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Ragtime Blues Guitar Lessons - Rag in C - Turn That Thing Around!

Updated on August 7, 2014

What's A Turnaround?

For this short (but sweet) acoustic blues guitar lesson, I take a look at the chord progression often found between verses in a typical ragtime song.

In the early 1900s, a style of guitar playing made popular by traveling medicine shows became as 'ragtime blues', or often it was named 'Piedmont Blues'. The bouncy, happy sound contrasted significantly with the slower, darker sounds of the delta blues, which was often played in E, A or open tuning.

(The Photo is called 'Prison Dancer' and it is in the Public Domain for Copyright purposes.)

By Urthogie at en.wikipedia [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons
By Urthogie at en.wikipedia [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

Introduction To The Idea and Construction Of The Turnaround.

The bouncy ragtime piano ragtime style was quickly adapted to the guitar, and was a complex style. Ragtime blues guitar songs, whose lyrics were often barely disguised sexual innuendo, were performed very successfully by some artists, notably Blind Blake (more about him in a later Lens), Reverend Gary Davis (who could play any style), Pink Anderson, Sam Chatmon, Blind Willie McTell, Hacksaw Harney and Blind Boy Fuller. Other artists, such as Big Bill Broonzy, touched on the ragtime feel, but had a much broader repertoire.

Often these songs were played in the keys of C, G and D, which lend themselves to the alternating bass picking pattern prevalent in this music. As you listen to a ragtime song, a couple of things might strike you. First of all, they tend to move at a good pace, which is often testimony to the skill and accuracy of the players. Secondly, there are common structural elements between songs in the same key, which is not too surprising.

One of these elements I call the 'turnaround' - that short progression of chords that is played between two verses. It provides breathing space between separate sets of lyrics, giving space, building tension and also providing an opportunity for the guitarist to showcase his skills.

Video Instruction - Learning Ragtime Blues Guitar

Before we look at the turnaround, here's a few tips about fingerpicking ragtime blues style ...

Copyright Jim Bruce 2009
Copyright Jim Bruce 2009

Turnaround For A Ragtime Song In The Key Of C


A video replaces a thousand words of explanation, but I'll quickly go through the chord sequence here (the video below will put the icing on the cake.) You might just strum these chords before trying the picking pattern I show you later on.

After finishing a verse, we start the turnaround with a basic C chord. As you can see, I don't hold down the bass E string - the philosophy is (almost) always 'if you don't play the string with your right hand, don't fret it with your left!) This will become clearer in the video.

Copyright Jim Bruce 2009
Copyright Jim Bruce 2009


We then move on to F. The diagram opposite shows half of the F chord. Remember - if I'm only plucking the last four strings, then I won't bother fretting the others. This allow for a lot of speed and flexibility, but we need to make sure that our right hand palm keeps contact with those unfretted strings. If not, they may vibrate and make horrible dischordant sounds.

It's quite rare for me to play a full F chord. Often I'll play this shape and also hold down the bass E with my thumb. This configuration frees up the little finger of my left hand to play around on the treble strings.

Copyright Jim Bruce 2009
Copyright Jim Bruce 2009

Next we have a cheeky little chord which often figures in ragtime progressions - Ab7. Here again, the full chord includes the bass E fretted on the second fret with the thumb. As I'm not plucking that string with my right hand, guess what? That's right - you've got it now ...

Play this one with your index finger across the first four strings, and you ring (or little) finger, to fret the high E on the second fret.

Nearly there - not hard at all is it? One more chord to go.

Copyright Jim Bruce 2009
Copyright Jim Bruce 2009

After the Ab7 chord we move back to the basic C chord and then to G to finish off the sequence. The full chord sequence is C-C7-F-Ab7-C-G , moving back to C when we start singing the next verse.

This simple progression holds many possibilities, and we look at some of these in the video below. This short study uses Blind Boy Fuller's classic song 'Truckin' Little Baby' to illustrate just one way of picking this turnaround progression.

There are many variations of this song performed by other artists, who use similar picking patterns. When learning blues guitar, it's good to be aware of the wonderful subtleties these artists left us, and pay homage to their genius and way of life. Play around with the progression, add it to your own personal bag of tricks and incorporate it into your music - enjoy!

You'll find a link to two complete free lessons below the video - enjoy!

Blind Boy Fuller - A Carolina Ragtime Giant

Review of the 4CD album 'Blind Boy Fuller Remastered' - also includes Reverend Gary davis and Sonny Terry.

Volume 1: 1935-1938
Volume 1: 1935-1938

Blind Boy was one of the most successful ragtime guitarists and at various times played with Reverend Gary Davis (who was also his teacher), Floyd Council and the legendary harmonica player Sonny Terry - all of which are featured on this album.

The album spotlighted has a few things going for it. Firstly, you get more than just Fuller, but benefit from some of his major collaborations with important artists. Secondly, the tracks are re-mastered digitally and the sound quality is striking. The hisses and clicks associated with old 78 recordings have been removed and it greatly enhances the listening experience.

 

Truckin' Little Baby - Ragtime Turnaround In Key Of C

How To Play Lady Madonna by The Beatles

Some Of Jim's Stuff You Might Like

Some resources that might help in you quest to learn blues guitar.

Guestbook - Go For It - Give It To Me Straight!

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    • Not-Pop profile image

      Not-Pop 5 years ago

      What a fantastic little lesson on a style I love. Blessed by the Blues angel!

    • profile image

      Darlene92 4 years ago

      That Martin 000X1 you are playing is a superb guitar - lovely sound and cheap!

    • profile image

      Jesse47 4 years ago

      Great lens, great playing, great blues!

    • profile image

      EricWeis 4 years ago

      I bought Jim's lessons - don't hesitate. You'll learn the real blues and there's enough for a few years learning.

    • profile image

      Elwyn51 4 years ago

      There's nothin' cooler than the sound of one man and a guitar - specially if it's the blues!

    • profile image

      IsiahHefner139 4 years ago

      This style moves me, and I'd like to learn it.

    • profile image

      WalterGregg77 4 years ago

      Broonzy does it for me - he didn't alternate his basses, but he sure could swing.

    • profile image

      PhoebeHitt 4 years ago

      Picked up my old guitar, blew the dust of and gave it a try, but it doesn't sound like what you are doing! Have you got a special switch on your guitar?

    • profile image

      JacklynFried139 4 years ago

      You are a blues man, the blues man of Squidoo

    • profile image

      JemimaSchroeder192 4 years ago

      I love the different sounds of the blues - I know you've got another lens that explains that this music came from Scott Jolin's piano style.

    • profile image

      HelenaZeller149 4 years ago

      Some of those guitarists you mentioned I never heard of - I'll check them out.

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      WinnifredPhelan88 4 years ago

      Reverend Gary Davis played a Gibson J200 Jumbo, both 6 and 12 string, but I've seen video on Youtube where he plays a Martin dreadnought.

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      phanthink1967 4 years ago

      I've got a long, long way to go before I can pick and sing at the same time.

    • jim bruce guita profile image
      Author

      jim bruce guita 4 years ago

      @Lucille_Dinkins: Martin SP lights

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      Emmeline76 4 years ago

      Great lesson! Ragtime looks tough, but you break it down well - thanks!

    • profile image

      Janelle35 4 years ago

      Some of those ragtime blues lyrics are downright naughty - listen to Blind Wille McTell's records where he sings with his wife.

    • profile image

      ErickMull161 4 years ago

      Over 200 video on your Youtube Channel - can't be bad.

    • profile image

      soetie1973 4 years ago

      Nice explanation and nice style - I'll check out your other lenses.

    • profile image

      Jacquelyn_Moffett 4 years ago

      I used to play guitar many moons ago (like a lot of us did!) and this lens is given me a hankerin' to get back into it.

    • profile image

      alel1970 4 years ago

      Nicely done. I was going to say that I would have liked to see with some more text, but the video explains it well. Thanks!

    • profile image

      Jeffrey_Mcdowell 4 years ago

      Blind Boy Fuller was a really successful ragtime picker, and made over a hundred recors, I think.

    • profile image

      Amos_Soliz 4 years ago

      Cigarette Blues by Bo Carter

    • profile image

      FrederickFarr 4 years ago

      I didn't even know what a 'turnaround' was - technical term, or did you make it up?

    • profile image

      IrmaCerda138 4 years ago

      It's not often you see a lens with so much to give away, like free lessons - thanks.

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      Harry59 4 years ago

      Did the old ragtime blues pickers use finger picks, or just some of them? What's the difference?

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      Edith54 4 years ago

      I prefer the sound of a full bodied guitar, rather than a parlor, but I know they are good for ragtime finger picking.

    • jim bruce guita profile image
      Author

      jim bruce guita 4 years ago

      @Harry59: Good question - on old photos I notice that many used plastic thumb picks, but I don't recall finger picks. Gary Davis did, for sure - he said it 'saved the fingers'. Picks are also a natural amplifier, so you don't have to pick so hard.

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