While it is prevalent in blues, the shuffle rhythm is used in almost every style of early and modern music. You also hear it in rock, funk, country, hip hop, and the list seems endless. Traditionally, the rhythm is subdividing the pulse into triplets (see the first measure below) and only playing the first and last of the three notes (see the second measure below).
Here is a basic shuffle rhythm. It can be helpful to think of it as taking a straight 8th note beat
and pulling apart the two 8th note partials. Think of the hi hat rhythm like an egg rolling down a hill.
There are different interpretations and variations of this rhythm, with different dynamic inflections, and even degrees of swing. The names of each of these are also somewhat
controversial as to what they are called and where they originated. For example, what one
person calls a Chicago shuffle, another may call a Texas shuffle. Make sure to check out the
links to songs showing each type of shuffle.
Here are some common ways to play the shuffle.
CHICAGO / TEXAS SHUFFLE
There are different variations of this shuffle. Here are a few. Make sure to articulate the
dynamics between the ghost and regular notes. (Cold Shot, Pride and Joy)
The same goes for this shuffle. Make sure to articulate the dynamics between the ghost
and regular notes. (La Grange)
FLAT TIRE /PUSH SHUFFLE
The flat tire shuffle has the snare drum on all of the third triplet partials. (Kidney Stew)
This rock shuffle has the shuffle rhythm articulated between the bass and snare drums.
DOUBLE BASS SHUFFLE
The double bass shuffle has the shuffle rhythm using both feet.
(Quadrant 4, I’m the One, Hot For Teacher)
The typical jazz pattern only needs a snare note on the third triplet partials of beats 1 and 3 to
make a shuffle. (Soul Jazz Shuffle)
The scissor shuffle plays the shuffle rhythm between the ride cymbal and hi-hat foot.
(Check out Steve Gadd playing this one.)
This halftime shuffle has the main snare note on 3, with ghost notes on the second triplet
partials. (Babylon Sisters, Fool in the Rain, Rosanna, Grapevine Fires)
To bring home the point of how much you can vary the feel of a shuffle, check out the
song Think, by James Brown The beat here is right in between straight and shuffled.
These are definitely not the only way to play each kind of shuffles. The beauty of shuffles, and music in general, is how differently the same beats are interpreted. Happy shuffling