This Excerpt from “Acoustic Blues Guitar Basics” Will Show You How to Play the Backbone of Blues, the Shuffle.

The blues shuffle rhythm has a kind of swing feel that always gets the party started and can be heard throughout the blues world. Here’s a look at the basic elements of this rhythm pattern.


Blues Shuffle Basics

There are a lot of different ways to play this beat. Let’s take a Jimmy Reed–style Chicago shuffle that Reed made famous. Example 1a distills this groove down to just two strings. Notice that the first note of the pattern is the root of the chord and actually starts on the last eighth note of the previous measure—the and of beat four.


Playing this pattern on the E and A (Example 1b) chords is pretty simple but the B chord can be tricky. Let’s look at two choices for playing the B (Examples 2a and 2b). The first position can be difficult if your pinky can’t reach the sixth fret while holding the chord down. The alternative is to move up high on strings six and five (Example 2b), which makes the stretch for your pinky a little easier. When you move up to play these two strings make sure your left hand is muting strings one through four so you don’t get any unwanted notes ringing out.

Example 3 shows the Jimmy Reed–style Chicago shuffle on the entire 12-bar blues progression in the key of E.

Orville Johnson
Orville Johnson

Orville Johnson is a guitarist, dobro and lap steel player, teacher, recording artist, and writer based in the Pacific Northwest.

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