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Unlocking Advanced Blues Rhythms: 3 Ways to Level Up Your Playing

Lesson ID: TB419

The blues is boring. It’s just the same old 12 bars over and over.

It gets old after a while.

I’ve heard stuff like that before and of course, I don’t believe it for one second.

No surprise there…

I can kind of see the point if you never go beyond the basic blues shuffle pattern. But there’s so much more to the blues than just that pattern. We’ve talked about a few simple ways to punch up the shuffle before.

But in this lesson, we’re going much, much further.

We’ll take your basic blues shuffle to the next level by expanding the rhythm patterns. Then, we’ll add cool chord tricks and clever chromatics to round out the sound.

The Shuffle Is Just the Beginning

Before you add the fancy bits, you need a strong command of the basics. Make sure you know how to:

You can do a lot with these skills, but don’t quit here! Go beyond.

Here’s how, step by step:

Expand the Basic Shuffle Rhythm Patterns

I think of twelve bar blues as a framework.

It’s a framework steeped in tradition, but it’s also ripe for customizing it to your own style.

You can stretch a standard shuffle into Sweet Home Chicago. You can build a basic boogie into Pride and Joy.

Example 1

This punchy rhythm figure is a step up from the basic boogie line. It’s got a little more flash with hammer ons, pull offs and rhythmic chord stabs.

Example 2

Here’s a slight variation over the A chord. Subtle tweaks like this will help keep the parts interesting but still sound like they fit the overall sound.

Add Life with a Few Cool Chord Tricks

One of my favorite ways to add a sound to a blues jam is to incorporate chords. But don’t just strum a chord and call it a day. This level of blues calls for chords that move.

Example 3

In this example, we embellish two different chord shapes per bar to create a flashy sound.

Example 4

I’m a guitar player so I like flashy parts – they sound good. But don’t confuse good with complicated!

In this example, we move a chord shape down the neck. It’s easy to do yet still creates movement in the part.

Create Big Moments with Clever Chromatic Climbs

Chromatic means moving up or down by a half-step.

From turnarounds to funky chord tricks, the blues is full of chromatic sounds. But my favorite chromatic parts climbs the neck into a chord change.

Example 5

Bar 4 is a perfect spot to climb chromatically from the I chord to the IV chord. It creates a big moment as it builds toward the chord change. Here’s an example moving from the E in bar 4 to the A in bar 5.

Example 6

Let’s get a little flashy with our chromatic climbs, cool?

Here, I climb the fretboard playing from the B7 chord and then compliment it with a similar move from the A7 chord.

Next Steps

These examples are just that: examples.

Use them as a starting point to create your own advanced blues rhythms. When you do, your rhythm playing will take off. Mix different techniques together to improvising complete rhythm parts.

Parts that are interesting.

Parts that are fun to play.

Parts that are definitely not boring.

When you are ready, there are two ways I can help you:

Back Porch Blues Course:  A proven system to fingerpicking the blues.  This step-by-step course guides you through building fundamental fingerpicking skills.  Plus, you’ll learn three levels of a delta blues style performance study to put your new skills into action.

Become a myBGI Member: Membership comes with access to Back Porch Blues plus over 70 step-by-step courses.  Get proven results with one of myBGI’s structured Roadmaps.

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