Blues on the Mountain Dulcimer, part 3

Definition | Examples: 1 | 2A | 2B | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6A | 6B | 7 | Breaking the Rules ]

So far in this series we’ve gone over the basic 12 Bar Blues chord progression and Blues Pentatonic Scale in the key of E in part 1. In part 2 I introduced the keys of A, B, F#, and D, and covered the Blues Hexatonic scale in these keys while tuned DAd. In this section we’ll look at turnarounds.


Turnarounds are simply a modification that is done to the last two measures of the 12 bar pattern that prepares you for the beginning of the pattern to start again. They are frequently used where ever there will be multiple verses to the song. You use turnarounds to create a musical tension that is resolved by returning to the start of the pattern for another verse or chorus. Typically a turnaround of some sort is used at the end of every verse except for the very last one. There are many ways of playing a turnaround, but a few types get almost all of the use, and one of these is predominate. So without further ado…

Example 1. 

By far the most common turnaround simply consists of playing the I chord followed by a V chord at the last two measures of the 12 bar pattern. The following example is just the last four bars of the pattern. Remember, the form of the turnaround is just the chord pattern. Any number of melodies can be played within it. This one is so common that it is not unreasonable to put turnarounds into two groups, this one, and everything else. Here is an example in the key of E.

A small variation of this turnaround is to play the V chord only on the last half measure. That is, play the I chord on the first two beats of the last measure, and the V chord on the last two beats. This is not done real often, however.

Example 2A.

A pattern that you can use with blues in the key of F# on the dulcimer is the following one. Start with the I7 chord at the beginning of the turnaround. On the last beat of the first measure of the turnaround, measure eleven of the pattern, play the #IV7 chord followed by the V7 chord in the last measure. In F# the #IV chord is the C natural. Technically speaking, this is a “lower connecting chord” to the V chord.

Example 2B. 

A variation of this is to play the bVI7 chord as the connecting chord, an “upper connecting chord” in this case. (The “b” in bVI7 simply means “flat.” I don’t have the real flat symbol handy. ) The bVI7 is a D7 in the key of F#

Example 3. 

The next turnaround I’ll introduce uses a few more chords. In this case each of these chords gets a half measure in the pattern: The I7 chord, the IV7 chord, the II7 chord, and the V7 chord in that order. In the key of E these are the E7, the A7, the F#7, and the B7. This can also be done in the keys of A, B, and in D.

Example 4. 

Very similar is the following pattern. The only difference is that the second chord in the turnaround is the VI chord instead of the IV chord. In the key of A the VI chord is an F#. This turnaround works in the keys of A, E, B, and D on a DAd tuned dulcimer.

Example 5. 

Another similar pattern to the one above substitutes the III7 chord for the the I7 chord at the beginning of the turnaround. In the key of A this is a C#. This one works best in the keys of A, E and D. The example here is in the key of A with the capo on at the fourth fret. The chords in this key are C#, F#, B, and E.

Example 6A. 

The next turnaround I want to discuss is actually a family of related ones. The basic pattern is this: The first measure of the turnaround is the I7 chord. Then there is an eighth rest at the beginning of the last measure and the IV7, the #IV7, and the V7 chords are played in rapid succession, a half beat at a time. This pattern can only be played in the key of F# when tuned to DAd. (If you have and 8+ fret it can be done in the key of B as well.) The example is shown with the capo at the second fret.

A complication is that you don’t have the note required to play the seventh for the #IV7 chord. It works well enough, though, to play all bar chords for these three chords, just sliding your fingers up from the 5 – 5 – 5 chord to the 6 – 6 – 6 chord and finally to the 6+ – 6+ – 6+ chord.

Example 6B. 

This basic fingering pattern actually works fairly well in the other keys as well. Except in F# you don’t have this exact chord progression, but the others work OK, even though they are different actual chords. The general pattern is to start two frets below the fret that has the perfect fifth of the scale in the key you are using. If you are playing in the key of D, for example, the fifth of the D scale is an A, which is at fret 4 on the melody string. Therefore, you start the second measure of the turnaround in this style at fret 2. (after the eighth rest) The actual chords in this case are the III, IV, and V chords.

Example 7. 

One last turnaround is somewhat different from the others I’ve discussed. Up to this point, all the turnarounds I’ve described are basically just some way of getting around to the V7 chord to provide the musical tension that you resolve by restarting the chord progression. This one is different. It starts with a half measure of the I7 chord, then goes up to the bIII7 (flat-THREE seventh) chord, the II7 chord, and the bII7 chord. The only key where this works is B, in DAd tuning. (It can be done in the key of E if you have a 1+ fret.) The chords in this case are B, D, C#, and C. The example uses the capo at the fifth fret.

Breaking the Rules

If you’ve been observant, you’ve no doubt noticed that I’ve broken the “rules” that I discussed in the first and second sessions regarding the melody notes for the pieces. That is, the melodies for these fragments do not necessarily keep within the blues pentatonic or hexatonic scales. See, for example, examples 1 and 3. The final note of the melody of these fragments, which are both in the key of E, is an F#, (a “second” of the scale) which is not in either of the blues scales I mentioned earlier. This note is the perfect fifth of the chord that you are playing at that point, and works quite well in this case. The notes in the pentatonic scale tend to work wherever you play them, to some degree or another. There are occasions, however, where other notes work as well. You just have to be more careful how you use them. There are numerous other instances of notes that are outside the “classic” blues scales in these examples, I’ll leave it as an exercise for the student to find them. The key is to trust your ears, and not depend too much on the rules. The rules are there to guide you and help you, nothing more.

There are more topics to the blues than I’ve covered here so far. I haven’t talked about bending notes yet, or mentioned anything about lyrics, other chord patterns, or other tunings. However, unless there is a lot of interest shown in continuing this topic, I think the next article will be on something else.

I got them, tapped out on blues blues,
Yes I got them low down tapped out on blues blues.
It ain’t that there’s not more, I just wanna do something new,
I got those tapped out, oh Lord, tapped out on blues blues.

Definition | Examples: 1 | 2A | 2B | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6A | 6B | 7 | Breaking the Rules ]

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