Spicing Up The Shuffle Blues

The shuffle is one of many different ways we can use to play the rhythm section of a blues in any key, rather than using, for example, just major or minor seventh chords.

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The shuffle is one of many different ways we can use to play the rhythm section of a blues in any key, rather than using, for example, just major or minor seventh chords. It has been used in many famous songs in different ways, for instance: "Rock'n Me" by Steve Miller, "You Shook Me" by Led Zeppelin, "Red House" by Jimi Hendrix (played by Noel Redding on bass), "Texas Flood" by Stevie Ray Vaughan (played by Tommy Shannon on Bass), and the list goes on and on. The shuffle has a triplet feel, but the second note of the triplet is not played. Today I will show you some ways of using the shuffle concept to make your playing more interesting. All examples are in the key of A in the first or open position to make them easy to learn; of course it can be played in any key, anywhere on the guitar. Our first example is the typical way to play it for a twelve bar blues.

Tab Sequence #1 Here

Breaking down the example bar by bar, we have a progression like:
This is just a standard blues progression. Although there are certainly other articles explaining this progression in more depth than what we can do here, here is a basic explanation. What we have done here is to take the key of A (either major or minor, since we are not playing full chords it doesn't particularly matter) and used the first (A), fourth (D), and fifth (E) chords to play a blues progression (almost all blues progressions are made just by the I, IV, V chords). Once you have the basics down, you can start to experiment and play with more advanced, interesting structures. Traditional blues is typically played to a slow beat, one way to spice up the shuffle is to simply speed up the rhythm, which in turn will give more of a "rock blues" sound. Another simple way to do it is to play just the power chords, using the same shuffle feel. A third thing we can do is to simply add or remove some notes being played in the basic pattern. Here is an example (see figure #2). What we did was remove the notes A and G that were being played simultaneously in our first example. We added the notes and C# at the end of each of the "A chord" bars. For the bars in D and E we applied the same idea by transposing it in the correct chord. Basically we have 1 "shape" we are using, and we are simply moving this "shape" when playing the IV and V chords.

Tab Sequence #2 Here

The example below is a slight variation of the one above, and gives a slightly different, fuller sound. It uses a diminished chord (or tritone) sound instead of the single note idea.

Tab Sequence #3 Here

These are just some basic things that can be done to alter the shuffle, and get some different sounds out of it. If we need a more elaborate feel, here is another thing we can do (see example below.) What we did was add a "walking" bass line to the shuffle. This is a bit more challenging to play, so slow it down to begin with. Once you get more comfortable with it, you can try to speed it up. This will sound a little more "country" blues.

Tab Sequence #4 Here

For our fourth example we will move the shuffle further up the neck but still in the key of A. This example is more challenging than the other ones, due to the left hand stretch required. Since we are no longer able to use open strings, we will need to make up for that with a power chord shape. Keeping the power chord shape down, you will need to play the rest of the shuffle using your pinkie finger, which will be good practice to get used to the stretch, which you will see in countless other techniques as you get more advanced. Obviously, to make it easier you could play this example in a different key further up the neck to get used to the stretch, and only then move it lower on the fretboard where the fret spacing is wider.

Tab Sequence #5 Here

Practicing the shuffle by yourself is ok, but it would make a much more valuable use of your time if you practice it with a rhythm section (drums and bass) so you are prepared to play it in real life situations. I have made a few basic backing tracks to help prepare you for the occasion. The backing tracks are also all in the key of A so you can play all the examples I have shown here as they are, and are set to a few different speeds so that you can train to play at slow or faster tempo. Here is a link to download your shuffle blues backing tracks. About The Author: Dan Smith is a professional guitarist and teacher from Edmonton, Ab, Canada. You can find out more about Dan at his website www.deealis.com.

20 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Looks good, could be very useful for someone just getting into the blues. Consider making a PartII lesson featuring more complex rhythms, incorporating different clichs and blues riffs, such as hitting an upstroke on the high stings on the offbeat while walking the bass (a la SRV, for example). You could also demonstrate some typical turnaround licks. You might want to check out the cd/book Robben Ford - Rhythm Blues For Guitar (and any other of his instructional stuff you can get your hands on) for inspiration.
    good stuff. never really play the blues because what I knew was kind of boring for me but this really helps.