12 Bar Shuffle Riff

Learn to play the 12 Bar Shuffle Riff that is the foundation of loads of iconic blues guitar tracks!

View the full lesson at 12 Bar Shuffle Riff | JustinGuitar

I’ve been practicing this for a while but it doesn’t sound very good.
The open string is always much louder than the fretted one.
Do you have a tip for the technique of the picking hand?

You can try palm muting on picking hand.

Will there be a short lesson of the „improved“ Part from 10:10 onward? Or will that be part of a future lesson?
Cause it sounds awesome but I can’t quit figure it out from the video.

@Garry82 welcome to the community.
Slow the video down and listen to what Justin is playing.
Experiment with what you see and hear. That is the best way
to learn and train your ears.

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Palm muting is key here otherwise it will tend to sound a bit too loose and not in control.
Also making sure your fretting fingers are right behind the frets (if they’re not already) will help them come out.


Justin makes a comment here about how much fun the Blues are in this lesson and I think that maybe that’s because playing the blues really works as a “team sport”! I’ve always marveled at musicians getting together and playing off one another - particularly in Bluegrass. This is super fun.
Thanks for all of the comments above - I learned how to slow the videos down here because of one comment and the tip of palm muting is a great hack! Cheers all.

Hi Garry82,

The first thing he shows here (at around 10:10, when he says “you can add a little mute”) is actually muting with the left hand. Right after the “1” count, but before before the “and of 1”, he mutes the bass strings by laying the middle and third fingers of his fretting hand on the strings. I’ve tried to learn this, it’s pretty tricky!

In the blues rhythm module he describes how to achieve the same effect with right hand muting:

(starts around 2:50 in that video). I believe he uses the right hand, because in that video he’s playing barre chords. When you’re playing a one-finger open chord, you can mute with the fretting hand.

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Hey, folks! I find I’m having serious trouble doing this with the pick, but find it much easier doing it with my thumb and forefinger. Is that legit?

Many famous blues players do this, like Billy Gibbons from ZZ Top and Joe Bonamassa. You will want to eventually learn it with a pick as well, as it builds your “pick awareness” which you will need when you play single notes and double-stops.

I suggest practicing it both ways. Both methods will help you moving forward. :sunglasses:

Thanks, sir! I just wanted to make sure I wasn’t falling into guitar heresy… I don’t want to get caught up into keeping bad habits permanently. And just to be clear, I’m pretty darn certain I will never be a famous blues player! :thinking:

Hi, I am struggling to put this 12 bar shuffle riff into practice, is there any songs you know that would allow me to play this riff over it? Preferably in A major?

Hey Martin,

Many on youtube etc.

Try this one out. Should fit nicely.

Cheers, Shane


Just started on this riff and gee wizz it burns my pick hand forearm.
I can make it sound ok just not for long until the lactic acid build up gets too much.

I suggest limiting your practice of this to 5 minutes a day, and consider practicing it only every other day until your muscles get used to the new task. Pushing too hard for too long leads to all kinds of physical problems beyond just sore muscles.

Also, as difficult as it is, try to relax your muscles as much as possible while practicing this. The tension in your muscles for extended periods is what leads to tennis elbow, carpal tunnel, and other tendonitis-type issues.

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Cheers Fast-Eddie. Very good advice.
Funnily enough after my comment I tried this again concentrating on relaxing my strumming arm and it was much better. Still probably best for me to take this slowly as you suggest though.

I have a question about playing the shuffle riff in E. I know how to play the E and A from the key of A shuffle but how do you play B?

The easiest way is to play the B7 chord.

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@erikan do you know 2 note power chords? If so B is two frets up from A. You can use a E string Root at the 7th fret or an A string root at the 2nd fret.
If you don’t know two note power chords. Place your index finger on the 2nd fret of the A string, place your ring finger on the 4th fret of the D string. Use you pinky to play the added note on the 6th fret A string. If that is to much of a stretch use the E string 7th fret.

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Hi, just to elaborate on the replies by @Socio and @stitch

You can play the open B7 chord (x21202), in which case you don’t get the full chunka-chunka effect because you’re not adding that note two frets above the 5th. But, it still sounds cool and it’s often played this way.

Or, you can play a B power chord, either at fret 2 (5th string root) or fret 7 (6th string root). This has the advantage of giving you the possibility of reaching out with your pinky and getting that 2nd note on beats 2 and 4. It’s a stretch, though, and takes some practice.

BTW, Justin teaches some more advanced techniques on a shuffle rhythm in E in this video:

He explains about the B power chord (can’t remember if he also shows the B7, I think he does).