Rock Perspectives

Diamonds in the Ruff

Part 2: The Sexy Four-Stroke

by Matt Starr

Welcome to part two of our miniseries on the ruff. I consider the three-stroke ruff to be the workingman’s rudiment. The four-stroke is much sexier, but it’s not easy to master. And it takes a certain amount of precision, which is also what makes it so cool.

The intention of this article is to demonstrate a way to practice and perfect the four-stroke ruff while at the same time helping you discover a world of fill possibilities. As we did with the three-stroke version in part one, we will pair the four-stroke ruff with a master rhythm. For this lesson, the master rhythmis the 16th-note triplet, or sextuplet. The ruffs are to be played as the first four notes of the sextuplet. The sticking should be consistent with that of an alternating single-stroke roll. So imagine that someone is playing sextuplets under each exercise, and whatever hand he or she would be using for any given note is the hand you should be using as well. This is great preparation for real-world execution of this ruff within beats and fills.

Be sure to use full, open strokes. I recommend practicing with a metronome clicking 8th notes at 60 bpm. This may seem ridiculously slow if you’re a more advanced player, but really dig in and feel the groove.






You should also add the feet beneath the exercises to develop coordination and to help keep the tempo steady. Begin by pumping 8th notes on the hi-hat.


Now add the bass drum on the quarter notes.


You can also play 8th notes on the bass drum in unison with the hi-hat.


Now let’s practice the ruff around the kit. Start with three four-stroke ruffs on the snare followed by orchestrations that use combinations of the kick, snare, toms, and crashes. Then move on to two ruffs on the snare and two orchestrations, and then finally one ruff on the snare and three orchestrations. Our first variation was made popular by the king of the four-stroke ruff, Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham.




Here’s an orchestration used often by Ian Paice of Deep Purple. Start with the left hand.


This variation was a favorite of the Who’s Keith Moon.


Vanilla Fudge’s Carmine Appice often doubles up with kick/crash combos.


Contemporary rock icon Dave Grohl likes to replace the inner two 16th notes with the bass drum for a more aggressive attack.


Finally, here’s how hard-rock icon Cozy Powell orchestrated the four-stroke ruff between two toms and two kicks. Start with the left hand.


Pretty rad stuff, right? With subtle tweaks and orchestrations, you can create a whole new set of sounds from something as simple as the rudiments. To hear the funky four-stroke ruff in action, check out “Please Please Me” by the Beatles (Ringo Starr), “Tired of Waiting” by the Kinks (Mick Avory), “Space Truckin’” by Deep Purple (Ian Paice), “Bargain” by the Who (Keith Moon), “Fox on the Run” by the Sweet (Mick Tucker), “Stargazer” by Rainbow (Cozy Powell), “Take Me Away (Together as One)” by Paul Stanley (Carmine Appice), “War Machine” by Kiss (Eric Carr), and “A Song for the Dead” by Queens of the Stone Age (Dave Grohl).

Matt Starr is the drummer for founding Kiss guitarist Ace Frehley. For more info, visit