Essential Blues Guitar Lessons Part Two: The Shuffle

In the second part of our exclusive new tuition series, MGR Music tutor Leigh Fuge adds some rhythm to the 12-bar blues format that we learned last time…

In part one of the series we looked at the form of a 12-bar blues, in this lesson we are going to apply a rhythm to that. This is a specific rhythm known as a blues shuffle.

If you know a little about blues playing, you may be familiar with the term shuffle. A shuffle is a beat based on eighth note triplets. You can count a shuffle by breaking your 4 main breaks down into triplets:

(1 2 3, 2 2 3, 3 2 3, 4 2 3)

This type of rhythm dates back to the early 30s. The first known recording of this was on a track called Lead Pencil Blues recorded by Johnnie Temple in 1935. The shuffle style of playing has been a staple in blues rhythm since the beginning, but it has been used time and time again through the ages in many forms. Led Zeppelin’s Rock And Roll is a fine example of taking a shuffle style and adapting it for a rock sound.

As with the last lesson, all the examples in this lesson are in A minor but are transposable to whatever key you see fit.

EXAMPLE 1

This first example of a shuffle is using all open position chords. We are using an A5, D5 and E5 chord. These are probably more familiar to you as their more common name, power chords.

We will be alternating between the second and fourth fret with the open string above ringing. The rhythm for each bar will be sticking with the shuffle feel. Divide each beat into 3 sub-beats. You’re playing on the downbeat of each bar (1, 2, 3, 4) and also the third sub-beat of each bar:

(1 2 3, 2 2 3, 3 2 3, 4 2 3)

EXAMPLE 2

This example follows the same approach but with single notes instead of chords. This is a walking style shuffle pattern and is very reminiscent of BB King’s song Rock Me Baby.

Our A, D and E chords have now been moved to their single note forms. A being the 5th fret of the Low E string, D being the 5th fret of the A string and E being the 7th fret of the A string. For each grouping you’ll be alternating between the root note, the octave and the minor seventh.

Although this is a picked pattern, it still follows the shuffle rhythm. You will still be playing on the downbeat of each bar (1, 2, 3, 4) and also the third sub-beat of each bar:

(1 2 3, 2 2 3, 3 2 3, 4 2 3)

EXAMPLE 3

This final example is similar to the first, except we are now playing this chord based pattern from a fretted position instead of an open position. This is a typical blues rock style way of playing a 12-bar progression. If you take this style of playing and ramp up the speed you’ll feel like Chuck Berry,

The important thing here is noticing that our A, D and E chords are now played as power chords. A being the 5th fret on the E string, and D and E being on the A string at the 5th and 7th frets respectively.

Similarly, to the first example the alternate bars involve reaching up to a note 2 frets higher than the second note of the chord. However, this now means reaching from the 5th and 7th fret to the 5th and 9th. This is a great way to get your little finger more involved if you have not already done so. Take your time with this one, it takes a while to loosen your hands up to master the stretches.

The shuffle rhythm remains intact with this example:

(1 2 3, 2 2 3, 3 2 3, 4 2 3)

TRY IT YOURSELF

These exercises are all in the key of A minor but are transposable. Have a go at playing your 12-bar sequence in these three styles in various other keys to get a feel for playing blues rhythms in different fretboard registers.

In the next lesson we will take a look at extended chords that we can use to spice up our blues progressions. If you have enjoyed this lesson and you’re looking for a guitar teacher in your local area check out our guitar lessons page and speak to one of our highly recommended teachers in your local area.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Leigh Fuge is a guitar teacher and professional musician from Swansea in the UK. He has taught hundreds of students face to face and via the MGR Music platform. He has over 10 years’ experience working in the industry as a touring musician, session guitarist and teacher. To find a qualified guitar tutor in your area, visit mgrmusic.com.