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Blues Guitar Lessons: Shuffle Rhythm on Guitar [2/3]

The Shuffle Rhythm and Blues Guitar Lessons for Everyone

One of the most important aspect of any blues guitar lessons is the shuffle rhythm.

This rhythm is based on a triplet pattern. The one and the two of the triplet are combined to give it a kind of a lilting feel.

Choo-ka; choo-ka; choo-ka; choo-ka

Okay, not very sophisticated... but it works for me 🙂

It's a very familiar rhythm that you’ve heard often in rock, jazz, country and blues.

You can think of it as a long note followed by a short note.

In written music it's common to show this rhythmic pattern using eighth notes. To indicate it should be played with a shuffle feel I include a pattern that looks like this at the beginning of the music…

Sometimes I'll include the words "shuffle feel" if I'm writing music for students that may not be familiar with this terminology. Even though I show students a triplet pattern with the first two notes tied together (or as a quarter note and eighth note like the example above) to help understand this intellectually, the best way to learn it is by listening and practicing the rhythm until it becomes second nature.

In this lesson I'll show you a step-by-step approach to getting the feel for this groove and internalizing it.


Learning the Shuffle Rhythm

Whether you're taking blues guitar lessons or want to learn the shuffle rhythm for other purposes, this step-by-step tutorial will give you what you need.

This will be easier to follow if you watch the video lesson first.

1) First practice getting the triplet feel. Place your left hand over the guitar strings on the neck to mute the sound and brush over the strings in a triplet pattern with your right hand. Strum straight down.

Tip: It's helpful when starting out to play a straight eight note feel, then play the triplet feel to compare the two rhythms.

2) Next play the same rhythm... but combine the first two notes. This will make it lopsided… The first note will be longer than the second note.

3) Now practice strumming up and down. The first longer note will be a down strum and the shorter note will be on the way up.

4) Apply the rhythm pattern you just practice to a chord. Finger an E chord with your left hand and strum the rhythm.

5) Practice changing chords with this shuffle rhythm feel. Play the E chord four strums, then play the B7 chord four strums. Practice this until you can change in time… very slowly at first.

6) An optional step is to extend this last step by adding another chord. Try changing from the E chord to the A chord, and then to the B7 chord (four strums each) .

7) Play the basic 12 bar blues in E pattern using this strum… again very slowly at first . Focus on strumming smoothly and changing chords on time.

Getting the Shuffle Rhythm “In Your Bones”

Here's a couple of tips that will help you to learn faster.

– Practice this a little each day. Don't expect to figure this out overnight and just move on. It takes time to get it “in your bones”.

– Listen to YouTube videos or recordings that use this rhythm. The more you listen to it the easier it will be to replicate the feel.

– Don't get too hung up on understanding or counting the rhythmic pattern. It's helpful in the very beginning to have something to go by, but think of it like training wheels. You need to let go of the “thinking” stuff earlier than later and let the feel take over.

Beyond Blues Guitar Lessons... Popular Shuffle Rhythm Examples

Here’s a few songs on YouTube to give you a feel and get you started. I've linked to the videos, but because things change on YouTube you may want to search for the song if the link is broken or unavailable in your country.

Stray Cat Strut (Stray Cats)

Rosanna (Toto)

Bad to the Bone - George Thorogood (12 bar blues?)

Revolution (Beatles)

Your Mama Don't Dance (Loggins & Messina… anyone remember Kenny Loggins?)

Don't Stop - Fleetwood Mac

Heartache Tonight - The Eagles 

Wow… This is really bringing me down memory lane. I’d better bring this to a close before I end up spending all day listening to songs that were nothing less than the soundtrack to my youth.

Oh wait!… I didn't actually include an obvious 12 bar blues in the list. Okay, one more.

Pride and Joy (Stevie Ray Vaughan)

That was fun.

Hey, can you think of some great ones that I forgot? Let me and everyone else know what I missed. Put your favorite "shuffle rhythm" songs in the comments below this post (any style of music).



12 Bar Blues in E Guitar Lesson

Go to the lesson above get access to a Study Sheet download with the 12 Bar Blues chord chart.

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  1. this is a great lesson and easy to understand, my only comment is because I’m a leftie. All i ask is, is it possible to use the terms fret hand or picking/strumming hand instead of right or left.

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