Rock Perspectives

Diamonds in the Ruff

Part 1: The Might 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.





To emphasize the pulse with the feet, try adding quarters or 8th notes on the hi-hat or bass drum.




Now displace each three-note combination forward by a 16th note, while making sure to adhere to the sticking of the master rhythm. Example 1 would now look like this:


And Exercise 7 would look like this:


Keep displacing the examples until you’re back where you started. Then experiment with orchestration and substitutions. For instance, replace each rest in Examples 1–7 with a tom hit (use the floor tom or rack tom, depending on which feels most natural), and then repeat the displacement process. You can also replace each rest with a kick drum, or a kick/crash hit, and repeat the displacement process. By the end of all this practice, you will have covered a lot of ground and played a ton of licks that you can start using for fills.

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