If you want to become great at playing blues guitar it’s super important to have a strong foundation in rhythm. For example, take a look at Jimi Hendrix, or Stevie Ray Vaughan. Yes, they played amazing blues leads, but when they played rhythm guitar it was just as incredible.
So today I want to share with you a fun blues rhythm guitar lesson. I am going to share 10 AMAZING blues shuffle patterns every guitarist should know.
So grab your guitar, get tuned up, and let’s get started!
This rhythm is a foundational rhythm. It’s often one of the first blues shuffle patterns guitarists learn. It uses a root-fifth to root-sixth movement. Let me explain what that means. These patterns are all going to be in the key of E. So E would be the root, the note B on the 2nd fret of the 5th string would be the fifth of the scale. So that is the root-fifth part.
We’ll strum that twice with 2 downstrums, and then move on the 4th fret on the 5th string. This is the note C# which is the 6th of the scale in the key of E. When you keep the low E in the bass you now have the root-sixth.
So the pattern shifts back and forth from the root-fifth to the root-sixth. Strumming twice on each before shifting.
Also, do you see that little marking “P.M.”? You do. Great.
That stands for palm mute.
Palm muting is a guitar technique used to produce a muted or "chuggy" sound by resting the palm of your picking hand lightly against the strings near the bridge of the guitar. By doing so, you dampen the vibrations of the strings and create a percussive and muted tone.
Blues rhythm patterns sound great using this technique. A great example of this pattern in context is “Sweet Home Chicago” as recorded by the Blues Brothers.
Blues Rhythm #2 just does one thing differently than blues rhythm #1.
Do you see it?
The only thing different here is when you alternate the root-fifth to the root-sixth, instead of evenly playing 2 strums on each. This time we’ll play 2 strums on the root-fifth and then 1 strum on the root-sixth, then 1 strum back on the root-fifth.
This means on beats 2 and 4 in the pattern we are moving up to the note C# on the 5th string. Doing this creates a backbeat feel. Think of a drummer and how they play the snare often on beats 2 and 4.
Example #3 expands on the 1st blues rhythm pattern. This time we are going to move even higher up the neck. Now we are going to bring in the root-seventh.
Here we are going to start the same way as blues rhythm #1 for the first two beats. But on beat 3, we’ll play the 5th fret on the 5th string and then walk back down.
A great song that uses this style of blues rhythm is Freddie King's version of "Sweet Home Chicago".
Blues Rhythm #4 again starts off the same as the first pattern. But on beat 4 we are going to add a triplet rhythm. A triplet is a musical subdivision where three notes are played in the space of one beat.
In simple terms, it means dividing a beat into three equal parts. Check out beat 4, you will see a hammer-on from the 3rd fret to the 4th fret on the 6th string. And then the last note in the bar is the 2nd fret on the 5th string. Those 3 notes are played in one beat. Using the triplet on the end of the bar breaks up the rhythm from being all eighth notes and creates a nice little forward energy to the pattern.
This rhythm shows an old-school blues rhythm trick. The basic idea is to take your blues shuffle patterns but instead of strumming them. Arpeggiate them. Here we will pluck individual notes at a time. Start by playing the 6th string and then the 5th string. From there we will walk up the 5th string similar to what we did in Blues Rhythm #3. It’s important to note that this pattern starts on the “and” of beat 4. This means that when you play the downbeat you want to be plucking the 5th string. This can be played with or without palm muting.
Blues Rhythm #6 uses the same arpeggiated style as Blues Rhythm #5. But this time we are going to extend the pattern and make it two bars long. This example shows how you can mix and match different patterns on the 5th string. Bar one starts by alternating between the root-fifth and root-sixth. While the second bar moves up to the root-seventh and then walks back down.
A great example of this style of blues rhythm can be heard in the song “Honky Tonk” by Billy Butler.
Blues Rhythm #7 shows a classic Jimmy Reed-style blues shuffle. This pattern starts off the same way as Blues Rhythm #3. But on beat 4 we’ll bring in a triplet. Are you starting to see some similarities here? You are. Cool. Then let’s keep going…
For the triplet on beat 4, we’ll start by playing the root-sixth. This is the open low E and the 4th fret on the 5th string. Right after that pluck the open 4th string and then do a slide on the 6th string from the note G to G#. That’s frets 3 to 4. This little embellishment is used in the blues all the time. It is the minor 3rd to the major 3rd in the key of E.
A great example of this style of blues rhythm can be heard on “Baby What You Want Me To Do” by Jimmy Reed.
Blues Rhythm #8 is almost like a combination of Blues Rhythm #2 and Blues Rhythm #3. We are going to move up the 5th string (root-fifth, root-sixth, root-seventh). But we are going to keep bouncing back down to the root-fifth. This creates a cool little melody in the rhythm part.
This style of blues rhythm can be heard in Magic Sam’s version of “Sweet Home Chicago.”
This example starts to incorporate a boogie-woogie bass line into the rhythm. Start by playing the low 6th string open. Then play a double-stop on the 2nd fret of the 5th and 4th strings. Then the rest of the pattern is a bass line using single notes.
This style of blues rhythm can be heard in the song “Roadhouse Blues” featuring Robby Krieger on guitar.
Blues Rhythm #10 is one of the most iconic blues guitar rhythms of all time. This is Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Pride and Joy shuffle. SRV would play this tuned down ½ step.
So instead of:
E = 6th string
A = 5th string
D = 4th string
G = 3rd string
B = 2nd string
E = 1st string
He would tune:
Eb = 6th string
Ab = 5th string
Db = 4th string
Gb = 3rd string
Bb = 2nd string
Eb = 1st string
Keep in mind this is probably the most difficult of the bunch for most players. So here is another entire lesson on just this shuffle pattern alone.
Developing a strong foundation in blues rhythm guitar is essential for all guitar players that want to play popular music. Just like Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan, who excelled in both lead and rhythm playing, mastering blues rhythm is crucial.
So there you have it! 10 amazing blues shuffle patterns. From the foundational root-fifth to root-sixth movement to variations with backbeats, higher fret positions, triplets, arpeggiation, and boogie-woogie bass lines, these patterns add depth to your blues playing.
Don't forget to focus on making these rhythms really swing! By incorporating the shuffle into your playing, you can capture the essence of blues rhythm.
Drawing inspiration from blues legends like Jimmy Reed and Stevie Ray Vaughan, you’ll use these patterns in many iconic blues songs. Happy playing and for more blues guitar check out this blog on the 101 Best Blues Songs to Learn on Guitar