One might be hard pressed to find anything more musically exciting than a good drummer setting fire to a band by laying down a strong, straight-ahead shuffle beat. The shuffle is a very dynamic rhythmic feel. It has been used in a host of diverse musical idioms, ranging from the earliest of the simplistic rhythm & blues drummers to the complex, hard-driving shuffles of heavy metal’s Alex Van Halen. Though the shuffle is basic in nature, there are a number of ways to play a good shuffle. For the uninitiated, let’s first point out that the shuffle is nothing more than the following rhythmic feel:
The interest lies, however, in the different ways the shuffle can be stated and moved around the drumset.
Let’s begin with a popular method whereby the shuffle feel is stated in the left hand on the snare drum, beneath straight quarter notes in the right. The changing bass drum patterns make each beat quite distinctive from the next.
The ride-time variations are left-hand shuffles with a standard jazz-time pattern played above them. Note how each subtle snare and bass drum variation significantly alters the character of each beat. Be sure to maintain a strong backbeat feel, and a good balance between cymbal, snare, and bass drum.
In the final variations, the shuffle groove itself is locked in on the ride cymbal, while the snare and bass drum weave an assortment of interesting rhythmic variations beneath it.
Deciding which of the many possible shuffle beats to use depends entirely upon the musical situation. Careful listening, combined with good musical judgment, are the watchwords.