Robben Ford

Cannonball Shuffle

Guitar Techniques 150

Unfortunately I’m not allowed to put the actual transcriptions on the website.

I posted everything else though!


Robben Ford is one of those guitarists who always sound new, creative and inspiring, whose sound is instantly recognizable from the first note and whose phrasing is subject of study for many blues guitarists all over the world. Robben grew up in a musical family and he started playing professionally when he was still in his teens with one of the blues greats: Jimmy Witherspoon. After more than 20 years of career, more than 30 albums where his playing has been recorded and thousands of gigs, his playing still sounds fresh almost like he can’t repeat himself or follow the same path twice.

There are many different elements that contribute to create Robben’ style and signature sound. This month we’ll study ‘Cannonball Shuffle’ from his latest album “Keep On Running” (2003) and we’ll try to ‘steal’ or ‘borrow’ as much as possible from his magic hat.

‘Cannonball Shuffle’ is blues shuffle in the key of A at moderate tempo (around 123-125 bpm). The melody and form of the song is quite simple and straight forward which makes this song a perfect candidate for a gigging or jamming song. The solo section is a typical 12 bars blues progression:

The common approach is to use the A Blues scale for the entire chord progression. This approach is an ‘old school’ approach and works perfectly but if you aim to sound a bit more like Robben an ‘upgrade’ is required.

Secret Number 1: Scale Choice

Here’s a partial list of scale choices Robben often uses in a blues in A:

  • A: A Minor Pentatonic (A-C-D-E-G) or Blues (Eb), A Major Pentatonic (A-B-C#-E-F#), A Mixolydian (A-B-C#-D-E-F#-G)
  • D: A Minor Pentatonic or Blues, D Blues (D-F-G-Ab-A-C), D Major Pentatonic (D-E-F#-A-B), D Mixolydian (D-E-F#-G-A-B-C).
  • E: A Minor Pentatonic or Blues, A Major Pentatonic, E Blues (E-G-A-Bb-B-D), E Major Pentatonic (E-F#-G#-B-C#), E Mixolydian (E-F#-G#-A-B-C#-D).

Although some of these scales might be new to some, these are all very common choices, sometimes even for very traditional blues players (BB King, Clapton, etc).
So if the scale choice isnot the definitive step to get closer to Robben’ style, what is it?

Secret Number 2: Vocabulary

Robben has an amazing vocabulary of musical phrases that he uses and blends all the time. This solo is full of licks and ideas that can be ‘stolen’ and taken on board: learn a lick, play around with it, develop it, make it yours and use it. This is an important step but it’s still not the definitive.

Secret Number 3: Timing, Rhythm

Robben has an amazing sense of rhythm and timing that make his solos always sound relaxed and smooth. To be able to do this you need, at some point, to dedicate all your attention to the rhythm of his phrasing in fact often he plays an ‘old’ phrase in an unexpected part of bar, with a different rhythm to keep his playing fresh. Also, his timing is always laid back (the opposite of the majority of guitarists who tend to rush and speed things up) and this gives the relaxing, smooth sound he’s famous for.

Secret Number 4: Tone, Sound

The last step to get closer to Robben’ style is the tone, sound. In fact one of his biggest ‘secrets’ is the picking hand technique. He plays with the butt end of a Fender medium pick which gives him a warmer sound and sometimes (like this song) he uses hybrid picking to add a different color to his playing.

The combination of all these elements will definitely get you closer to Robben’s playing style.

I hope you’ll find all these information helpful. Thanks to Dave Marks for his help with the GT backing track.