St. James Infirmary Blues
by (traditional) • Lesson #216 • Feb 16, 2019
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
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!
- 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
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 +
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
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 ––––––––––––––––––––––––––
Let me know if you have questions. I hope this was helpful.
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).
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!
December 5, 2022
December 4, 2022
November 28, 2022
November 22, 2022
November 10, 2022
November 2, 2022
Browse my all lessons
By lesson type
- Strumming & Rhythm
- Walk-Ups & Walk-Downs
- Learning Barre Chords
- Travis Picking
- Learning Chords
By musical genre
By musical key
By popular artist
- Johnny Cash
- Tyler Childers
- Tom Petty
- Neil Young
- Chris Stapleton
- Willie Nelson
- Guy Clark
- John Prine