Rhythm Harmonica for Shuffles (Swung 8ths)

Nifty Groove Trick

8th notes are easy enough to count…

We begin by counting quarter notes: 1 2 3 4

Next, just insert the word “and” exactly halfway between each number:

1 and 2 and 3 and 4

The numbers are called the downbeats…

…and the places we say the word “and” are called the upbeat 8th notes

:bulb: (If you need a quick review, check out my forum post How to Count.)

Much of popular music is played straight like this. In the Blues genre, the straight 8th note feel is well exemplified by the Rhumba groove, which can be played simply on the harmonica using the syllables “yuh - ee - yuh” on beat 1, the “and’’ of 2, and beat 4, as shown here:

You can hear me playing this groove here.

That’s a great feel, but it’s certainly not the predominant groove in Blues.

Here’s the nifty trick I promised you…

If you nudge the UPBEAT 8TH notes (the places where we say the word “and”) just a little later, you can go from a straight Rhumba to a very cool Shuffle, Boogie Woogie, or Swing groove . Confused? Let me break it down for you…

:one: we start with 8th note triplets (which means dividing each beat into three parts.) The easiest way to count 8th note triplets is “1-trip-let, 2 trip-let…” like this:

:two: we simply omit the middle note (the part where we say “trip”.) If you count 8th note triplets with your mouth, and clap ONLY when you’re saying the number s and “ let ”, you will be clapping the swung 8th note feel , like this.

:three: we replace the word “let” with the word “a.” I like to count SWUNG 8th notes like, “1 a 2 a 3 a 4 a.”

I find it’s easier to say “a” instead of “and” because we’ve pushed those upbeat 8th notes farther over and there’s less space between them and the next downbeat.

:four: Wanna know a cool way to play rhythm harmonica on a swung 8th groove? Just CHUCK A-DUCK ! (Don’t worry, no ducks have been harmed in the making of this groove. :wink:)

A common way to play rhythm harmonica on a swung groove, is just to play on beats 2 and 4, using the syllable “chuck” like this.

But to spice it up, we can play the upbeat 8th note just before beat 4 and on beat 4, using the syllables “a-duck.” So the whole thing goes like this:

And if you want to get even fancier , you can sprinkle in a few “chuck a-dugga’s”!

Confused? Check out my video lesson.

So the next time you wanna play some rhythm with the band on Shuffle or Boogie Woogie (instead of just standing there awkwardly waiting for your turn to solo) remember, just CHUCK A-DUCK! :duck::wink:


I just finished this section in the course, so the re-cap and expanded info is awesome!!


I was actually taught a similar thing by Todd for country music. With the way he discussed it, he refers to it as chugging and uses the syllables “ka-thugga” or “ka-thigga”. He explains this further in detail with one of the Q&A videos he did for Tomlin’s Harmonica School down below.