Guitar lesson for

St. James Infirmary Blues

by (traditional)  •  Lesson #216

Video Lesson

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Editor’s notes

In this lesson I’ll teach you how to play an acoustic version of the classic St James Infirmary Blues. We’ll be in the key of A-minor, and I’m going to make this as accessible and beginner-friendly as possible. I’ll teach the chords, the progression, some strumming tips, and show you some neat lead licks & fills you can add in between strums of certain chords. I hope you find it helpful… let’s get to it!

Video timestamps:

My backing track for this song

Lyrics w/ chords

Opening verses:

         Am              E       Am       Am
  I went down to the St. James Infirmary
    Am         F    E     E7
  I saw my ba---by there
           Am           E          Am     Am
  She was laid out on a cold white table
      F        E         Am     Am
  So cold, so white, so fair

          Am          E       Am         Am
  Let her go, let her go, god bless her
  Am          F       E    E7
  ...Wherever she may be
          Am          E          Am     Am
  She may search this wide world over
               F            E        Am   Am
  She'll never find a sweet man like me

Other verses (use same chord progression):

  When I die, bury me in my straight-leg britches
  Put on a box-back coat and a Stetson hat
  Put a twenty-dollar gold piece on my watch chain
  So you can let all the boys know I died standing pat

  An' give me six crap shooting pall bearers
  Let a chorus girl sing me a song
  Put a red hot jazz band at the top of my head
  So we can raise Hallelujah as we go along

  Folks, now that you have heard my story
  Say, boy, hand me another shot of that booze
  If anyone should ask you
  You just tell 'em I've got those St. James Infirmary blues

How to play the chords

Here are the chord shapes you’ll need for this song. A few quick tips. First, for the E7, feel free to play a regular E if the 3rd fret note on the B string gives you trouble. Second, for the F, feel free to sub in any simplified voicing (2 options shown below) if the full F barre chord gives you trouble.

Typical chord shapes:       Alt. positions for F major:

E –––0–––0–––0–––1––––      E –––––––––––
B –––1–––0–––3–––1––––      B –––1–––1–––
G –––2–––1–––1–––2––––      G –––2–––2–––
D –––2–––2–––2–––3––––      D –––3–––3–––
A –––0–––2–––2–––3––––      A –––3–––––––
E –––––––0–––0–––1––––      E –––––––––––
     Am  E   E7  F               F   F

Chord progression for entire song

Repeat this, over and over (read left to right, top to bottom).

Am      E       Am      Am
1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +

Am      F       E       E7
1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +

Am      E       Am      Am
1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +

F       E       Am      Am
1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +

Strumming patterns

Simplest way is to do all down strums on the quarter notes (1, 2, 3, 4):

1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +         d = down strum
d   d   d   d

Next, you could bring in a strum of only the root note (thickest string of any chord) on the 1 and 3 counts, followed by a full strum (of all strings) on the 2 and 4 counts.

  A-minor:                E-major:

E ––––––0–––––––0–––    E ––––––0–––––––0–––  
B ––––––1–––––––1–––    B ––––––0–––––––0–––  
G ––––––2–––––––2–––    G ––––––1–––––––1–––  
D ––––––2–––––––2–––    D ––––––2–––––––2–––   etc
A ––0–––––––0–––––––    A ––––––2–––––––2–––  
E ––––––––––––––––––    E ––0–––––––0–––––––  
    d   d   d   d           d   d   d   d   
    1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +         1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +   

You also could bring in up-strums, which I prefer to do in this manner (note this is an 8 count pattern, which is a bit tougher):

1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +       d = down strum
d   d u d   d u d   d u   u   u       u = up strum
>       >       >                     > = accented strum

Adding fills

Here’s the fills I demonstrate in my video lesson. These are always played on the final 2-3-4 beats of the 2nd measure (on each of the 4 lines).

Fill #1 of 4

E –––––––––––––––––––––––0–––
B –––––––––––––––––––––––1–––
G –––––––––––––––––––––––2–––
D –––––––––––––––––––––––2–––
A ––––––––0–3–––0–––––0––––––
E ––0–3–––––––––––3––––––––––

Fill #2 of 4

E ––––––––––––––––––––0–––
B ––––––––––––––––––––1–––
G ––––––––––––––––––––2–––
D ––2–1–0–––––––––––––2–––
A –––––––––3–0–––––0––––––
E ––––––––––––––3–––––––––

Fill #3 of 4

E ––––––––––––––––––––––0–––
B –––––––1–3––1–––––––––1–––
G ––0–2–––––––––2–0–2–––2–––
D ––––––––––––––––––––––2–––
A ––––––––––––––––––––––0–––
E ––––––––––––––––––––––––––

Fill #4 of 4

E –––3–0––––––––––––––––0–––
B ––––––––3–1–––––––––––1–––
G –––––––––––––2–0–2––––2–––
D ––––––––––––––––––––––2–––
A ––––––––––––––––––––––0–––
E ––––––––––––––––––––––––––

Good luck!

Let me know if you have questions. I hope this was helpful.

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