If you’re looking to learn to play blues, starting with some of the genre’s main rhythms is a great way to start. Today, we’ll be looking at the blues shuffle, one of the most frequently used rhythms in blues music. We’ll be focusing on blues shuffle in C, but you can apply some of the advice in this article to playing in other keys.
What’s a Blues Shuffle?
Even if you don’t know what a blues shuffle sounds like off the top of your head, you’ll almost certainly recognize it when you hear it. An example is the Jimi Hendrix song “Red House.” You can listen to it here.
In a song that uses the blues shuffle, a rhythm guitarist will often use chord progressions that center around dominant seventh chords. Shuffles are usually 12-bar blues progressions, and most 12-bar blues chord progressions just use your I, IV, and V chords.
But the heart of the blues shuffle is in the rhythm itself. It’s played in a particular (and easily recognizable) way. A “shuffle” rhythm is one where you play eighth notes in triplets — it’s like playing in 3/4 time with a 4/4 background beat.
It’s impossible to convey the groove of a shuffle in C track through tablature. But if you listen to this backing track, you’ll get a good feel for what a shuffle sounds like. As you may have already guessed, to be a good blues rhythm guitarist, you really need an impeccable sense of timing!
We won’t get too deep into the theory surrounding the blues shuffle in C here. But the distinctive sound of these progressions is caused by starting with a power chord (or something close to it). From there, the fifth of the chord played moved up to the sixth. And then finally, it goes to the flattened seventh — a key part of blues music.
Blues Shuffle in C: Rhythm
Before you try to learn a song or play along with a track, work on getting the rhythm just right. Listen to a song with a shuffle beat, mute the strings, tap your foot, and try to play the rhythm. If you have a guitar teacher, play along with them. This video tutorial is great to play along with, too.
Playing the blues shuffle rhythm really only requires you to play the root notes of the required chords. Many guitarists use either the power chord versions of the chord or the dominant seventh barre chord form. They then mostly hit the fifth and sixth strings.
Luckily, most 12-bar blues progressions involve only the I, IV, and V chords. If we want to play the shuffle in C, we just need C, F, and G (or C7, F7, and G7).
Depending on your current ability as a guitarist and how easily you adapt to playing 12-bar blues, you can learn riffs and rhythm fills to make your shuffle rhythms more interesting. Just make sure you have a solid grasp on the rhythm first!
Blues Shuffle in C: Lead
Countless guitarists dream of being able to play flawless blues leads. But many aren’t sure how to start.
The truth is that the best way to get better at improvising solos is to practice improvising solos. Luckily, you do have a roadmap of sorts when it comes to improvising — your scales.
In particular, both the minor pentatonic scale and the major pentatonic scale work beautifully with a 12-bar blues progression. In the case of the blues shuffle in C, we can use either C minor pentatonic or C major pentatonic.
Of course, you’ll want to play along to a rhythm track to simulate playing with a band. There are plenty of web videos that offer different versions of backing tracks. Here’s a great blues shuffle track that’s also in C.
If you’re new to soloing, choose a track with a fairly low bpm at first. You can always increase the tempo as you improve.
If you’re more advanced, you might want to move beyond the pentatonic scale. Try improvising with a backing track using Mixolydian mode. You might recall that this mode of the major scale includes a flattened seventh, so it’s great for playing along to a blues track (and definitely the shuffle in C).
Moving Forward With Blues Shuffle in C
Now that you’re familiar with shuffle in C and how to play it, we hope you can go forward with confidence! The shuffle rhythm is an indispensable tool for blues guitarists. But even if you don’t play blues, the shuffle can inspire you and add some new life into your next track.
Almost ready to jump into the blues shuffle in C? Here are a couple of common questions you might have:
A blues shuffle is a rhythm of eighth note triplets over a 4/4 beat — it’s effectively playing in 3/4 time over a 4/4 beat. It’s typically played using a 12-bar blues progression, and it’s a central part of countless blues, pop, and rock songs.
When you play blues shuffle in C, you’re just playing the shuffle pattern in the key of C. If you want to play a rhythm track, you would play a 12-bar blues progression in the key of C (using chords C, F, and G). If you want to play the lead, play a solo using a scale in the appropriate key.