Rhythm Workshop: The 20/8 Shuffle - GuitarPlayer.com

Rhythm Workshop: The 20/8 Shuffle

In our last two workshops we explored the art of the shuffle and introduced 5/4 and 5/8 meters.
Publish date:
Social count:
Image placeholder title

In our last two workshops we explored the art of the shuffle and introduced 5/4 and 5/8 meters. Now it’s time to get crazy and combine both concepts for some Mahavishnu-style “Dance of Maya” madness.

We begin with a simple E5 chord played for two bars of 5/4 quarter-notes as shown in Ex. 1a. Next, Ex. 1b eliminates the bar line to produce a single measure of 10/4. From there, we halve the value of each quarternote, which gives us the 20 eighth-notes and measure of 20/8 illustrated in Ex. 2a. Here, the eighths are grouped in ten pairs of twos and bear no resemblance to a shuffle. But dig this: By maintaining the same tempo and regrouping the eighth notes into threes, we end up with six very triplet-like groupings plus a single two-note group as shown in Ex. 2b, and it is this 3/8 x 6 + 2/8 division of eighth-notes that provides the basis for our 20/8 shuffle.

The final step takes place in Ex. 3, where we tie the first two notes of each triplet and alternate between E5 and E6 chords six times to produce a distinctive shuffle rhythm, and then tag it with a pair of single eighth-note hits on E5 and E6. This final move turns the beat around as the figure recycles in the next measure.

Image placeholder title

Now the fun really begins. Record yourself playing a dozen or so passes of Ex. 3, and then superimpose the 10/4-based arpeggiated chord shapes illustrated in Ex. 4. Since these are played as quarter-notes at the same tempo, the combined parts—3/8 x 6 + 2/8, and 2/8 x 10—produce a swirling polyrhythm that recycles every 20 eighthnotes. Adding to this fray the bluesy singlenote riff depicted in Ex. 5 is enough to make anyone’s head swim, but once you “get it,” you’ll realize that these three parts can be played in any combination or all at once.

Finally, Ex. 6 presents another set of arpeggiated chord shapes that reorganizes our 20/8 pulse into 5+5+4+3+3 eighthnotes. (Tip: Listen to “Lila’s Dance” from Visions of the Emerald Beyond.) Play this figure over Ex. 3 and witness how it too meshes with the 20/8 shuffle rhythm. Once you start experimenting with different eighthnote groupings to concoct 20/8 shuffles of your own design, I guarantee your ears will never be the same!