Rock Perspectives: The Mighty Three-Stroke Ruff (VIDEO)

The following post is excerpted from the March 2015 of Modern Drummer Magazine

Rock Perspectives

Diamonds in the Ruff

Part 1: The Mighty Three-Stroke

by Matt Starr

The first thing I learned when I started taking drum lessons was the three-stroke ruff. I was shown a few ways of playing it, with different accents and stickings, but it wasn’t until I heard Cream drummer Ginger Baker play “Sunshine of Your Love” that I really understood how to utilize this powerful rudiment.

My intention for these next two articles is to provide a way to understand, practice, and perfect three- and four-stroke ruffs using a teaching tool I’ve found helpful. It’s called the Echo Method, and it pairs the figure—in this case the three-stroke ruff—with a master rhythm. For this lesson the master rhythm is the 16th-note roll. That means that the ruff is to be played as 16th notes, and the sticking should be consistent with that of a 16th-note roll. So, starting with the right hand, all of the 8th notes (1-&-2-&-3-&-4-&) will be played with the right hand, and all of the other notes (each “e” and “a”) will be played with the left. This is great preparation for real-world execution of the ruff as part of a fill, where you’ll need to land back into a groove without having your hands crossed up by an awkward sticking.

An endless number of fills and patterns can be derived from the three-stroke ruff. These exercises will help you discover many of them by pairing them with the 16th-note roll. Be sure to use full, open strokes. I recommend practicing with a metronome clicking 8th notes at 60 bpm (or quarter note equals 120, if your metronome doesn’t allow you to subdivide the beat into 8ths). This may seem ridiculously slow if you’re a more advanced player, but try it. Really dig in, and focus on making the rhythms groove. Advertisement

To hear the three-stroke ruff in action, check out “Mississippi Queen” and “Never in My Life” by Mountain (Corky Laing), “Sunshine of Your Love” by Cream (Ginger Baker), “Hell Raiser” by the Sweet (Mick Tucker), “Invaders of the Heart” by Cheap Trick (Bun E. Carlos), “I Love It Loud” by Kiss (Eric Carr), “Let’s Go” by the Cars (David Robinson), “Stand Up and Shout” by Dio (Vinny Appice), and “No One Knows” by Queens of the Stone Age (Dave Grohl).

Matt Starr is the drummer for legendary hard-rock guitarist Ace Frehley. For more info, visit

The March 2015 issue of Modern Drummer magazine