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Blues Guitar Lessons: The Shuffle

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Now we have blues harmony,
that's the dominant chord.
We have blues form, that's the 12-bar.
We know what the one, four, and
five are, so we're in pretty good shape.
But to play blues,
the way blues is played,
we have to have another ingredient.
And that's the rhythm.
Now the rhythm of blues, the classic
rhythm of blues is called the shuffle.
And the shuffle is kind of this lopsided
beat that is the cousin to swing.
And between swing and
shuffle those were the dance groves
of the first half of the 20th century and
then some.
It's what everybody listened to.
Everybody went to the club and danced to.
It was just the way popular
music was constructed.
It was based on swing and shuffle.
Since the 60s,
it's been a little bit different but
the shuffle is still
the basic rhythm of blues.
And so to understand the shuffle,
let's break it down.
And we're gonna compare some
different rhythms here and
see how the shuffle is constructed.
And to help out here we're gonna
use our old pal the metronome.
So start the metronome.
And now I'm gonna count you in and
what we're gonna do is,
I'm gonna instruct you to play
different kinds of rhythm.
And I'll demonstrate them and
then you join with me.
Now I'm using a pick here.
The picking technique is not a big deal.
You can even use your thumb but it's
just more a matter of staying in tempo.
First thing I'm gonna do [SOUND] is
break the beat into two equal parts.
And these are straight eighth
notes as they would be called.
And that's one and two and.
And I'm gonna play A on the fourth string
at the seventh fret with my third finger.
How about that?
Here we go.
And one and two and three and four and
that has this very even,
kind of squared-off quality.
And next I'm gonna do,
I'm losing the metronome here.
Is play three equal notes per beat.
And that's called a triplet.
And we're at E on triplet.
It's gonna sound like this.
Join with me.
Play this.
I'm using straight alternate picking down
up down.
[MUSIC] I'm gonna leave out the middle
of each eighth note triplet,
so I'm playing the first and
the last notes of the triplet and
that's where the shuffle is gonna be,
and it's gonna sound like this.
Three, four, one, and two, and
three, and four, and one, and two.
Now I still,
in my mind I hear that triplet.
Triple let, triple let,
triple let, triple let.
But I'm only playing the front and
the back.
And leaving the middle open.
Now, let's do a little experiment here.
I'm gonna call out a rhythm and
see how quickly you can grab on to it.
Let's go back to straight eighth notes.
Four and one and two and
three and four and
triplets four and.
Shuffle and four and.
Now straight eighth notes.
Four and.
four and.
now what that teaches you
is a technical thing.
How do you tell the difference between
straight eighth notes and a shuffle and
it's counting the three
instead of the two.
But also teaches you a feel.
And I think you can feel that right away.
The straight eighth note is up and
down and up and down.
The shuffle is.
It curves, it has a rolling quality.
That's what the blues is all about.
It's that relaxed rolling feel that
you get from a good strong shuffle.
It just feels so laid back and you just
wanna sink back in to that groove.
And that's what we're
gonna learn how to do.
Now to play the shuffle and to play
the shuffle boogie rhythm as it's known
which is kind of the foundation of a blue
as it was played in the electric era.
We're gonna learn a different cord.
Actually this is taking
a cord we already know and
just stripping it down to its basics.
Play a dominant seventh in the fifth
position, [SOUND] rude on the six string.
Now the bottom of that chord or
the lowest notes.
Two notes like that.
That is the first and
the fifth notes of the chord.
It's called a fifth interval.
And if I combine those with
the note on the fourth string,
which is an octave of A,
root, fifth, octave.
I get what's known as a power chord.
Power chord is just root and fifth and
then the octave is kind of sweetening
the pot a little bit, and
That is called a power chord because it's
powerful, let's face it.
Especially when you play rock,
for example you crank it up,
put some distortion on there.
Blang, that's the chord that gives a lot
of a really aggressive songs their power.
So, that's the A power chord.
we're gonna play that power chord on
the low strings, with a shuffle rhythm.
And it's gonna sound like this.
One and two and three and four, and.
All right?
Now the fingering of the power
chord I'm using my first finger and
my third finger a little tiny bar there.
Just two notes.
The rest of the notes, I don't care.
I just want them to disappear.
But I'm aiming the pick
at the bottom three strings and
really digging in.
And in this case I'm
gonna use down strokes.
So I hit it real hard
and then I hit it a little softer
And when I hit it hard, at the same time,
I release the pressure as we did when we
were playing rhythm before
So I hit it and let it go.
When I play it soft, I sustain it.
When I get it going,
you can feel that rolling quality.
That's the shuffle.
All right, now the muting,
making the notes stop is
accomplished with the fretting hand.
Not with the picking hand.
Now, let me point something out here.
What I'm doing now is called palm muting.
In other words, the heel of my
hand is resting on the low string.
And I'm muting the strings by partially
blocking the notes at the bridge.
That's a technique that's really valuable
when you play certain styles of music,
like when you use a lot of distortion,
lot of volume, because it helps keep
the sound of the guitar under control.
But in blues,
we don't want that most of the time.
And so what we wanna do is have a free and
easy, relaxed picking hand.
And all the work is done
with the fretting hand.
So we're gonna mute with the fretting
hand, instead of the picking hand.
Okay, now let's take that rhythm.
And apply it to the 12 bar blues.
And when I make the changes,
I'm going to go from A to D.
Same exact chord shape, I just base it on
the fifth string, so I move my hand over.
Now here I let the tip of my finger
[NOISE] mute the low string, so
I don't hear that.
And E,
the five chord,
Same fingering as D,
and back to A again.
Twelve bar blues using
the boogie shuffle rhythm, okay?
Here we go, one, two, three, four.
Keep rolling around my
brains, yeah, have mercy.
Here's the four chord.
Okay there
you get it,
Now it's tricky when you're singing and
playing and counting.
A lot going on at the same time.
So first things first,
play with a metronome,
play it accurately,
make those changes right on time.
And then when you're comfortable with it,
you can start to add in the singing and
the lyrics which makes it feel like the
actual music that we're aiming for here.
Now, do that at all 12 keys of course,
And I know when I say 12 keys, it's
like man that's gonna take half a day.
It gets quicker and
quicker as you learn it and
that's the reason we're doing this is by
getting this out of the way now, you don't
have to worry later if somebody comes up
and says hey man let's play this blues.
It's in E flat.
And you go no E flat.
I don't know how to play in E flat.
Yes you'll know how to play in E flat,
won't feel any different
from playing in E or D.
That's the goal,
is to be competent in all keys.
And all it takes is just
a little repetition.
And you're already,
I think you're already seeing results
from putting that practice in.
It's gotta work.
One more thing before we go.
That is, let's talk about sound.
I talked about gear awhile back, and
amps and guitars, and stuff effects.
It's tempting, it's very tempting
to hit the distortion pedal, or
to turn up the distortion on the amp and
play all the stuff that we're doing.
With a lot of distortion and
get that big, wet kind of sound.
The problem is, it's gonna detract
from the depth of your blues playing.
Classic blues,
which is what we're talking about here,
is a style that depends
on clarity of expression.
It's dimension and we wanna hear
all the detail of every note.
That's how we tell
the personality of the player,
is that we hear the depth,
the personality of each note.
Distortion has the effect of compressing.
It squeezes everything
down into a smaller sound.
It sounds big but the actual essence
of the sound is quite small.
It's ironic, right?
But that's why classic
blues is played clean,
it's played with the right
hand away from the strings.
And we wanna hear the detail,
we wanna hear the presence of the notes.
So, learn how to play clean and
then when you do use distortion,
you will sound that much better.
But if you practice with distortion,
you are gonna teach yourself to
play with the wrong kind of sound.
It will take away from your
ability to be dynamic.
And dynamic is a huge,
huge asset when you play blues.
All right?
So, your assignment is to practice the 12
bar boogie rhythm, like we just did.
In all the keys, accurate tempo,
make that metronome disappear.
Make clean transitions between the chords.
And no mistakes.
You don't allow yourself to make mistakes.
Now to help out,
just to give you a demo here,
let's do it one more
time with a rhythm track.
And this is a 12 bar shuffle,
bass and drums.
Now I set this at a 100 beats per minute.
Now this might feel fast, you might not
be able to make the changes cleanly.
But it's a demonstration of what it feels
like when you hear it with the band, and
that's when the music
starts to come alive, okay?
All right, so let's play this thing here
12 bar shuffle in A 100 beats per minute.
Join me if you will.
One, two, three, four.
I'm gonna show
you how to end it
with a flourish,
like that,
that's part of
the game here.
There's a lot of ingredients
to add to that, but
what you got right there is the essence
of the boogie shuffle rhythm,
which is the fundamental rhythm
pattern that we hear in electric blues
from the 1940s pretty
much straight on down.
So we're gonna start adding
some little bells and
whistles to that,
make it interesting in different ways.
But first things first,
practice that in all the keys.
Now if that rhythm pattern there
with the band was too fast for
you, that's what you're aspiring to.
You work with the metronome, work yourself
up to a 100 beats a minute clean,
accurate, right on the spot.
And then you join in with the band and
play that with the rhythm track,
All right, I'll see you the next time.