Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Shuffle strategies

The shuffle.
The jazz shuffle is a struggle for a lot of people due to the technical left hand part, with the soft note right before the accents on 2 and 4. Most drummers attempt to do this with a kind of “whip” stroke— using the forearm to jerk in the accent. It works OK, with a lot of time on the stand playing shuffles, but I find it to be a lot of work, and dynamically limiting— it's hard to do it quietly. And it tends to make the accented note late. Some say that the backbeat should be a little behind the beat, but even if true, that should be a choice, and not forced on you by a limitation in your technique.

What I've found to be very helpful is to insert a quick upstroke with the wrist after the little note:

Practice that slowly and mechanically with the left hand only, doing the upstroke itself as fast as possible regardless of the tempo. The unaccented notes should be 1-3" high, and the accented notes 6-10+". As you increase the tempo into performance range, you can streamline the motion so it feels more natural and swinging, but if you keep thinking of that upstroke with the wrist before the 2 and 4, it the entire groove will feel much more relaxed, and your 2 and 4 will sit right on the money— or wherever you choose to play it. You'll also be able to play it at softer (and probably louder) volumes than with the “jerk” stroke.

A rudiment I've found helpful with shuffles in general is the right handed flamacue:

If you put it in a triplet rhythm, with the first flam landing before the beat, you have the kernel of the shuffle in the left hand:

Once that's comfortable, you can do the flamacues so the repetitions overlap. Here your left hand will be playing the shuffle rhythm (though with the accent on 1 and 3 in this case), and your right will be playing quarter note triplets:

The quarter note triplet in the right hand is actually helpful in cross-checking your rhythm, and can also give your shuffle some place to go when improvising— more about that later.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Very helpful. Thanks much.