moved to any key of your choosing, or you can take the concepts explained here and come up with your own turnarounds. There are no set rules about what a turnaround is, but use these as a guide and use your ears, listen to the blues greats and let them inspire your creativity.
When transposing these to different keys, take note of any containing open strings, these open strings will need to be transposed to the position of the root note of your new key. For example, anything being transposed to A, the open strings would now sit on the 5th fret.