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A Shuffle Primer - Drum Technique
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A Shuffle Primer
A Shuffle Primer
A beginning guide to the shuffle beat
Published by Coach McGuirk
Post A Shuffle Primer

If you have spent much time at jam sessions you probably know that there are several slang terms to describe various shuffle grooves. This article provides a basic definition of a few of them.

Straight versus Swung 8th Notes
Before we dive into these grooves, we need to distinguish between straight and swung 8th notes.

As the term implies, straight 8th notes are dead-even. Each note has exactly the same value. Straight 8th notes are as even as the ticking of a watch.

By contrast, the act of swinging the 8th notes is the practice of delaying the off-beat 8th notes slightly. Swung 8th notes are roughly equivalent to playing the first and third note of a triplet. If you walk quickly across the room, the sound of your feet is similar to straight 8th notes. If you skip across the room, the sound of your footsteps is similar to swung 8th notes. Shuffle rhythms are all based on that swung 8th note feel.

When playing the exercises in this article all 8th notes should be swung. Exercises written as:

Should be played as:

The Double Shuffle:
The double shuffle is the foundation to many popular jazz and blues tunes. Its name derives from the fact that both hands are playing the shuffle rhythm in unison with an accent on the backbeats (beats two and four). An example of the double shuffle follows. The unaccented snare drum notes should be played as ghost strokes.

Here is a variation on the double shuffle:

The double shuffle works well in many contexts. If you play the bass drum lightly it is a very effective jazz shuffle, if you lean into the bass drum it becomes a Texas shuffle as popularized by Stevie Ray Vaughn’s drummer, Chris Layton on tunes like "Pride and Joy".

If you are looking for more examples of double shuffles, Mel Lewis, Art Blakey and Sam Lay are masters of this art.

Flat Tire Shuffle
The flat tire shuffle is a somewhat more obscure groove. Its name derives from the uneven loping sound that it produces—“ker-flump ker-flump ker-flump…”--much like the sound of a flat tire as it rolls down the roadway.

You can hear an example of the flat tire shuffle on “Streamliner” by Rick Vito, featuring John Gardner on drums.

A variation on the flat tire shuffle appears below. In this example the right hand plays the standard swing pattern—ding dinga ding—while the other limbs play the flat tire shuffle:

The Rock Shuffle
In a rock context, the shuffle rhythm is often played on the hi-hat or ride with the right hand while the left hand plays the backbeats on the snare as follows (don’t forget that the 8th notes are swung!):

The unaccented notes in the following two examples should be played as ghost strokes. Ghost strokes and diddles add dimension to the rock shuffle:

For recorded examples of rock shuffles, check out "Lido Shuffle" by Boz Scaggs or "LaGrange" by ZZ Top.

The Linear Shuffle
Drummers like Rod Morgenstein and Richard Bailey have recorded examples of a shuffle that employs a more linear approach. In the linear shuffle, the hands play alternating right and left strokes in 8th note triplets, accenting the backbeats.

As with the rock shuffle, the linear shuffle can be spiced up with ghost notes and diddles:

Check out Jeff Beck’s "Freeway Jam" or The Dregs’ "Divided We Stand" for linear shuffle examples.

The Half Time Shuffle
The half time shuffle is a legendary groove. It can be heard on classic tunes like Steely Dan’s "Home at Last" and "Babylon Sisters" as well as "Fool in the Rain" by Led Zeppelin and "Rosanna" by Toto. This groove is also often referred to as “the Purdie Shuffle” after Bernard Purdie who originated the groove and performed it with Steely Dan and others.

For the half time shuffle the right hand plays the shuffle rhythm on hi-hat or ride while the snare drum plays backbeats in half time and the bass drum compliments the rhythmic/melodic line that the bass player is playing. Ghost strokes (and diddles) add an extra layer of sophistication to this groove:

The Double Bass Shuffle
Billy Cobham stunned the world in 1973 with the opening track, "Quadrant 4" on his Spectrum album. The song featured a blistering double bass shuffle.

For this groove, the shuffle rhythm is played on two bass drums. A basic double bass shuffle follows:

In addition to “Quadrant 4” you can hear other examples of this groove on Jeff Beck’s "Space Boogie" and "Hot For Teacher" by Van Halen.

The examples presented in this article provide a basic introduction to different forms of shuffle rhythms. There is in fact a whole world of shuffle rhythms. If you listen to some of the tunes cited above you will hear dozens of variations on the beats described. Volumes could be written on the possible variations. You can spend a lifetime developing the elusive shuffle feel. Hopefully these examples encourage you to explore the world of shuffles in greater detail.

More Resources
Hal Leonard The Drummer's Guide to Shuffles Book/CD
Hal Leonard The Drummer's Guide to Shuffles Book/CD
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By Coach McGuirk on 08-01-2006, 01:27 PM
What happened to the examples? Not long ago there were examples of each shuffle written out.

I was going to refer someone to this article but it's not much good without the accompanying notation.
By Dawn Rich on 09-08-2008, 05:54 PM
Re: A Shuffle Primer

Yeah, I've been searching for this notation. The explainations are great, but I'd love to have the notation written out here!
Thanks for the great article.
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