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Blues Guitar Lessons: Turnarounds

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Now we've been looking at all kinds
of ways of creating textures in
the rhythm section and so forth.
But we're still looking at the same
basic pattern for the turnaround.
We've been using it since the beginning
which is you know, one, and two, and
three, and four.
And that works pretty good.
That's a you know,
a kind of a standard, default rhythm,
it fits almost every situation.
However, when you listen to blues you hear
lots of stuff going on in the turnaround.
It's actually a time when
there's a lot of activity, and
all the different instruments have their
approaches to playing the turnaround.
And so we're going to look at, which we
could call classic blues turnarounds.
Classic is almost in the literal sense,
because blues became a popular style.
I talked just for
a minute about WC Handy, and how he got
inspired by blues and he started writing
arrangements of blues, and in his day,
which is way back in the beginning of the
20th century there weren't any records So
the way that you distributed
music was by sheet music, and
it was just assumed everybody read
music and they all played piano.
It was like, wow, imagine that.
So sheet music, piano rolls, right?
The player piano where you install
the piano roll has holes punched in it and
it just spins and
the piano plays itself, right?
That's how people learned music and
listened to music before
they had radios and records.
Well finally,
records started coming out and
becoming popular a few years later and
the first
popular blues record was a record called
Crazy Blues by a singer named Mamie Smith.
Came out in 1920.
You listen to that today and you say, wow,
that doesn't sound like the blues
that I am used to, and it doesn't.
It sounds like a jazz band with horns and
piano and banjo.
It's a whole different concept, but
that's what pop music
sounded like back in the day.
And, it was derived in part
from the predecessor to blues as
a popular style, was called rag time.
And, rag time was a rhythmically and
harmonically complex style.
Now the point is not that, which other
people do much better than I do.
The point is that what you hear there
is this certain kind of a cycle,
a chord cycle which was
typical of ragtime.
And that chord cycle,
that way of arranging chords,
sort of bled into blues in a parallel way.
Barbershop quartets.
How dry I am.
You know, you got four guys
wearing striped shirts and
they are all singing in harmony.
Those were part of the popular music scene
and as popular music does, you all kind of
interbreed and come up with a hybrid
style and blues was not immune to that.
Separate style that had its
commercial aspects, certainly.
And the first wave of blues in
the early 20s was called classic blues.
And it was sung by female singers,
singing in front of what we would
now think of as a jazz band.
It really had a different sound.
Wasn't until the mid 20s when
Blind Lemon Jefferson came out as a male
guitar player singer playing down
home blues guitar, and singing songs.
And we say, now,
that sounds more like blues, you know?
So, the turnarounds we're talking
about here are really kinda
dating back to the classic blues era.
They have theat quality to them.
So, what's happening here, and
I'm sorry for the digression, but
it leads us back to the turnaround.
We've got the turnaround changes.
Let's say we're in the key of A and
we've got our five chord.
Here comes the turnaround.
One, two, three, four, one.
Now, in classic blues there's
a lot more going on in there.
It would be more like five.
>> [MUSIC]
>> Four and then something like A,
A seven, D, D minor, A seven.
In other words, other chords are implied.
In the harmony.
And the barbershop guys would imply
those chords when they sang their
barber shop harmonies and
you would hear them in the harmony of the
classic blues rhythm section and so forth.
Now none of that stuff has really survived
per se except that piano players,
arrangers, and guitar players came up
with ways of expressing that sound,
by playing certain licks.
And those licks have come down to
us sounding something like this.
Like Robert
He played that like all the time.
So, to understand classic turn arounds,
it helps to sort of have that context for
what they move the way that they move.
And so what a classic turn around is
essentially it's a moving melody.
That fits over the chord changes.
And the chord changes are one,
four, one, and five.
And so you hear the melody
moving against those changes.
All right.
Now in each case I am
playing a half-step melody.
When you compare the melody to the bass
notes, you've gotta hear how that
harmony sounds like it's moving.
It's almost like a classical thing,
Without getting too
much fancier than that.
Let's just say that the results are we
come up with some basic turnaround licks
that you hear all the time, and
that you can apply to a lot of
different classic blues progressions.
So, for example, let me give you
a couple of these licks in context here.
They are all basically constructed
the same in terms of time,
so this is how it's gonna work out here.
I'll play you one and
I'll explain it to you.
So, playing our blues in A,
here comes the turn around,
coming right up.
Here we go and,
So, it's a melodic phrase, combined
with other notes to create sort of
a harmony and then finally capping it off
with the five chord as we typically do.
So its really a lead up to
that final change of the five.
The timing of turn around phrases
is almost always identical.
Its one, and two, and three, four, one.
Babba da, babba da,
babba dop to the five, right?
So it starts on the actually the second
beat of the bar is where the action
So one, two
>> [MUSIC]
>> Five chord and
here comes the turn around.
One, two, three, four, one
So what I'm playing there is
my half step line, and
I'm alternating with the octave
And then capping it off with the five
chord using the standard rhythm that we've
been using all along.
Now the tricky part of all these
turnarounds is to play them in tempo.
To get into the turnaround in tempo,
and get out of the turnaround in tempo.
So you have to practice them in context.
And we're gonna do that in just a second.
I gave you a way to do
that that'll help you out.
[SOUND] So there's one example
of a classic turnaround.
What's another example here?
Let's take the Robert Johnson turnaround.
Turns out,
it's exactly the same as we just played.
[SOUND] But he took that melody.
[SOUND] And moved it down and octave.
Now to play that,
you have to separate the pick and
the fingers.
So, in context
Now I'm finishing the turnaround
off with a little bit of
a phrase that will lead me
back into the rhythm again.
Kinda wanna leave that
hold just empty there.
So you'd see different ways of
kind of linking the end of the turn around
with the beginning of the progression.
That's the so
called Robert Johnson turn around.
He played that in every key,
used it as an intro, used it as an ending.
Use it between courses, it was just
kind of his signature, turnaround.
another one?
Muddy Waters.
Muddy Waters had a turnaround that he
liked to use, which went like this.
so on,
Now that one has two lines
in it that move in harmony.
Fifth string, seventh fret.
Third string, sixth fret.
And they just move up the neck.
Nothing changes.
One fret at a time,
exactly the same shape each time.
And I polish it off with an ending phrase
and get back to my rhythm again, right?
Jimmy Reed, another giant blues,
the shuffle king,
had a favorite turnaround that
he would play went like this.
And so
on, right?
Now, the rhythms that surround it, you
can use the same rhythms that we've been
talking about the whole time, but those.
Those are the essence of
each of those turnarounds.
It's those moving lines..
Now, to really learn the turnarounds,
you have to play them in
the context of the rhythm section.
So I've created a rhythm track for
you that you can use to practice.
And it's a shuffle in A, but it's just
the last four bars in the progression.
We're not gonna play whole 12 bars.
Just the last four bars
of the progression.
And so it starts over again, right?
And so you're really,
plugging those turn arounds in.
If you do it with that
sort of a progression,
when it comes time to do the 12 bar,
it'll slide in there pretty easily.
Let's give that a whack.
We're gonna play the rhythm track
with the looping turnaround.
And I'll play each of these examples for
you so you can kind of
hear how it sounds in context, and then
we'll talk a little bit more [NOISE] okay.
Use the first one,
five, four.
Now, we'll try the second one,
they fade out in between, right?
Robert Johnson.
Old Muddy
Now, that's, wow!
Lot of information coming
at you very fast there.
But if you break each of
those turnarounds down, and
then play them against a rhythm track,
you could play each turnaround four times.
You know,
really get it under your fingers.
You don't have to switch with each one,
So I'm just demonstrating how they sound.
And how similar they are.
Each has its own quality.
Now, two guitar players can play any two
of those turnarounds at the same time and
they sound great.
In fact, they sound better when
you mix them because they kind
of weave around each other,
it sounds very cool.
So, having those four examples of
classic turnarounds under your fingers
is enough to keep you going for
a long time.
You don't hear these
turnarounds all the time.
It's a very stylistic thing.
You might hear them on Chicago
blues because that's where they
were very popular.
Chicago blues came out of delta blues and
they were used a lot in
delta blues you know?
When you get to more modern
styles of blues, quote unquote,
where it's got more of
a contemporary quality to it,
you don't hear those so much because
they represent this older style.
But they're part of every blues
guitar player's vocabulary.
You gotta know how they work and be
able to pull them out at the right time.
Now, the other ingredient here,
before we go, transposing.
How do you play them in different keys?
You know, we tend to learn them as shapes.
And so, I can play them all
in the key of A, I'm fine.
But, all music is not
written in the key of A.
So how do I play them in the key of D,
or the key of G, etc., etc.?
The key is to learn how they
relate to the tonality.
In other words,
the structure of the turnaround.
Where's one?
Key of A, there's one right there.
So I hear my turnaround.
All right Now I want to do the same
turnaround in the key of F.
Okay, where's one?
There's F.
Okay, I want to do the Robert Johnson
turnaround in the key of C.
Where's C?
The Jimmy Reed
turnaround in the key of A flat.
Starts on the third note of the scale.
All right, You get the idea.
So you learn the relationship of
the turnaround phrase to the key,
and once you know that relationship,
you can transpose it to any key you like.
It takes a little bit of effort, but with
your knowledge of the cycle of fourths,
now you've got all your
chord changes together,
it's not that much effort to be
able to kind of suss it out.
And then you'll be ready,
whatever key gets called.
Okay, have fun with that one.
Let's continue our discussion of
turnarounds here with another take on how
to handle the last couple
of bars of the progression.
There's a lot of ways to do it,
and in a sense its not that hard,
I mean there's really no mystery to it.
You need to know some classic turnarounds,
cuz they're
really like little compositions,
and they're part of the style.
But that's only a percentage
of what you're likely to play,
unless you're playing a lot of that style
of music, sort of the Chicago style.
But even in Chicago, there was another way
that players would handle the turnarounds,
and it's more linked to how we play
guitar today, how we solo and so forth,
which is single notes.
And so in typical Chicago style,
turnaround would sound
something like this.
And so
Now what I played there was,
it's just a lick.
It could almost be anything and,
in fact, as a soloist,
you can choose to play a turnaround
using any phrase you got.
Any phrase can be a turnaround as long as
it fits into the whole, and the whole,
as we described it for the classic
turnarounds, is that spot where you go.
Here's your five, four, and
here comes the whole.
It's one, two, three, four, one.
Into the five.
So it's that one bar plus
a beat that you have to fill.
With some kind of a phrase.
So the classic turnarounds
do the trick and
then this turn around I just played for
you, is another way to approach it.
Let me show it to you because its one you
hear on a lot of Chicago style records,
often played simultaneously
with a classic turnaround so
one player goes
and the other ones goes
And it creates this
moment of counterpoint.
It sounds really cool, its almost like.
A composition, but it's improvised.
So the lick is extremely simple.
We play it on the low strings.
We're gonna talk about this part of
the neck in much more detail later on.
But, still in the same area.
If I'm in the key of A around the fifth
thread, starting on the fourth string and
I'm just doing a stylistic
hammer-on thing.
Now, I reach over to the fourth,
sorry the sixth string there,
with my little finger.
We'll talk about how to handle
the low notes there, but in this case,
you do need the little finger to
reach down and kind of give that,
that's a blue note, that's the third.
Give it that little tug.
Now that's a real stylistic ending to
the turnaround there where
I'm in the key of A and
I go up a step, that's B
And then up in half steps to the E,
the five.
So instead of
I come up from below
And that rhythm and that phrase and
the way that whole thing hangs together is
something that players vary,
they change the notes a little bit, but
it's built around that same concept,
pretty consistently.
All right, let's play it together,
I'm gonna play it for
you again in tempo, so
you can grab a hold of it.
This is a practice thing, too.
Okay, so from the five, three four.
Here it comes.
Notice I also cheated,
and used my thumb there.
It's so convenient.
I'm just in the habit of doing it,
and I recommend it.
You got five digits here.
Might as well use them all.
You really extend your range that way.
Now, that lick is often also played in
open position, in the key of A, and
it's a very simple transition.
It's actually easier to play down here.
just using the open strings,
and you can use the open E at
the bottom of the five chord there.
Now as far as how you end it,
Just a simple chord accent there.
Fills in the rest of the bar and
it kinda brings you back into the groove,
in kind of a musical way.
So you've got the lick
in movable position.
Now, if you could play it in A in the
fifth position, you could play it in G.
Or in B
Any key you got, right?
So that's movable,
the A in open position is specific.
Also, E, same lick in E,
open position
Now we use a chord that we learned
earlier, about playing in open E,
it's a real standard chord, the B seven.
Otherwise it's the same exact lick.
So you can practice that using
the progression that we used for
the classic turnarounds,
where it's just five, four, one.
And plug that lick in there.
And a lot of the learning these licks
is simply repetition, and it's so
important that you time it properly.
You have to play it in context.
Don't just practice these
licks all by themselves,
you gotta put them in the progression.
Cuz when the time comes to play them,
they have to be spot on,
otherwise it just sounds wrong,
you know, it just doesn't do the job.
Now, how else can you play turnarounds?
Well like I said earlier,
any way you want.
And when we look at more relatively
modern players [LAUGH] you
guys were only five decades ago
instead of seven decades ago.
The more modern style was when
the electric guitar really,
it really developed its own soloing
vocabulary with string bends.
And you had the really powerful,
powerful stylists like Freddie King,
huge influence.
And Freddie would play turnarounds,
he would not change his style to play
turnarounds in the classic sense.
Except when he was playing
a classic blues song and
he was sorta showing his respect for
the tradition.
But normally, a Freddie King style
turnaround would be something like this.
That's a classic
turnaround in its own right,
of a different era.
But that's just a blues lick, it's the
Playing that blue third.
Just coming down the blues scale,
Nothing to it.
It's all about timing.
And then the last part of the phrase
leads you into the beginning of the next
Now, I'm introducing a note there,
seventh fret on the second string and,
in scale terms, that's the sixth,
sixth degree of the scale.
We're gonna talk about that note.
That's an important note that we haven't
included it in our vocabulary yet.
That will come out though.
We'll use that quite a bit.
So there's an example.
And again you play it in tempo.
so on.
Another variation on the same theme,
something that you hear B.B.
King play, for example.
Where, remember in
the classic turnarounds,
I talked about how it was
based on this ragtime harmony,
the barbershop harmony, where the single
notes where reflecting this chord
progression that nobody was
really playing necessarily.
But they all heard it in the back
of their minds as they were playing
the turnaround lick.
So it was like A, A7, D, D minor, A7.
It had this chromatic half-step
move going on in there.
It was very elegant.
And sort of a little version of that.
Which you might hear B.B.
play would be something like this
Now I'm not playing the rest of his
solo just the turnaround
Something like that.
So what I just did there was
You could hear the A chord.
[SOUND] And the D chord.
there's the return to the five chord.
So the melody of the turnaround
outlines the changes.
Whether the changes are actually
being played or not, they're implied.
And so that's what you would
call a real melodic turn.
Now, we're gonna talk in much more detail
as well about playing changes and
about those chord tones and,
playing over the four chord,
all that kind of stuff that will come up.
But the turnaround itself is
a fairly easy phrase to learn.
And they sound really good,
and if you're soloing and
you play that kind of a turnaround at
the end, it just makes the solo sound
polished, professional, you really did
the job, you brought it back home again.
And it's the mark of
a well-rounded blues player.
So mess around with those things.
You can put them into a solo,
make up your own solo,
of course, using all the elements
we talked about here.
Just toss one of those
turnarounds at the end.
And as always, send me a video of yourself
using it if you're at all confused about
the timing or
the placement of the turnaround.
Send it in to me and
I'd like to take a listen.
I always wanna keep checking up on you and
make sure you getting the right idea.
All right, let's move on.