How to Play Blues Rhythm Guitar
Blues rhythm guitar is often put on the back seat as most players tend to focus lead guitar playing which is cool, but for me there’s just as much fun to be had in laying down a good groove which is what this lesson is about.
Chances are that if you have been playing the guitar for a couple of years you will already know a basic ‘chunka-chunka’ shuffle pattern so this lesson explains more advanced ways to develop your blues guitar rhythm playing.
The examples from this lesson will appeal to those who like the playing of more jazzed up blues rhythm guitar players such as Robben Ford, Danny Gatton, Hollywood Fats and Robert Lockwood JR.
Each of the eighth notes in these examples are swung and subdivided in triplets.
Some of the examples use jazz chords and substitutions. Check out my jazz comping eBook for a fully structured study of jazz chords.
Basic Blues Guitar Rhythm
To start here is a basic Jimmy Reed style shuffle. If you don’t know this, memorize it and play it in the key of E before moving on to the next pattern.
All the more complicated ideas in this lesson are based on this idea, so it’s essential that you can play it from memory.
If you are completely new to this rhythm, it’s really all about getting the feel. Take extra care not to rush the rhythm.
Blues Guitar Rhythm Triads
The next example shows how the basic blues shuffle can be expanded on by using triads. This style of blues shuffle accompanying can be heard on many classic Little Walter recordings.
Note the the blues guitar riff is now harmonized using triads.
The D and G triads are both found within an A Mixolydian scale which is why they work harmonically.
Here’s how a full 12 bar blues progression looks on the dots when you apply the Little Walter blues guitar rhythm pattern.
Blues Rhythm Guitar 4 Note Chords
As good as the triads sound, they might sound a little thin without a bassist so I have written out some full 4 note chords that demonstrate how you can thicken out the texture of this blues guitar rhythm pattern.
The G has changed to E-7, but don’t get scared. Look closely and you will notice that the G triad is still there, but having a E root note produces an E-7 chord.
Rather than write out a full etude I have showed you how the pattern changes for each of the 3 chords found within a 12 bar blues to have a shorter, less daunting looking example.
With this you should be able to comp through a full 12 bar.
Blues Rhythm Guitar Passing Chords
To further expand on this blues shuffle we can add some passing chords to create more movement.
If you are looking to explore the full harmonic potential of this, check out this jazz blues chords lesson.
I wanted to keep this lessons stylistically correct for traditional blues so the harmony here is mostly smaller chords.
The next example shows how you can add some passing chords before the IV chord.
Note the smooth bass movement. This movement combined with smaller chords such as triads and shell chords is particularly effective.
The Cdim7 might sound a bit strange but itself, and the Eb and C aren’t found within A Mixolydian.
The minor third (C) and flattened 5th (Eb) and common alterations in blues music so the chord sounds fine in content.
The next example shows where to add it and how it works in content.
Blues Rhythm Guitar Bass Movement
The last example shows how you can add the pattern looked at in the last section to each chord in a 12 bar blues.
I decided to move the pattern to the adjacent string set for the IV chord but you can move it further up the neck too.
Open strings are used for the V chord (E), so you can see how the comping pattern looks in open position.
E and A are very common blues keys so having the pattern in an open position already will set you up for E.
I hope that these blues rhythm guitar studies have been enjoyable and entertaining to play through.
If there’s enough interest I will write a follow up article focusing on blues rhythm guitar in the key of E which is a different ball game.
What do you think of these blues guitar rhythm patterns? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.