WHILE BLUES MUSIC ENCOMPASSES
many forms and feels, nothing brings it
home quite like the mighty shuffle rhythm.
Rooted in the 6/8 pulse of West African
music, this broken triplet rhythm is the cornerstone
of traditional blues, but it’s also
prevalent in rock, pop, hip-hop, country,
and jazz, among other styles. To really nail
the shuffle feel, you must first understand
that you are dealing with triplets. To get into
the groove, start with clapping your hands
at a steady medium tempo while counting
out loud: “one-two-three, one-two-three,”
making sure that one is on the clap, and
that two and three are all evenly spaced
between the claps.
Once you feel comfortable counting
the triplet rhythm, play it on your bass, as
shown in Ex. 1. Work this rhythm slowly
at first, and make sure the notes are evenly
spaced—a well-played triplet has a round,
flowing feel to it. When you’re ready for a
reality check, play the triplet rhythm with a
metronome to see how steady, and relaxed,
you can be.
To turn this into a shuffle rhythm, simply
leave out the second beat of the triplet. The
key to a killer shuffle lies in the space between
the first and third beats of the triplet. Any
veteran blues, jazz, or R&B player will tell
you—some shuffles are wider than others.
When the bass player starts shufflin’ with
the drummer, they’d better be locked in.
One proven method for internalizing rhythm
is singing, so let’s give the shuffle pattern
some “lyrics.” The word “Dutch” has two
sounds: “duh” and “tch.” They will be the
first two beats of the triplet. For the third
beat, use the sound “da.” Put it all together
and you get “Dutch, Da Dutch, Da Dutch,”
(Ex. 2). The “ch” fills the space of the missing
second beat of the triplet and gives the
rhythm structural integrity. First, sing the
shuffle while clapping quarter-notes. When
you feel comfortable with that, use a metronome
for the quarter-note pulse. Although
you won’t necessarily want to do this while
performing, see if you can play the shuffle
rhythm on the bass and sing the rhythm at
the same time—with the final step of adding
the metronome. For extra fun, place the
metronome clicks on beats two and four.
It will take practice, but when you get it,
your shuffle will be unstoppable.
Two common interpretations of the shuffle
rhythm on bass (a.k.a. the “double stroke”)
are staccato or legato. The shorter version
leaves a gap on the second beat of the triplet
(Ex. 2), while the first beat sustains through
the second beat as in Ex. 3. The staccato
shuffle fits well when the drummer uses a
tightly closed hi-hat. When the drummer
switches to the ride cymbal, a legato shuffle in the bass supports the groove nicely.
Example 4 is a boogie-line variation played
with a staccato shuffle feel. Use this pattern
over the entire 12-bar form, and then play
the legato articulation of the line as shown
in Ex. 5. Next time you play with a band,
pay attention to where the drummer places
the rhythm. Try the suggested short and long
articulations—I think you’ll be amazed at
how much it adds to the groove.
The shuffle a huge part of blues music.
But remember: It is not always necessary
for the bass player to shuffle. Sometimes
a good, solid quarter-note will ground the
feel better. As the song tempo approaches
the 140 BPM mark, the double-stroke starts
to sound rushed, and over 150 BPM it’s just
stupid. Practice these rhythms clapping
your hands and singing, on the bass, and
with the metronome. That way, when you
hook up with a great shuffle drummer, you’ll
keep that train a-rollin’—all night long.