How To Create A Blues Turnaround

A turnaround is a short chord progression that takes you back to the start of a song, a solo section or even takes you to a new key. Sometimes they are used as an introduction or an ending to a song. The chords of a turnaround range from simple to complicated, but all turnarounds are basically a harmonic embellishment or an expansion of a basic I-V-I progression. Let’s see how to build a turnaround from scratch!

First, start with a I-V-I progression. In the key of C, the I chord is C and the V chord is G. In a blues, it’s best to use 7th chords, so the I-V-I progression is C7-G7-C7.

I-V-I in C

Next, expand the progression by backfilling it with secondary dominants. A secondary dominant is just the dominant chord of a dominant chord. In this example, D7 is the V of G7, A7 is the V of D7. (Note that this expanded progression, A7-D7-G7-C7, is a segment of the circle of fifths.) Shorten the duration of the new chords to keep the overall length the same as the original progression.

I-VI-II-V-I in C

Now that we have the basic harmonic structure of the turnaround, we can add some embellishments to it to make it sound more musical. Let’s start by adding a bassline. To add a simple walking bassline, approach the root of each chord by half step from above or below. Here, G# goes to A, Eb to D, Ab to G, and B to C. Try experimenting with other possibilities.

Turnaround with Walking Bassline

Finally, add some upper notes to fill out the chords. I like to squeeze in the chords between bass notes to create a comping effect. Try not to use too many notes in your chords. 3rds and 7ths work best.

Turnaround with Walking Bassline and Chords

To summarize:

Click here for pdf.

Please check out these blues studies for guitar!

Easy: Blues Study in E

More challenging: Etudes in Blue

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