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Blues Guitar - The Shuffle Rhythm

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Previous page: Blues Guitar - Shuffle Next page: Blues Guitar - E-Shuffle

Don't ask me what shuffle really means. But it is used as a term for a rhythm where each beat is subdivided in two. Of these two notes, the first is longer and heavy, the second is short and light. You have to use some damping to get it right. This gives you the shuffle rhythm, which is the back bone of a lot of blues playing.

The first Delta artist to record a shuffle, was Johnnie Temple with his Lead Pencil Blues from 1935. You can hear it on the record Roots Of Robert Johnson. And now, for the first, but far from last time in this series of blues lessons, is it time to mention Robert Johnson. Many his songs have a shuffle style, but now I will mention Sweet Home Chicago and You've Got A Good Friend. Everyone interested in blues guitar should know Robert Johnson.

The typical shuffle is played as a chord fragment on two bass strings. You will notice that we alternates between two shapes while playing to one chord. In E we will vary between 2nd and 4th fret on the 5th string, and in A we will vary between 2nd and 4th fret on the 4th string. The best way - in my opinion - to finger this shuffle, is by making a short barré covering two strings on 2nd fret with your index (1st) finger, and fret the 4th fret with your 3rd (ring) finger. What you are doing, is to shift from E to E6 or A to A6. Go to the 5th fret with your 4th finger, and you get the 7th chord.

There is only one way to finger the shuffle over the E - E6 - E7 chords. You play only the bottom two (or three) stings, and make a small barré with your 1st finger over the 4th and 5th string at 2nd fret. Then you use the 3rd finger on 4th fret, and 4th finger on 5th.


E-shuffle (E, E6, E7)

A-shuffle, pos. 1

A-shuffle, pos. 2

There are two ways to finger the A-shuffle. I usually prefer to play it almost as I play the E-shuffle. I just move it across to the 5th, 4th and maybe 3rd string. But be careful not to play the 6th (bottom) string. It takes some time to get enough control to play a good shuffle without hitting the 6th string.

The other position is out of the 5th fret: 1st finger on 6th string, 5th fret, 2nd finger on 5th string, 7th fret. Then you can use 3rd finger on 5th string, 9th fret, and 4th finger on 10th fret. It is a tough stretch, so it will take some time to get it. But since there are no open string, it is a moveable position, which makes it very useful. When coming down from B7 (see below) I might prefer this fingering.
As always, the B7 is difficult. You can either move the second A-position up two frets, or you can move the fingering across to the 5th and 4th string, and play out of 2nd fret. This fingering is even harder.

Use your pinky (4th finger)!

Many guitar players find their 4th finger too weak, and don't use it. I have even seen well known instructors - no name given - recommend that you don't use it. But if you remove one finger from you fretting hand, you will limit you playing possibilities. It is a matter of practise. The 4th finger will never be the stronger of your fingers, but with some training it can do a lot of work!

Are your fingers "too short" for the stretch? Use capo!

The shuffle requires a stretch that some players find hard, and one can have the feeling that the fingers are too short. Again, it is really a matter of practise. You will eventually be able to stretch you fingers more. But a good way to practise these stretches is to put on a capo in 2nd, 3rd, 4th or whatever fret that makes it comfortable. The distance between the frets are smaller higher up the neck. A stretch from 2nd to 5th fret might be somewhere from very hard to almost impossible, but the stretch from 7th to 10th fret (with capo on 5th fret) might be quite comfortable. Move the capo down one fret at the time, until you can play the stretch without the capo.

By varying the ratio between the first and second part of the beet, you can create different grooves. Jimmy Reed typically plays with a heavy shuffle, meaning that the first part is much longer and more heavy than the second. In Chuck Berry's style, they are almost equal, giving a more straight feel. Click here for an example of a shuffle, where the first verse is played with a heavy shuffle, and the second with a more straight feel. Both verses are played with alternating down- and up-strokes.

Another way to vary the shuffle, is to vary the strokes. You can either play alternating down- and up-strokes as done in the recorded example mentioned above, or by down-strokes only. Alternating strokes tend to emphasize the heavier shuffle, while all downstroke give you a more even and straight sound. In Chuck Berry style and in more modern heavy rock style, one will typically use down-strokes only.

Go to the Next lesson for a 12-bar shuffle blues written out in tab.

Books and records for further studies

If you want to learn the blues, you have to listen to the real bluesmen and study their playing style. I have included references to books and CDs that I think should be of interest. Many bluesmen have issued hundreds of records. If you search Amazon US and Amazon UK for records by John Lee Hooker, you will find more than 200 titles. Some are very good, some are not. I am not pretending that I know all their records, but I list a few that in my view are good collections.

A tip:

Amazon US and Amazon UK have soundbits (ca. 30 sec) from the majority of the records they have listed. If you don't know the artists, you will get an impression of their playing style by listening to some of these soundbits.Amazon US has also made available a large number of music files for free download. Choose "Music" on the menu to the left at their main page, and then "Free Downloads" on the banner menu.

Robert Johnson.
You simply have to listen to Robert Johnson if you are serious about blues guitar. I have made a separate web-page with references to material on his playing and there is an article on what to choose if you want to learn the guitar playing of Robert Johnson. But I will suggest that you start with these:

Rory Block Teaches the Guitar of Robert Johnson

Artist: Robert Johnson

Authored by Rory Block

On this jam-packed DVD lesson, the award-winning contemporary blues singer and guitarist Rory Block completely demystifies the licks, runs, strums, bass lines, turnarounds and other important guitar elements that combine to make up the unique Robert Johnson sound.

Robert Johnson's unearthly singing and intricate Mississippi Delta style slide guitar have inspired innumerable players in the decades since his untimely death in 1938. On this jam-packed DVD lesson, the award-winning contemporary blues singer and guitarist Rory Block completely demystifies the licks, runs, strums, bass lines, turnarounds and other important guitar elements that combine to make up the unique Robert Johnson sound.

More information >>

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RefNr: HT641810
Level: 3
Minutes: 120
Format: Method
Medium: DVD
Series:
Publisher: Homespun Tapes

Rory Block Teaches the Guitar of Robert Johnson Vol 2

Authored by Rory Block

Artist: Robert Johnson

On Rory Block's second installment into the great blues artist's legacy, she provides complete note-by-note, lick-by-lick instruction for three of his most powerful songs: Cross Road Blues * Ramblin' on My Mind * and Hellhound on My Trail.

Rory takes each song apart, putting a microscope on the intros, chord positions, slide techniques, picking, strumming and other blues guitar skills needed to play them right.

More information >>

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RefNr: HT642021
Minutes: 105
Format: Method
Medium: DVD
Series:
Publisher: Homespun Tapes

Robert Johnson Signature Licks

Artist: Robert Johnson
Written by Dave Rubin
Book of the Month 2002-12

Explore the music of one of the greatest acoustic bluesmen of all time with this fascinating book/CD pack. A Step-by-Step Breakdown of the Legendary Guitarist's Style and Technique.

Blues expert Dave Rubin provides an introduction on Johnson's place in musical history, and extensive notes on his tunings, arrangements, fingerstyle technique and guitars. Features in-depth lessons and audio examples of 15 of his most famous songs.

More information >>

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RefNr: HL695264
Pages: 63
Format: Method
Medium: Book/CD
Series: Signature Licks
Publisher: Hal Leonard

For more on this style, see:

The Roots Of Robert Johnson

Written by Stefan Grossman
Artist: Robert Johnson
Written by Woody Mann
Book of the Month 2002-08

The playing of the legendary Delta bluesman, Robert Johnson was firmly rooted in the blues of the 1920s.

The playing of the legendary Delta bluesman, Robert Johnson was firmly rooted in the blues of the 1920s. In this study, Stefan Grossman have transcribed those arrangements that we feel had a great influence on the guitar approach, technique and style of Robert Johnson.

Beware: Many of the songs are included in the "Early Roots ..." set. But the "Early .." is more of an instruction series, with detailed breakdown of the songs.

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RefNr: MB95074BCD
Pages:
Format: Method
Medium: Book/CD
Series: Stefan Grossman Guitar Workshop - Audio
Publisher: Grossman's Guitar Workshop
Robert Johnson: The Complete Recordings
This two-CD box contains all 41 recordings Johnson
RefNr: B000026EG9
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Jimmy Reed: His Greatest Recordings: Original Clas
RefNr: B0000061WX
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Amazon UK

Here you can hear the first recorded delta blues shuffle: Johnnie Temple with his Lead Pencil Blues

Back to the Crossroads: The Roots of Robert Johnso
RefNr: B00011V81I
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Amazon UK

Art of the Shuffle

Written by Dave Rubin

This method book explores shuffle, boogie and swing rhythms for guitar, and covers Delta, country, Chicago, Kansas City, Texas, New Orleans, West Coast, and bebop blues.

Written by Dave Rubin. For guitar. Includes Book and CD package. With guitar tablature, standard notation, introductory text and black & white photos. Blues, Chicago Blues and Delta Blues.

This method book explores shuffle, boogie and swing rhythms for guitar. Includes tab and notation, and covers Delta, country, Chicago, Kansas City, Texas, New Orleans, West Coast, and bebop blues. Also includes audio for demonstration of each style and to jam along with.

More information >>

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RefNr: HL695005
Pages: 63
Format: Method
Medium: Book/CD
Series:
Publisher: Hal Leonard

Some Rhythm Blues - books

Top Seller


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12-Bar Blues
Book of the Month 2002-07
This book/CD pack is solely devoted to providing guitarists with all the technical tools necessary for playing 12-bar blues with authority.
RefNr: HL695187
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Other Books


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Progressive Blues Rhythm Guitar Method (Book And CD)
Progressive Blues Rhythm Guitar Method is an exciting book, which takes an innovative approach to learning blues rhythm guitar.
RefNr: CP-69059
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101 Razor-Sharp Blues Guitar Rhythm Patterns in the Electric Urban / C
Another must-have Red Dog Music Book by Larry McCabe. This book contains a goldmine of 101 authentic electric blues rhythm patterns that can be applied to thousands of real songs. Each pattern is recorded note-for-note on the companion CD, and written in standard notation and tablature. Supplemental articles cover blues progressions and rhythm pattern types.
RefNr: B000T9ZMX2
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Art of the Shuffle
This method book explores shuffle, boogie and swing rhythms for guitar, and covers Delta, country, Chicago, Kansas City, Texas, New Orleans, West Coast, and bebop blues.
RefNr: HL695005
Order From:
SheetmusicPlus
MusicRoom
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Comping the Blues
Twelve rhythmic comping studies with chord grids, notation and tablature. The Frank Vignola Comping the Blues book shows guitar accompaniment in a short, precise manner.
RefNr: MB99768
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Go here for full list of Rhythm Blues books

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Blues Guitar Rhythm Chops Beyond Basics
Keith Wyatt, GIT's resident blues authority, reveals his favorite blues chord voicing and comping concepts. Keith explores everything from "straight-eight" boogie blues to rock shuffles and sophisticated "uptown" styles.
RefNr: AP903626
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Go here for full list of Rhythm Blues videos

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