Blues Harmonica Turnaround Riffs

The turnaround in the 12 bar blues is the part that signals that the form will repeat again. This, of course, happens at the end of the form. More sprecifically, bar 11 and 12 is where we play blues harmonica turnaround riffs. Properly executed these riffs give a sense of completion at the same time as the signal strongly that it is time to start the 12 bar blues again. If you listen carefully to recordings you will quite easily spot the turnaround in most songs, just remember that not all 12 bar blues variations include the turnaround. In this article I will give you a few riffs to add to your riff bank.

Properties of blues harmonica turnaround riffs

Although there are no hard and fast rules for these riffs there are a few properties they most often have. It is natural for the turnaround riff to be 2 bars but in order to fit with the V-IV-I riff of your choice it may need to be shorter.

In order to outline the turnaround in itself they often follow the chord tones very closely in bars 11 and 12. That is the I-chord through bar 11 and half of bar 12 and then the V-chord in for the last two beats of bar 12.

Basic turnaround riff

First off we have a very basic turnaround riff that uses the tonic of the chord. The tonic of the V-chord comes on beat 2 of bar 12 anticipating the V-chord on beat later. This riff always work but can be a bit boring if used too often.

tonic based blues harmonica turnaround riffs

Very basic blues harmonica turnaround riff.

Vamping style riff

This riff is a bit busier and uses the tounge slapping/vamping style so tounge blocking is the key here. In bar 11 it also uses 2 blow which is a chord tone for the I chord in 2nd position. Be careful though if you should be playing 2nd position in a minor blues, this riff would not work well. It has nice energy and is simple as there is no bending.

vamping blues harmonica turnaround riffs

Vamping style blues harmonica riff without bending.

Triplet based turnaround riff

This riff is quite energetic as it is based on triplets. It aslo has a whole step bend on hole two which is the minor seventh of the I-chord, a very nice touch. A bit trickier as it has bending.

triplet based blues harmonica turnaround riffs

Triplet based tournaround riff.

Slightly more advanced turnaround riff

We finish off with a riff that is slightly more advanced, it incorporates the half step bend in hole three as well which is the minor third of the I-chord. A nice bluesy note.

bending blues harmonica turnaround riffs

Turnaround riff with a little bit more bending.

Applying blues harmonica turnaround riffs

Now that you have a few more blues harmonica turnaround riffs to practice it is time to put them to use. Start by selecting one or two and start experimenting with connecting them to your V-IV-I riffs. Be sure to get enough repetitions in to really make them stick.

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V-IV-I Blues Harmonica Riffs

Building a solid riff bank give you lots of options as a harmonica player and improviser. The third line in the standard 12 bar blues is known as the V-IV-I, this part is busier than the other parts when it comes to the chords. It also contains the V-chord which can trip people up. Knowing a few V-IV-I blues harmonica riffs can go a long way. In this article I present a few options you may consider that go beyond the beginner riffs I have presented before.

Why learn specific V-IV-I blues harmonica riffs?

As the third line changes chords more often than the first two lines and contains the V-chord it is a bit trickier to navigate. I have previously written about the V-chord as a place where you can show off your skills. Learning a few V-IV-I blues harmonica riffs is a great way of adding to your improvisation skills. If you combine them with a bit of blues harmonica theory knowledge you are in great shape. Let’s look at a few riffs to add your aresenal.

Tounge switching riff

First off we have a tounge switch based riff that mostly uses the tonic of the V and the IV, simple but effective. The tounge switch also adds an element of suprise that the listener will appriciate.

Tounge switch based V-IV-I blues harmonica riffs

Tounge switch based riff.

Triplet based riff

This riff I really like since it has a triplet feel, octaves and approches the higher ocatve of the instrument. All this sets it apart from many other V-IV-I blues harmonica riffs. I try to use this quite a bit myself. Notice that is starts one beat before the V-chord.

Triplet and octave based V-IV-I blues harmonica riffs

Triplet and octave based riff.

Chord tone riff

This riff is heavy on chord tones and takes advantage of the notes not normally played when playing the blues scale. It will freshen up the listeners ear.

Chord tone V-IV-I blues harmonica riffs

Chord tone based riff.

Descending riff

The final riff is a descending riff that also hints at the chord tones of the V-chord. I like the sound of a riff that start quite high up and works its way to the tonic of the I-chord.

Descending V-IV-I blues harmonica riffs

Descending riff

Applying the riffs

In order to work these riffs into your riff bank you should pick them up one by one. Make a decision to use one of them for all your improv for a while until it has really stuck in your head. That way you will make it permeanent. Then you go on to the next one. Having 3-5 V-IV-I blues harmonica riffs that are not the most common ones will make a big difference for how original you sound. Let me know how these riffs turn out for you!

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