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Adding Intros, Turnarounds, and Endings to the 12-Bar Blues Progression

6 of 11 in Series: The Essentials of Developing Blues Guitar Techniques

Although the 12-bar blues progression has a signature blues sound, if you plan to play blues, rock, or jazz guitar on a regular basis, you'll want to learn how to accessorize the 12-bar blues. Intros, turnarounds, and endings are common enhancements to the 12-bar blues that are used to steer the song toward repeats or resolutions.

Intros

An intro often features a solo lick by the guitar, piano, or other instrument, but sometimes the whole band plays the intro, and the guitar is expected to play rhythms. Intros often borrow from their turnaround cousins, because the whole idea is to set up the I chord and the beginning of the progression.

The rhythm in this two-bar intro features a syncopation and then a held note, which creates a musical space (or hole) before the downbeat of the 12-bar progression. This space allows room for a vocal or instrumental melodic pickup — a phrase that starts before bar one.

A simple two-bar intro.
A simple two-bar intro.

The following passage is a four-bar intro that is just the last four bars of the 12-bar blues. This intro is popular and is often announced by a musicians saying, "Let's bring it in from the V ('the five')," or "Let's walk it down from the V."

A four-bar blues intro.
A four-bar blues intro.

Turnarounds

A turnaround bar is a bar that substitutes a V chord for a I chord in the last bar of the progression — bar 12 in a 12-bar blues. A true full turnaround is, at minimum, a two-bar phrase that goes from the I chord to the V chord. There are many variations to the turnaround; the following figure shows you only one.

A simple two-bar turnaround in A using the Jimmy Reed move and syncopation.
A simple two-bar turnaround in A using the Jimmy Reed move and syncopation.

The following figure shows a more elaborate turnaround using one chord for every two beats — five different chords in all: C, C7, F, Fm, and G7 — all in the space of two bars.

A two-bar turnaround in G with chord changes every two beats.
A two-bar turnaround in G with chord changes every two beats.

Endings

Endings are closely related to turnarounds, except for the last part of the last measure. The last measure terminates on a I chord of some type.

image4.jpg

A slow blues like this often ends on a ninth chord (in this case, E9). Ending on a ninth chord adds a jazzy, bluesy flavor that a simple major chord can't even begin to approach.

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