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3 Delta Blues Turnarounds that Will Make You a Better Blues Player

Lesson ID: TB415

The entire Blues progression builds toward the turnaround.

It’s a big deal.

Because the turnaround is so important, it pays to have plenty in your repertoire. So if your basic blues turnarounds are getting a little worn, look to the Delta Blues greats for inspiration.

Delta Blues guitar has a sneaky way of sounding simpler than it is and that’s true with the turnarounds too. The Delta finesse gives us pickers a great opportunity to level up our skills.

Let’s dive into three Delta Blues turnarounds that can be tricky to learn but will help you play better blues.

Johnny Shines The Wind is Blowin’

The first turnaround is based on one played by Johnny Shines in the song The Wind Is Blowin’. Johnny is a phenomenal Delta Blues player and this turnaround teaches us an important lesson.

Sometimes less is more.

Making a point with a single string can be difficult.

Plus, it can be hard to switch between the big movements of a Delta rhythm and the small movement of a single string.

To do this well, you need complete control of your picking dynamics – how hard or soft you pick.

Here’s a simple plan to practice this:

Play the first bar of the turnaround quietly – very quietly. But for Bar 2, play loudly. Loop the two bars playing at these two extremes. Then, after a few rounds, normalize those extremes a bit. Play delicately for Bar 1 and with a bit more intensity for Bar 2.

This is controlling the dynamics.

This is finesse.

Robert Johnson’s Me and the Devil Blues

It’s hard discuss Delta Blues turnarounds without including Robert Johnson.

Johnson gave us many wonderful turnarounds. At first listen, you may think they aren’t difficult for the intermediate player to learn. True, but if you dig a little deeper, you’ll discover the nuance. It turns out, the devil is in the details and it’s the details that make all the difference.

This turnaround in A inspired by *Me and the Devil Blues* is a prime example.

There’s a subtle, hidden trick.

I regularly play a simplified version of this turnaround by omitting the note on the 3rd string.

Simple works.

But you can level up your skills by holding the A on the 3rd string while pedaling the high A and descending chromatically on the 4th string.

Here’s how to pull this one off:

The Long A Stretch

This Long A Stretch can be difficult for most and impossible for others.

While there are always workarounds for tough chords, I recommend learning this Long A chord shape. It shows up in countless Piedmont and Delta Blues songs. It’s important.

Check out this strategy for nailing the Long A chord if it’s difficult for you.

That said, you may find it easier (*not easy*) to release the barre on the second fret like I do.

Thumbpicking

The difficult notes – aside from the stretch – are on the 4th and 3rd strings. As a fingerpicker, you may be inclined to pinch these with your thumb and index finger.

That will work, but things get a little tight.

Instead, push through with the thumb to play these two strings together. Take care to avoid the 2nd string especially if you’re not barring across the strings.

The Devil Really is in the Details

See how this “simple” turnaround hides a few tricky bits?

If you’ve been playing this turnaround without the 3rd string, give this a shot. It really will help you level up your skills and reach for some of that Robert Johnson finesse.

Charley Patton’s 34 Blues

The final turnaround is by the “Father of the Delta Blues,” Charley Patton.

Patton’s song, 34 Blues features a quick paced, country blues turnaround in C.

The challenge?

Timing.

Mr. Patton adds an extra beat to turnaround – somewhere. The extra beat could be part of the 1st bar or the 2nd depending on how you count this. And that’s the best way to nail the timing here:

Count.

Rock and Blues players tend to feel rhythms in 4/4 time. This can make odd meters like this turnaround difficult to perform.

Count out loud.

It helps.

In Summary

Turnarounds give Blues pickers an opportunity to let their unique voice come through.

This creates a prime spot for blues pickers to level up their skills.

Learn as many turnarounds as you can.

Go beyond the simplified versions of your favorite turnaround. Get into the details and become a better Blues player.

Play On!

When you are ready, there are two ways I can help you:

Back Porch Blues Course:  A proven system to fingerpicking the blues.  This step-by-step course guides you through building fundamental fingerpicking skills.  Plus, you’ll learn three levels of a delta blues style performance study to put your new skills into action.

Become a myBGI Member: Membership comes with access to Back Porch Blues plus over 70 step-by-step courses.  Get proven results with one of myBGI’s structured Roadmaps.

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