Playing the Classic Blues Turnaround in Any Key
Let’s start by having a look at one of the most iconic blues turnarounds.
This turnaround works great in the key of E in part because we land nicely into this E Major chord the end of the phrase. Then, the second measure makes a big statement with the B7, the dominant five chord. This turnaround structure is a fantastic blueprint for us to use though you will find countless variations of it.
Let’s have a closer look at the turnaround.
The chord we start with is an E7 though it doesn’t contain the root note, E. Still, we’re going to take the shape and move it down chromatically three times as we pick through the chord tones.
This resolves to the E Major chord.
In the second measure, we step chromatically into the V chord which is B7 in this case. This dominant sound has a strong pull back to the I chord. That pull to the I is what makes this work so well as a turnaround.
With that structure in mind, let’s move this into a different key. We could move this to any key as long as we maintain that structure we just covered.
For our example, let’s move this into C#.
Knowing that the E chord is our I chord, we simply need to move our I chord up to C#.
But the turnaround really starts with the falling chromatic move three frets higher.
We kind of checked all the boxes, we’ve got our chromatic move down on the 3rd string and we emphasize the V chord in the second measure. Now let’s bring in full chords so that this turnaround in C# sounds full like the example in E.
Now, let’s look at a very popular modification of that turnaround.
The Classic Turnaround with a Pedal Tone
This turnaround is very similar but we use the open 1st string as a pedal tone as we continue through the chromatic descent.
Just like before, we can move this turnaround into any key. Let’s have a look at this same turnaround played in C# as an example.
If we simply move this up the neck into C#, you will encounter a very difficult stretch as shown in the video. No worries, we can modify this to avoid the stretch. We’ll just need to move the C# pedal tone to the 2nd string like this:
Pro Tip: There’s always a workaround!
Now, let’s have a look at our last example.
Robert Johnson’s Turnaround in A
This one is very useful and is a tip of the hat to none other than blues king, Robert Johnson.
Let’s dive into the structure of this one.
Much like Example 2 above, we pedal our root note on the first string which in this case is an A note. Then we walk down chromatically for the rest of the measure, but this time on the 4th string. Like before, we will punctuate the second measure with our V chord in this case is E (or you could use an E7).
Now, let’s move this into our example key, C#.
We start with the C# on the 1st string and the 4th string starts on the same fret. Then, walk it down on the 4th string.
Follow up by strumming the I chord followed by the V chord. For each chord, you can use a simplified voicing of the chord that utilizes just a few tones like Example 3a. Or you can opt for the full chords like this example:
You can play these turnarounds in any key on the guitar. Just find your starting point, the key of the turnaround and build from there. Keep in mind, as you move things into different positions, you may need to alter things slightly to make the notes accessible just like we did in the 3rd example above.
Over to you…
Take your favorite turnaround and transpose it into a random key. Try to test yourself by making it a key you would rarely, if ever, use. How about D# for example?
With some practice, you’ll be able to do this on the fly with confidence. Nail your next jam session by being able to play great blues like these turnarounds in any key.
It takes time, but it’s worth the work.