St. James Infirmary Blues

by (traditional) • Lesson #216 • Feb 16, 2019

Video Lesson

Instructional PDF 3 pages

Follow along with the print-friendly PDF! It includes all of my notes for this lesson, allowing you to follow along at your own pace. You're free to download, print, and share the PDF across your devices.

Thanks for being a Premium member of Song Notes! Your support makes these lessons possible.

Download PDF

Follow along with the print-friendly PDF!

It includes all of my notes for this lesson, allowing you to follow along at your own pace. You're free to download, print, and share the PDF across your devices.

To download the PDF, upgrade to premium or log in.

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:

  • 0:00 Playthrough & greeting
  • 2:05 Chords shapes needed
  • 6:20 Chord progression
  • 6:55 Strumming patterns
  • 9:39 Adv. strumming tips
  • 13:40 Fills & licks
  • 21:02 Farewell

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.

Browse Related Lessons

Click any tag below to view other lessons I've made in that category:

About Song Notes

Hey there! My name is David Potsiadlo, and I'm the creator of the 400+ weekly lessons here at Song Notes, going back to 2013. Here’s my guitar story »

Get Free Lessons Each Week!

Join the 20,000+ readers who get my new lessons dropped in their inbox each week. I teach a fun mix of songs, weekly riffs, practice ideas, and more!

Enjoy my lessons? Buy me a beer!

If this and my other lessons have proven helpful to you, please consider making a one-time donation to my tip jar. Contributions of any amount help make this project possible (including the many, many hours I put into it).

Thanks!


Subscribe to my YouTube channel

Be sure to never miss a lesson by subscribing on YouTube. I put out 2-3 new videos every week. These include full song lessons, as well as covers, practice tips, behind-the-scenes updates. Thanks!


Recent Lessons

Browse All Recent Lessons →

Browse my all lessons

By lesson type

By technique

By musical genre

By decade

By musical key

By popular artist


← back to homepage