It would be hard to think of a bass groove that is kicked to the curb more often than a blues shuffle.
At the same time, you could also say that if you can’t play that blues shuffle then you’re going to get some cold, hard stares!
A blues shuffle is a slippery and demanding groove to master.
It would seem to be a simpler formula than other grooves because of its repetitive nature. To be sure, though, the many possible interpretations of the bass line along with the insistent pulsing of the shuffle require a well-seasoned grip on the fingerboard and a stout heart.
The purpose of the lesson today is to provide an example of a classic blues shuffle, to show effective ways to interpret this noble bass groove, and to also give some smart, helpful advice on how to supercharge your shuffle fingerstyle with massive amounts of bass expression.
The introduction playing clip in the video lesson is a rather fast tempo if you are just now starting out with playing blues shuffles.
In the lesson, however, you will find the tempo to be much more approachable. The two main elements that are demonstrated are the shorter, sharper shuffle notes and the longer, “greasier” notes. Please pardon the street language, but it fits the situation!
Learning to maintain the blues shuffle with the shorter, bouncier notes is definitely a challenge for the uninitiated.
Sometimes I think of those types of notes as old-timey (in a good way). But in other instances, I feel that they are perfect for the heads of the tunes. It leaves more space and therefore more room for vocal expression to occur.
When you feel free to use longer notes and fill out the measure you get a more modern sound that is perfect for when the guitarist starts to pour on the heat. You provide a fat, wide platform for all of that blues mayhem that rages in the upper registers.
The point that I would try to make is that when you become familiar enough and skilled enough to mix these two basic interpretations of the shuffle at will, you are getting close to the time when you can put your own personal stamp on this classic bass line.
Again, a blues shuffle is an extremely insistent groove due to the short “period” of the basic pulse. It’s not a two-measure or even a one-measure bass line. A shuffle is more like a constant pulse – a heartbeat that keeps the blues band alive.
I have added to the video lesson one of my favorite exercises in dynamics to help supercharge your fingerstyle skills.
The purpose of these accent studies will become clear to you in only a few weeks of consistent practice. It is a fantastic bang for your buck, so to speak.
The main point of accent exercises is for you to become completely aware of exactly how you are playing your bass notes.
Are you bashing incessantly without any thought of the dynamics? Does every note have the same tone as a jackhammer down at the worksite?
By developing a wide kinetic range (how hard and how soft you are striking the strings), you will start to develop a similar skill for dynamics that orchestral players have. By learning to randomly place accents you quickly become aware of how you are playing. And as long as you learn to set up your instrument volume and room dynamics, you will be setting the stage for a wide range of bass expression and better musicianship in general.
I truly hope you can take your time with these blues shuffle materials and learn how to enjoy your practicing.
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