In This Lesson
What are the characteristics of the half-time shuffle?
Which drummers defined this groove?
Which songs feature the half-time shuffle?
This month we’re tackling a groove that has confounded drummers for more than forty years: The half-time shuffle. This groove’s ghost note placement has been a mystery to many drummers since legends such as Bernard Purdie, John Bonham, and Jeff Porcaro first laid it down in the late ’70s and early ’80s. In this lesson we’ll explore this pattern with fresh eyes and ears. Let’s dig in!
First, we need to establish a shuffle pattern on the hi-hat. If we’re counting triplets as “1 & a, 2 & a, 3 & a, 4 & a,” we’ll be playing the counts “1 a, 2 a, 3 a, 4 a” on the hi-hat while resting on the middle triplet partial (“&”) of each beat. Pay attention to the accent pattern in the following example and be sure to maintain that accent’s emphasis throughout the rest of the lesson. A nice, relaxed song that you can play along with while practicing these initial exercises is Track 18 from my book, Survival Guide for the Modern Drummer.
Next we’ll add ghost notes. These should be played softly in the center of the snare for maximum clarity. The ghost notes will be played with the left hand on the middle triplet partials (“&”) between the shuffled hi-hat pattern. Remember to start slowly.
This next concept is key to being able to execute the half-time shuffle. We need to play an accented snare backbeat that’s immediately followed by a ghost note. I like to call this a “backbeat stutter.” This concept is worth practicing as an isolated example.
Let’s establish the half-time shuffle’s hand pattern. We’ll combine the concepts from Exercises 2 and 3 into one cohesive phrase that we’ll utilize throughout the rest of this lesson. Take time to internalize this example.
Next we’ll add the bass drum. Start by simply adding the kick on beat 1. This is the simplest version of the groove, and it’s a very useful pattern.
In this next example we’ll add the third triplet partial (“a”) of beat 4 on the bass drum. Bernard Purdie played this groove on the Steely Dan track “Babylon Sisters,” from the group’s 1980 album, Gaucho.
And if we add a bass drum note on the third triplet partial (“a”) of beat 2, we’ll be playing the groove Purdie recorded on Steely Dan’s “Home at Last,” from 1977’s Aja.
In the chorus of “Home at Last,” Purdie plays an open hi-hat on the last triplet partial (“a”) of each beat. This can sound complicated, but Purdie is just playing quarter notes with the hi-hat foot, which makes the coordination easier. Let’s play the right hand and left foot to get a feel for this pattern.
Now let’s incorporate the open hi-hat pattern into the groove from Exercise 7.
Two years after Purdie played “Home at Last,” John Bonham immortalized his version of the half-time shuffle with his performance on Led Zeppelin’s “Fool in the Rain,” from 1979’s In Through the Out Door. First let’s isolate Bonham’s modified bass drum and right-hand pattern.
Bonham didn’t employ quite as many ghost notes as Purdie. Let’s add in the ones he played on “Fool in the Rain.”
The signature element of Bonham’s half-time shuffle was the accent and hi-hat opening on the last triplet partial (“a”) of beat 1. Remember that just like Purdie’s chorus pattern on “Home at Last,” the left foot closes on the quarter note. In this case, the hi-hat pedal closes on beat 2.
If you listen closely to Bonham’s version, notice that it’s really a four-bar phrase. Bonham plays Exercise 12 for the first three bars while adding a “backbeat stutter” on beat 4 of the fourth measure, as demonstrated in the following example.
Exercise 14 demonstrates the full four-bar phrase.
The late Jeff Porcaro stated that both Purdie and Bonham influenced his groove on the Toto tune “Rosanna.” His third influence in formulating this groove was the Bo Diddley beat, which is based on a 3:2 clave. Here’s that rhythm played on the bass drum.
In the second measure of this rhythm, Porcaro displaced the first bass drum note forward by one triplet partial and added another note on the “a” of beat 4. Let’s play his modified Bo Diddley bass drum rhythm with the shuffled hi-hat pattern.
Next let’s add the snare backbeats. Notice that in this groove the snare and bass drum are played simultaneously on beat 3 of the second measure.
Finally, let’s add the ghost notes back in. Be sure to take it slowly at first. Once you’re comfortable playing this at a slow tempo, try bumping up the speed using Track 75 from my book.
Keep practicing this groove! You never know when you’ll need it, and you’ll be glad to have it in your bag of tricks. For me, the moment that I most needed it occurred when Toto’s Steve Lukather sat in with Rascal Flatts in Philadelphia to play—you guessed it—“Rosanna.”
The Half-Time Shuffle: Essential Listening
Bernard Purdie on Steely Dan’s “Home at Last” from Aja and “Babylon Sisters” from Gaucho
John Bonham on Led Zeppelin’s “Fool in the Rain” from In Through the Out Door
Jeff Porcaro on Toto’s “Rosanna” from Toto IV
Brady Blade Jr. on Dave Matthews’ “So Damn Lucky” from Some Devil
Jason McGerr on Death Cab for Cutie’s “Grapevine Fires” from Narrow Stairs
Jim Riley is the drummer and bandleader for Rascal Flatts. His book Survival Guide for the Modern Drummer is available from Alfred Music. For more information, visit jimrileymusic.com.