Learning the basics of a simple blues shuffle on Cigar Box Guitar, with Chickenbone John

Get your three string guitar tuned in G D G and let's get started!!!

I was prompted to do this lesson after seeing few people trying to play a "shuffle" on cigar box guitar but not really getting to grips with the rhythm. When you are on your own and trying to figure it out from scratch it can be very difficult to master this basic but essential part of learning how to play blues (or most other music styles come to that). For the most part, we will be concentrating on the picking or strumming hand, and not worrying much about fretting or sliding the notes.

I've been fortunate to learn from some great modern blues players, such as Kevin Brown, Catfish Keith, Jim Crawford and Brooks Williams to mention a few, and hope I can share a little bit of that knowledge to you.

I want to pass on the words of Son House, told by Kevin Brown. Kevin says, “Maybe I was eighteen or nineteen, I met Son House and I spent some time with him, and he taught me two things which to this day I still remember. He said, “Man”, he said, “You gotta learn how to play rhythm, if you can’t play rhythm, ain’t no point in putting slide on any kind of shit. You gotta get your rhythm right boy, you know, don't worry about your slide”….and the second thing he said, “Your slide playing ain’t worth a shit unless it’s got a song to put it on.”, so wow...that’s interesting, I’m going to have to learn some songs.”

So with this in mind, we will concentrate almost entirely on the rhythm, not the fretting of the notes or sliding. You need to go nice and slow and steady, and start feeling the bounce that you need to get a proper driving soulful sound. Counting the rhythm out aloud can really help, and repetition, repetition, repetition is essential to get this locked into your mind and muscles. It's essential to break away from a "square" and even one-two-three-four beat. Two important things - firstly start the rhythm count by adding an "and" on an upstroke. Also, the stress needs to be on the 2 and 4 beat, so it's "one & TWO & three and FOUR". All the "and" beats should be upstrokes, all the counted beats downstrokes.

This may seen unnatural at first, but without a drummer or accompanying musician to help out, it's really important that you get this count and this beat right. Once you have mastered it you can break out of the pattern with fingerpicking and more complicated strum patterns, and by adding a full "walking bass" to really get the groove going, but start with getting the feel and emphasis of this basic rhythm pattern locked down. Good Luck!

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