Variations on One of Drumming’s Slinkiest Grooves

The Half-Time Shuffle keyThe half-time shuffle is a signature beat for some of the most legendary drummers in history. Guys like Bernard Purdie, John Bonham, and Jeff Porcaro are all considered masters of this feel. Let’s take a look at how each of these players customized the groove, and then we’ll check out a few other variations to round out your own halftime shuffle.

Fundamental Focus
To get a handle on the basics of the half-time groove, start with the basic hand pattern shown here.

The Half-Time Shuffle 1

Add some ghost notes on the snare, and you have what’s known as the Purdie shuffle.

The Half-Time Shuffle 2

Once you’ve established a smooth groove with those patterns, try the following variations. Start with the quarter note at 90 bpm, and work your way up to 170 bpm. The goal is to maintain an even, relaxed feel at all tempos.

This variation is from Toto’s “Rosanna,” with Jeff Porcaro on drums.

The Half-Time Shuffle 3

This version is from Steely Dan’s “Home at Last,” with Bernard Purdie on drums.

The Half-Time Shuffle 4

Our third example in this section is John Bonham’s pattern on the Led Zeppelin track “Fool in the Rain.”

The Half-Time Shuffle 5

While all three of those songs share the same basic groove, what makes each one unique is the combination of how the pattern is being played and the variations that each drummer brings to the table.

The Masters’ Variations
Jeff Porcaro’s playing on “Rosanna” is a clinic in consistency. The bass drum, hi-hat, and snare accents (on beat 3) are rock solid, while Porcaro varies the ghost notes to enhance the feel. He starts by omitting a few ghost notes, and eventually he fills them all in. Notice that in both examples (3A and 3B) Jeff plays a Bo Diddley–inspired bass drum part, and check out his subtle yet effective two-note snare variation at the end of the phrase.

The Half-Time Shuffle 6

On “Home at Last,” Bernard Purdie begins without playing any ghost notes on the snare, and he slowly sneaks them in to create a dynamic performance. He also adds an upbeat open hi-hat note to give the choruses a lift. The trick to achieving the slinky Purdie feel is to play quarter notes with your hi-hat foot while using the tip of the stick on the top of the hats. As difficult as it may sound, the key is to not try too hard—just let it happen.

The Half-Time Shuffle 7

John Bonham’s groove on “Fool in the Rain” is loose and powerful. In the verses, Bonham incorporates an open hi-hat on the upbeat of beat 1 and occasionally throws in an extra snare on beat 4 to complement the phrasing of the vocals.

The Half-Time Shuffle 8

Bonham plays quarter-note triplets on the bell of the ride during the chorus to kick it up a notch.

The Half-Time Shuffle 9

Examples 7A and 7B are ride and hi-hat variations inspired by Purdie and Bonham. In 7A, the hi-hat opens on beats 2 and 4, giving the groove a reggae-type lift.

The Half-Time Shuffle 10

In 7B, we’ve displaced (shifted) Bonham’s quarter-note triplet bell part by one note and adjusted the snare part to fit with the bell.

The Half-Time Shuffle 11

You can also enhance the feel of the half-time shuffle by embellishing some of the ghost notes. In Example 8A, the slash marks through the note stem indicate a double stroke, while “Z” in Example 8B tells you when to play a buzz.

The Half-Time Shuffle 12

Make It Your Own
You can create your own variations of the half-time shuffle in a few ways. One thing you can try is to orchestrate the groove differently by moving either hand to a different sound. For example, try moving some of the ghost notes from Examples 2A–2C to the hi-hat or toms. Or play the open hi-hat part in Example 7A on the bell of the ride.

You can also combine ideas. For instance, you could play the hand pattern from Example 4 while reading through the bass drum patterns from all the examples. For an extra challenge, try moving the quarter-note-triplet part from Example 6 to the kick drum, and then read through the hand patterns from all of the other examples.

This is just a sampling of possible variations. The key to applying the ideas in real-life situations is to listen closely to the phrasing of the melody and to the other musicians’ parts. Sometimes the song needs something as detailed as playing along with, or in between, a specific vocal part. Other times you’ll just need to throw in a little something to give the guitar solo or chorus an upbeat lift.

Dave Beyer has played with Melissa Etheridge, Christopher Cross, Wilson Phillips, and the Motels. He teaches at L.A. Music Academy in Pasadena, California. For more information, visit