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Turnaround Blues Guitar Licks

Welcome to the tenth video of the Blues Guitar Quick-Start Series. In this lesson, we’re going to talk about turnaround blues licks. Don’t worry if you don’t know what those are because I’ll explain that in detail. I’ll also teach you a couple of turnaround blues licks you can use in your solos.

A few lessons ago, we talked about how to make your licks fit with the chord you’re playing over. A blues turnaround lick is a lick that is custom made to fit over the chords in the last two measures of the standard 12-bar blues progression. Essentially, these licks are made to play over the 1 chord and the 5 chord. Since we’re playing in the key of E, these will be an E chord and a B chord.

Many guitar players will memorize turnaround licks because the last two measures of the 12-bar blues progression go by quickly. It’s nice to have a solid lick that will always be there, ready to play, especially as you’re getting back around to the beginning of the progression again.

Keeping this in mind, I’m going to teach you three different turnaround licks that you can use in your blues solos. The first turnaround blues lick incorporates a popular technique, which is hitting the root note with a strong downbeat over the 1 chord on the first beat of measure eleven.

You can follow along with the tab on-screen, and you’ll see the first note you play is the open low E string. Next you’ll play the third fret of the B string and the fourth fret of the G string, but because they have the slash mark in front of them, you’ll slide up to those notes from below. You’ll also hit the open high E string as you strum. Strum those three notes together six times in total. Next you’ll see a slash in front of the second fret of the G string, so slide down to that note, then play the open G, followed by the second fret of the D string.

For the second measure, which brings us to the 5 chord, we’re going to walk up the blues scale. Starting on the low E string, play the open E, followed by the third fret of the E string. Play the open A string, the first fret of the A string, and finish off with the second fret of the A string.

Take this first turnaround blues lick slowly as you connect the dots for the whole thing. Watch the video to see me play an example of how it will sound.

The next lick is a bit more challenging because it involves plucking as opposed to strumming. It starts again with a strong downbeat, on an E power chord. Next, make a bar with your index finger across the top three strings. Even though you won’t be playing the B string, it’s easier to just make a bar. Using your second and third fingers on your strumming hand, pluck the high E and D strings. Next, place your fourth finger on the sixth fret of the D string and play that note with your pick or thumb. Follow that by plucking the high E and D strings again.

You don’t have to pluck strings with your strumming hand, but if you do choose to just strum this rhythm, you can’t use a bar since you would be letting your B string ring out. You would need to use first and second finger to grab the notes on the first and third strings, and place your fourth finger on the D string.

To continue with the lick, move this same shape down one fret and continue the fingers and pick pattern. Move your shape down one more fret and repeat the pattern once more. That completes the first measure of this lick.

The second measure starts with the first fret of the G string and the open high E picked together. To finish the lick, play the open A, the first fret of the A string, and the second fret of the A string.

If you’re playing with your fingers, one thing that helps me gets separation between the notes is to play the first two notes together, come down with my pinky, and let off the pressure of my index finger. When I go back to the plucking, I let off the pressure on my pinky. If you don’t let off the pressure, the notes may end up bleeding together. You may or may not want the notes to bleed together depending on the style you want to portray.

The next turnaround lick we’re going to learn also comes up in the next lesson, when we learn to play our blues riff with some lead lines interjected. This lick starts with the strong downbeat on the E power chord again. Then take your third and fourth fingers on the G and high E strings and slide up to the notes on the fourth fret. You can pick or strum these notes, but I like to pick them so the B string doesn’t ring out.

Play these two notes twice together, and then move down to the third fret to play those two notes there twice, and then finish the measure by playing those two notes on the second fret twice. For the second measure, make a B7 chord. Place your second finger on the second fret of the A string, first finger on the first fret of the D string, third finger on the second fret of the G, and fourth finger on the second fret of the high E. Play the A, D, and G strings individually and then strum across the top two strings.

Now that you know what a turnaround lick is and have played through a couple of them, you can start developing your own collection of turnaround licks. Listen to some of your favorite guitar players and add their turnaround licks to your library.

Pull up one of the jam tracks, either 70 beats per minute or 100 beats per minute, and try to throw some turnaround licks in your playing. If you can’t think that far ahead yet, then try just counting along until you get to measures eleven and twelve of the jam track. Once you get there you can try to throw in a turnaround lick. Check out the end of the video to see me play an example of what a turnaround lick can sound like in context.

In the next lesson, we’re going to take everything you’ve learned in this series and put it together by adding some lead licks into the intermediate rhythm blues guitar riff that you’ve already learned.