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more... IntermediateLessonsJune 2009

Blues Turnarounds & Tags


From The Guitarist's Survival Guide
Imagine your bandleader points to you midway through whatever song you’re playing. What could that mean? Well, chances are, unless the song is “Happy Birthday” and they’re giving you a surprise honor, it probably means it’s time for an impromptu guitar solo! And if you don’t have a reasonable number of licks that sound “in the style,” you may wish that you never took your guitar out of its case!

Licks are musical phrases that can be used in a soloing context, to “fill in” behind the singer’s vocal phrases, or to dress up the end of a tune. The guitar is frequently the instrument that fills in—particularly in blues, country, jazz, and rock styles. Try learning as many licks as you can in every conceivable style until they become second nature and you can whip ’em out at will. An added bonus of having a versatile vocabulary of licks is that if you and your band members are good improvisers, you can stretch out the length of your songs, meaning you can “survive” with fewer songs in your set.

Turnarounds
A turnaround is a kind of lick that’s used to fill in at the end of the 12-bar blues form, prompting the band to “turn around” and go back to the beginning of the form.

In the following blues turnaround, a chromatically descending arrangement of sixths is articulated using a combination of pick and fingers (measure 1), while an E9 chord—the V chord in an A blues—puts the cap on it in the final measure. Notice that the E9 chord is preceded from one half step above (the distance of one fret) with an F9 chord. This half-step movement into the V chord—approaching it from above or below—is a common characteristic of most blues turnarounds.

Listen

Other versions of blues turnarounds can be created using approaches like double stops and arpeggiation, as well as phrasing devices like bending and hammer-ons/pull-offs. Here are a few turnarounds using different combinations of the aforementioned techniques. Notice that each of them uses chromaticism in one form or another—in a single-note, double-stop, or chord context.

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Listen


Tags
How many times have you jammed on a blues tune with your buddies and not been able to bring the song to an effective conclusion? With a few tags in your bag of licks, this problem will cease to exist.

A tag is a musical phrase that’s usually executed by the person playing the final solo in a number, signifying the end of the song. Play through the following E minor pentatonic (E–G–A–B–D) blues tag, gradually slowing down its tempo as you work your way towards the closing chord (E9). Remember: All eyes will be on you at this point—it’s your job to cue the band. And the crowd goes wild!


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Of course, just as we encountered with turnarounds, tags can also be varied using double stops, microtonal bends, and the like. Run your fingers through these next three blues tags, adapt them to other keys, and then try creating some of your own.

Listen
   

Listen
   

Listen