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How to Play Shuffle & Swing Rhythm on the Bass Guitar

Learn how to play shuffle and swing rhythm on the bass guitar from musician John Sutton in this online guitar lesson from Howcast.


The shuffle and swing rhythm is based on the 8-note triplet. So the 8-note triplet is played tri-pl-et tri-pl-et tri-pl-et. This rhythm is really popular in American music in particular. We hear it a lot in the music of the south, rockabilly, country, blues especially. We hear it in music from Chicago, specifically blues. We hear it from Elvis and rockabilly, Chuck Berry. The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Cream, The Rolling Stones. These guys were all imitating the same blues sound, so you get this same rhythm, this infectious shuffle. I like to think about playing the shuffle rhythm like a drummer plays a ride cymbal. We have the quarter note, and then we have the pickup beat. But we hear the pickup beat as a sort of kickoff into the next chord. So instead of thinking about it like tri-pl-et tri-pl-et tri-pl-et tri-pl-et, but stopping them each time. We think about it as like let-tri-pl let-tri-pl let-tri-pl, and that last 8th note pushes into the next chord. So the idea is that you can play maybe down a pentatonic E-scale and you can play. Something like that; something as simple as that to get used to playing that sound. Now the trick is, as a bass player, sometimes we'll only be playing in the quarter note. Maybes it's the drummer's job, or maybe it's the guitar player, or someone else to really be playing those pushoffs into the next beat. So one trick is to even have that be audible; even have the shuffle be audible, when you're playing just quarter notes. You really need have to internalized the beat. You really need to be able to feel the shuffle deep inside. Once you have that internalized, you can hear it even if you're not really subdividing the beat as a shuffle. And that's how you play the shuffle and swing rhythm on the bass guitar.

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