Blues Shuffle Guitar Lesson

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Blues Shuffle Guitar Lesson

blues guitar intro
The intro & outro part for a blues in the key of A.

Learning a 12-bar blues is one of the fundamentals of beginning to play guitar. The basic blues is very simple to learn, and is common ground for guitarists - it can be used as the basis for guitarists to play music together, even if they've never met before. This lesson outlines how to play a 12-bar blues in the key of A.

The Blues Intro and Outro

A blues typically uses some sort of musical introduction ("intro") before launching into the meat of the song. The guitar tab above (learn to read guitar tab) is an example of a very simple intro and outro, which you can memorize and use. This is a very basic blues intro, which leads immediately into the main part of the song. It will take a little practice to play quickly, but this intro shouldn't be too difficult.

Hear this blues intro (mp3)

The second line of tab above is a basic blues outro that will wrap up the song, the last time you play it. It's not very long, and shouldn't be too tough to learn. This outro begins on the 11th bar of the 12 bar blues, which will make much more sense once we learn the rest of the song.

Hear this blues outro (mp3)

Once you've mastered the intro/outro above, you should try experimenting to vary these patterns, to make them sound a little more interesting.

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The 12-Bar Blues Chord Progression

Hear this 12 bar blues played twice, with intro and outro (mp3).

This is the main "form" or structure of the song. After playing the blues intro, a typical blues song form begins and lasts for 12 bars, then repeats (without the intro) until the end of the song. The last time the 12-bar pattern is played, the last two bars are replaced by the outro.

The illustration above outlines the form of the twelve bar blues, and you'll need to memorize it. Chances are, when you hear it played, this blues form will sound logical, and shouldn't be at all hard to memorize.

Although this diagram illustrates the chords in a 12-bar blues, guitarists don't usually strum A5 for four bars, D5 for two bars, etc. Instead, they will create rhythm guitar parts based on these chord structures. These guitar parts can be simple or complex. On the following page, we'll learn a basic rhythm guitar part for a 12-bar blues.

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The Blues Shuffle Pattern

blues shuffle pattern on guitar
Hear this 12 bar blues played twice, with intro and outro (mp3).

The pattern outlined here is one of the most simple rhythm guitar parts you can play in a 12-bar blues. The diagram above illustrates what to play over each chord in the blues progression.

For each bar of A5, you'll play the appropriate tablature above. Play the note on the second fret with your first finger, and the note on the fourth fret with your third finger.

For each bar of D5, you'll play the appropriate tablature above. Play the note on the second fret with your first finger, and the note on the fourth fret with your third finger.

For each bar of E5, you'll play the appropriate tablature above. Play the note on the second fret with your first finger, and the note on the fourth fret with your third finger.

If you listen to the recording, you'll notice there's one small variation in the rhythm guitar part near the end of the blues progression. The first time the 12 bar blues is played through, on the 12th bar, there is an alternate pattern played on the E5 chord. This is often done at the end of each 12 bars, because it gives the listener and the band a solid way of knowing that we're at the end of the song form, and we're going back to the beginning again. See the E5 (alternate) pattern above for instruction how to play this variation.

Get comfortable playing the patterns above. You'll note that all the basic rhythm patterns are identical - they are simply played on adjacent strings. Pick up your guitar, and try playing through each pattern... they are rather easy to memorize.

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Putting it Together

Now that we have learned the...

  • blues intro
  • blues outro
  • blues chord progression
  • blues rhythm pattern

...it is time to put them all together, and practice playing the entire rhythm part of the 12-bar blues. To do this, take a look at a PDF of the exact tab being played in the audio clip of the 12 bar blues being played in the key of A. Try printing out the PDF, and practicing it until you can play it slowly in time. Once you're comfortable with this, try playing it alongside the audio clip, and see if you can match it exactly.

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Tips on Playing a 12 Bar Blues

  • Loop the 12 bar blues without an intro, and without the outro. Keep repeating until you've memorized it. Use the variation on the 12th bar in order to keep track of where you are in the song.
  • Try playing the intro and outro, along with the song, WITHOUT losing the timing.
  • Play along to the recorded example, and try to mimic it perfectly.
  • Try playing an A blues scale over the recorded example. This is something we're going to examine further in the future.
  • Be sure you're not hitting open strings that you shouldn't be playing.
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Your Citation
Cross, Dan. "Blues Shuffle Guitar Lesson." ThoughtCo, Apr. 24, 2017, thoughtco.com/blues-shuffle-guitar-lesson-1712860. Cross, Dan. (2017, April 24). Blues Shuffle Guitar Lesson. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/blues-shuffle-guitar-lesson-1712860 Cross, Dan. "Blues Shuffle Guitar Lesson." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/blues-shuffle-guitar-lesson-1712860 (accessed November 17, 2017).