Triplets are used in many styles of music including blues, rock and country. The basic shuffle rhythm is created by leaving out (resting) the middle note of each three-note triplet group. This “triplet” idea allows performers to include triplets in the melody without clashing with any rhythm patterns.
Many shuffle rhythm songs are in 12/8 time (sometimes called “swing time”) which is just like 4/4 time except with a “swing”. Here we’ll take a look at a common blues shuffle rhythm in the key of A using power chord shapes.
Let’s take a shuffle rhythm in 12/8 time but, instead of playing full chords, we are going to use two note power chords. One note will be the root note of the chord we are on in the progression and the other note will be varied or shuffled between the 5 and 6 notes of the chord to give us an E5 and E6 power chord respectively. This type of shuffle is typically used to play a slow blues (60 to 90 bpm).
To make things easier to start with, we are going to play a shuffle in the key of A using an open string for the root note of each of the I, IV and V chords. The chords are shown at the top of the tab and the timing and left hand fingering at the bottom.
Play the rhythm with all downward strums. Remember, to get the shuffle feel we are going to rest (ie, not play) on the 2 count of each triplet. A good heavy slow blues shuffle is typically played by making the first beat much shorter and heavier than the third beat of the triplet. You can do this by playing the 1 in each triplet as a staccato chord by quickly deadening the sound with the fleshy part of the outer edge of your picking hand palm straight after you strum the notes (you have to palm mute here in order to deaden the open string). Let the chord on the 3 of each triplet sound until you play the 1 of the next triplet. This will sound like ‘dunt – dar dunt – dar dunt …. etc’ where the dash is the rest beat.
Of course, this is not the only way we can get a good heavy slow blues rhythm sound. Try reversing the above beat by playing the first beat long and the third beat staccato. Sound the chord on the first beat until you play the staccato chord on the third beat. This will sound like ‘dar – dunt dar – dunt dar …. etc’.
The best way to finger this shuffle is to keep your hand reasonably flat on the fingerboard so that when you play the fretted notes your first and third fingers mute the strings below. This is a good habit to get into for playing riffs and solos – and for playing certain rhythm patterns, as you will see when we get to the ‘Texas shuffle’