Lesson 15: Developing Your Groove Abilities, Part 3 (Musical Feels, Part 2 - Shuffle vs. Straight, 3/4)

Shuffle vs. Straight

Another big factor affecting the overall musical feel is whether the groove is a straight feel or if the underlying sixteenth notes are shuffled.

Let’s revisit a couple of grooves from earlier lessons. In the following example, the underlying sixteenth notes (“1-ee-and-a”, etc.) are straight.

Audio Example 1

Contrast that with this example, where the sixteenth notes are shuffled.

Audio Example 2

When sixteenth notes are shuffled, they are played as sixteenth note triplets with the first two of each triplet tied together.

Figure 1

Figure 1

Here are a few of the drum grooves from our last lesson that are now implying a shuffle while retaining the basic subdivision feel. Examples 3 and 4 remain essentially eighth note and quarter note feels, respectively, but with shuffled sixteenth notes occasionally incorporated.

Audio Example 3

Audio Example 4

Audio Example 5

In Example 5, the sixteenth note subdivision was provided by the hi-hat. However, it can be more subtle and musical when drummers imply it with ghost notes on the snare.

Audio Example 6

Exercise 1

Find a variety of shuffle drum patterns on a drum machine and practice grooving along over a static chord vamp. Try to incorporate occasional variations that are phrased consistent with the shuffle feel (e.g. make sure to shuffle any sixteenth notes not following on a downbeat).

Record yourself and listen back critically.

Exercise 2

Over our familiar drum groove (but this time slowed down to 90 BPM)...

Audio Exercise 2 Drums

...go back and forth between playing a straight groove and implying a shuffle. This is most easily accomplished by occasionally playing the last note of the sixteenth note triplet occurring immediately before a downbeat.

One important point about shuffles: the degree to which a groove shuffles can vary. Sometimes the hippest feel is when the shuffle is not as tight, and the groove feels more like a straight sixteenth subdivision...but with a lilt. The following drum groove example demonstrates three different shuffle feels, beginning with a fairly overt shuffle and gradually loosening to a feel falling somewhere between a shuffle and straight feel. Fun stuff!

Audio Example 7

Grooving in 3/4

Time doesn’t permit me to get deeply into a discussion of odd time signatures (3/4, 5/8, 7/8, etc.), as it could easily be a whole separate course. Rather, I would like to briefly touch on the area of playing in 3/4.

With the exception of fusion or progressive rock settings, 3/4 (or some variation of it) is the odd time signature the majority of us most frequently encounter. While the traditional waltz-esque interpretation of playing a 3/4 groove may be appropriate in certain settings, it seems that the feel could use a bit of contemporizing in most other settings.

When playing slow 3/4 ballads, I will frequently play dotted half notes interspersed with notes on the “and” of beats 2 or 3 (mixing it up for variety). These tend to help minimize that “plodding” feel.

In my opinion, though, the drummer is in the driver’s seat when it comes to making a 3/4 tune groove...particularly if the song calls for a legato, dotted half note treatment from the bassist.

Here’s an example of how a 3/4 tune might be traditionally interpreted by the drummer...

Audio Example 8

One simple change that does much to pull it away from the waltz realm is for the drummer to interpret it as a half-time feel (snare hit on beat 1 of every other bar). In this example, the drums are implying 6/8.

Audio Example 9

Adding some ghosting to imply an underlying sixteenth note subdivision can further enhance the 6/8 treatment of the groove.

Audio Example 10

If you find yourself playing with a drummer who gives every 3/4 groove the waltz treatment (and that’s not the band’s objective!), you might want to experiment with subtly infusing some eighth note (or sixteenth note, depending upon the tempo) subdivisions into the bass line. It might even give it a bit of a West African flavor; we’ll explore that in genre studies coming up in Level 3.

**Norm’s 3rd instructional DVD, The Art of Groove, includes a further discussion and demonstration of odd time concepts.**

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