How To Spice Up Your Blues Guitar Playing With Turnarounds

Blues is a great style to jam with other guitar players and musicians. It doesn’t matter if you consider yourself to be a blues player or not, with just a little knowledge and know how, you can easily find your way around in a blues jam.

As your skills improve, you will be able to do more, but starting out by simply strumming some basic chords across what is known as a 12 bar blues, the most common form of the blues, is enough to jam out with any musician on any level.

Today’s article is going to focus on a particular area of the 12 bar blues called the turnaround. Before we get stuck into that however, here is the basic 12 bar blues form in the key of E:

The turnaround is considered to be the last 2 bars of the 12 bar blues. Here is the same 12 bar blues form in E, only with the turnaround highlighted:

There are many ways you can approach a turnaround regarding what to play, the most simple being to play the existing chords, so in our key that would be the E7 and B7.

Blues Turnaround Ideas 

If you are playing a blues with a vocal, you will find that the turnaround generally won’t have any singing over it, so it’s a great opportunity to do something a little more interesting than just playing the basic chords. 

Here are some cool sounding, cliched riffs you will hear very often when jamming the blues. You would do great to learn each of these, as you will get a lot of mileage out of them in your own blues jamming.

Blues Turnaround 1

Blues Turnaround 2

Blues Turnaround 3

Blues Turnaround 4

Watch the video below for an excerpt from a masterclass I conducted with a good friend of mine on the blues. Here you can watch a break down, and play through of each turnaround example above.

Applying Blues Turnarounds To Your Guitar Playing

Now you have a bunch of turnarounds under your fingers, what do you do next?

In the video below check out these turnarounds being played in the context of a 12 bar blues in E.

The first part of the video will show you how two different guitar players can play different turnarounds, in the same key of course, at the same time to get some cool sounds. So basically mixing and matching turnarounds.

The second part of the video will demonstrate the turnaround being applied across a 12 bar blues in the context of jamming. The turnaround will occur each time in the last 2 bars of the 12 bar form, as shown in the basic 12 bar progression at the beginning of this article.

So there you have it, the blues turnaround. Take the ideas you have learned in this article and apply them to your own blues playing and jamming. This is a vitally important step to take. If you only learn these turnarounds, but never experiment with them and apply them to your own playing, then you really haven’t learned anything at all. 

What I have presented to you in this article is a starting point, not an end point. So get to work, and remember have fun because that is what playing guitar, and the blues, is all about!


From Melbourne, Australia, Simon Candy is a professional guitar instructor. Always in high demand, Simon teaches, trains, and mentors his students to play guitar the way they’ve always dreamed. In addition to this, Simon also teaches acoustic guitar lessons online