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Deep Blues: Turnarounds of the Masters

Several turnaround phrases in the style of Eric Clapton, B.B. King and Ronnie Earl.

Chops: Intermediate
Theory: Intermediate
Lesson Overview:
• Learn several turnaround phrases in the style of Eric Clapton, B.B. King and Ronnie Earl.
• Target specific notes in a chord.
• Combine the minor and major pentatonic scales.
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There are a million ways to handle the last four measures of a 12-bar blues. We call this the turnaround because it literally “turns around” the progression and sets up a return to the top of the form. This month, we will take a look at three turnarounds and how you can use these on your next gig. The more turnaround ideas you have to work from the better you’ll sound when it comes to your turn at the weekly blues jam. For these examples, we will stick to the key of A, so let’s get right to it.

Fig. 1 is in the style of Eric Clapton, but I think you’ll be able to hear a little Freddie King in this lick as well. King was a big influence on Clapton’s playing—check out “Hideaway” from the John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers Featuring Eric Clapton album. One idea that has worked its way down the blues family tree is combining both major and minor pentatonic scales.

We begin the lick squarely in A major pentatonic (A–B–C#–E–F#) before moving into minor pentatonic in the second measure. We touch on the major 3rd (C#) in the third measure. In this case, the C# is being added to the A minor pentatonic scale (A–C–D–E–G) as a way to outline the notes of an A7 chord. In the final measure, I add another common element by ending on the root of the V chord. Both King and Clapton used this to firmly establish the end of the turnaround.

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For Fig. 2 we move on to the style of B.B. King and check out what he might play over a slow blues. Similar to the previous example, we also hit on the C# in the first measure to establish the tonality, but in a different way. Here, we are thinking of it as a 13th of the V chord. It goes by pretty fast but still has a major impact on the overall vibe of the lick. A simple, but effective element of the lick happens in the second measure. Over the IV chord (D7) King uses a descending sequence with the notes of the A minor pentatonic scale. The final two measures are based in fifth position with a return to using the 13th in the last measure.

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In Fig. 3 we have a turnaround based on the jazz-influenced style of Ronnie Earl. T-Bone Walker was a huge influence on Earl as this example will demonstrate. This lick moves from the V chord (E9) down to the IV chord (D9) with some chromatic runs thrown in. It starts with a B minor triad (B–D–F#), which functions as the top three notes of an E9 chord then adds both the 13th (C#) and the 9th (F#). It descends chromatically down first to the b7th and then again chromatically down to the third of D9 (F#). Following the chord progression, we will move everything down a whole step and do exactly the same thing. In the last two measures we have just a traditional chromatic descending turn around lick before landing on the V chord.

or download example audio

In order to get the most mileage out of this licks—and to be prepared when confronted with a surprise on the gig or at the next jam session—take them through other keys. Soon you will be developing your own ideas from these tried and true phrases.

Dennis McCumber has been a guitar instructor and performer for more than 20 years. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in music education from The College of Saint Rose.
 Dennis performs regularly in the New York City area with various rock, blues, and funk bands, and occasionally as a classical soloist. In addition to performing, Dennis has been a middle school music teacher in the Bronx for the past 12 years. While teaching in the Bronx, he was given a guitar lab by VH1 Save the Music and a keyboard lab from the radio station Hot97 Hip Hop Symphony. Dennis has been an instructor at the National Guitar Workshop since 1996, where he teaches Blues, Funk, and Rock. Find out more at