How to Play Shuffles and Shuffle Variations

By Brad Schlueter

Can’t play a convincing shuffle? You might as well cross a whole range of potential gigs off your bucket list. Shuffles play a crucial role in every professional drummer’s vocabulary, and those still struggling to get the hang of this particular feel might be surprised to learn there’s a lot more to it than meets the eye.

Shuffles can lightly bounce behind a track or drive like a freight train, and everything in between. You may be content knowing a handful of basic patterns, but there are dozens of types of shuffle grooves that can help you develop greater control and coordination while expanding your fluency. So let’s take your shuffle to the next level.


As you dig deep into shuffle pedagogy, you’ll find that they’re sometimes written as triplets in 4/4 and other times as 12/8. So, to help you adjust to this idea, we’ve presented the following examples both ways—in either case, they’re more or less equivalent. I’ll refer to both patterns as being counted as 1 & ah 2 & ah 3 & ah 4 & ah because it’s easier to count them that way, even though my music theory teacher would slap my wrists for that.

Shuffles generally sound like a child skipping, with a cymbal pattern playing the pattern 1 – ah 2 – ah 3 – ah 4 – ah. However, as you’ll soon see, there are countless variations on this idea. Sometimes the feet play the shuffle, or it’s divided among several limbs, or occasionally it’s just implied.


For those new to shuffles, we’ll start with a few blues beats that aren’t technically shuffles, but will help you get used to the feel of triplet-based beats. These grooves are written in 6/8, and since they’re shorter, they’re easier to master. Practice each slowly until it becomes comfortable, and then try speeding up the tempo.

Keep your snare and bass drum medium strong, and play your hi-hat softer using the tip to create a musically balanced sound. Once you’re comfortable with these, you can link pairs together to create longer and more interesting patterns. The second line has some simple shuffles.

When playing these on the ride cymbal, you may close your hi-hat with the snare note. The third line is trickier. To master these, play the unaccented snare notes very softly. More advanced drummers can expand these by buzzing or playing soft drags instead of ghost notes for different textures. Feel free to add variations on the cymbal, foot, or snare patterns to spice up any shuffle once you’re comfortable playing it.

Simple Shuffle


There are dozens of shuffle variations and, just to confuse you even more, their names sometimes change by geographical region. Here are a few of the best ones.

KICK DRUM SHUFFLE. The bass drum plays a shuffle rhythm beneath the hands. This is a tiring and loud groove that doesn’t work everywhere, but it’s well worth the time to develop it for situations where it fits. Once mastered, the hands are free to play fills over it.

SAMBA SHUFFLE. You can think of this as the strange progeny of a samba and a kick drum shuffle hookup. The hi-hat pedals the second triplet partial (the &s) for a constant rolling feel.

PURDIE SHUFFLE. Here’s a simple version of a this celebrated shuffle (we dig deeper into it below). Note how the snare ghost notes maintain the momentum of the groove. Many other bass drum patterns are possible. Try to come up with some of your own.

CHEATER SHUFFLE. Okay, this isn’t really a shuffle, but it’s something I’ve seen hard rock drummers and beginners play from time to time, and it can be useful as a fill pattern too.

FLAT TIRE SHUFFLE. Also called an Inside or Backward Shuffle, it sounds like a flat tire turning. This is a key blues groove.

DOUBLE BASS SHUFFLE. An indispensable tool for rock and metal drummers, here we shift the shuffle pattern to the feet. Lots of drummers lead these left-footed, since their left foot is already used to keeping four-on-the-floor time on the hi-hat.

STEVE GADD SHUFFLE. This is similar to a double bass shuffle, but uses the hi-hat in place of the second bass drum.

LAZY MAN SHUFFLE. Here’s a useful variation to use when you want to let the rest of the band play the shuffle feel while you drive right down the middle of it. This can groove really hard.

JAZZ/SWING SHUFFLE. In this permutation a jazz ride or hi-hat pattern takes the place of the shuffle pattern. Drummers often place a quiet snare on (1) ah to complete the feel.

HAND TO HAND SHUFFLE. If you’re ever asked to play a shuffle at a ridiculous speed, this version may become your best friend.

TRAIN BEAT SHUFFLE. Basically a triplet version of the country classic.

LA GRANGE SHUFFLE. On the ZZ Top classic “La Grange,” drummer Frank Beard plays this variation of a Hand To Hand shuffle on the rim of his snare, and embellishes the pattern with flams and drags.

SNARE SHUFFLE. This is a great country or blues groove, and sounds fantastic when using a brush in your right hand while playing a rim-click with your left.

ROCK SHUFFLE. Played heavier than many other variations, the kick and snare suggest the shuffle as much as the hi-hat pattern does. Lots of rock drummers begin learning to shuffle with this kind of beat.

HALFTIME SHUFFLE. Here the snare accents count 3 and the groove feels more laid back and often funkier than a regular shuffle.

GLAM ROCK SHUFFLE. This variation transfers the hi-hat part to the floor tom for a powerful jungle feel.

shuffle variations
shuffle variations
Halftime Shuffles


The Double Shuffle is also known as the Chicago Shuffle, the Full Shuffle, the Prima Shuffle, and sometimes the Texas Shuffle, as well as several other names. It goes by so many aliases it almost makes you wonder if it’s on the lam from the law. This groove has been around for quite some time. Drummer Bobby Morris played it on Louis Prima’s song “Just A Gigolo,” though you’re probably more familiar with David Lee Roth’s 1985 redo of it.

This is an essential shuffle groove. If you can’t play any other shuffle, you should at least have a handle on the Double Shuffle. However, it’s a bit tricky to master. The challenge is getting the left-hand dynamics just right, so practice playing all the unaccented notes very softly. Admittedly, you can also perform this groove with medium level “soft” notes, but by practicing them softly you’ll be ready for any musical situation.

The accented snare note can be played in the middle of the drumhead for a meaty sound, or as a rimshot for a higher pitched ringing timbre. Here’s a tip: To play a quick accent after a soft note, it can help to use a Moeller “whipping” motion or use your fingers to “grab” the stick briefly. Most drummers accent both the snare and ride together, mainly because it’s easier to do it that way. For greater control, work on just accenting the snare hand and keeping the ride or hi-hat even.

ADD-A-NOTE METHOD. One way of teaching this groove is to start with a basic shuffle and add notes to the snare and bass drum parts until you’re eventually playing the whole pattern. Keep in mind that patterns C and D are often interchangeably referred to as Texas Shuffles.

LIMB PAIR METHOD. Another way I often teach grooves is to isolate the hand pattern (the first limb pair) in order to master it first. Once that’s solid and the dynamics are consistent, layer it on top of the much simpler foot pattern (the second limb pair). The slower you work on the hand pattern, the sooner you’ll be able to get the dynamics under control. Once you get these down, experiment with other bass drum patterns.

The Add Note Method - Shuffles


Once you learn a variety of these grooves you may wonder why some drummers’ shuffles feel so good. It could be a number of things, but first, check out their dynamics. Is the drummer accenting differently from you? What about their overall volume range? It may depend on musical context, but it’s good to be able to adapt your levels to different situations.

Another common stumbling block is dynamic contrast. Is there enough of a difference between your soft and loud notes? Record yourself and listen closely. Make a quick video to check your stick heights for consistency. Playing rimshots on your accents is a great way to add tonal contrast at every volume range between the notes you want to emphasize and those you don’t.

Some drummers employ a more subtle way of altering their feel by varying the note spacing. By deviating from a straight triplet feel, you can drastically alter the music’s feel. Straightening out the notes a bit, notated here with the cymbal on the first and fourth note of a quintuplet rhythm, will give the shuffle a rounder, lazier feel.

This can occur naturally when the tempo becomes so fast that it’s hard to play an even triplet. Think of rockabilly or early rock and roll—lots of those hi-hat patterns had a slightly uneven, somewhere-between-straight-and-swung type of feel.

If you slightly delay the skip note (the last triplet partial—the ah), here shown as the first and fifth note of a septuplet rhythm, you end up with a harder, more driving feel. Now, I’m not suggesting blues drummers are counting fives and sevens, but hopefully this notation will help illustrate their subtle feel changes.

Our last example here uses accents on every ah to give the groove a pushing quality.

Spacing Variations - Shuffle


There are many well-known shuffles you should know. Here are a select few of them.

“BALLROOM BLITZ.” Glam rock band The Sweet had a hit with “Ballroom Blitz” and Mick Tucker created this up-tempo driving snare shuffle for the song.

Ballroom Blitz - Mick Tucker

“RADAR LOVE.” Drummer Cesar Zuiderwijk came up with this great pattern for the classic Golden Earring single. Even though he played a right-handed kit, he actually reversed the stickings we notated on this version.

Radar Love

PURDIE SHUFFLE. There are many different versions of this groove played by Bernard Purdie, but perhaps his best known is this one from the Steely Dan song “Home At Last.” This is a halftime shuffle with the snare emphasis on count 3, and he closes his hi-hat on all the beats creating openings on every ah.

Purdie Shuffle

“FOOL IN THE RAIN.” This Led Zeppelin track finds John Bonham playing another variation on a halftime shuffle. His hi-hat opening is funky and a little tricky to get down.

Fool In The Rain

“ROSANNA.” The Toto hit features the late studio great Jeff Porcaro behind the kit. He created this funky groove that somehow combines elements of the Bo Diddley beat, the Purdie Shuffle, and “Fool In The Rain.” The challenge is playing the ghosted snare immediately following his accented backbeat.

Rosanna shuffle, Jeff Porcaro

“QUADRANT 4.” Jazz and fusion innovator Billy Cobham kicked the drumming world in a bombastic new direction when he decided to play a shuffle on two bass drums.

Quadrant 4

“SPACE BOOGIE.” Simon Phillips soon followed in Cobham’s footsteps with Jeff Beck’s “Space Boogie” (in 7/4), and its swing ride cymbal pattern. Note that Phillips leads his double bass shuffles with his left foot.

Space Boogie

“HOT FOR TEACHER.” Alex Van Halen put his own tasty spin on the double bass shuffle by superimposing this unique ride bell pattern over it.

Hot For Teacher

This article originally appeared in the April 2015 issue of Drum! magazine. This is the first time it has been published online.