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That Shuffle Feeling: How to Perfect the Shuffle Groove on Drum Set

One of the challenges many drummers face is getting the right feel when playing a shuffle. One of the reasons this can be difficult is because most modern pop music does not swing; rather, it uses steady and straight eighth notes. To help you master the shuffle feel, here are three tips to keep in mind when learning this groove.

Listen to Lots of Shuffles

Before you can play an awesome shuffle you need to hear what great shuffles sound like. Two of my favorite shuffles examples are BB King’s Paying the Cost to Be the Boss and Brian Setzer’s Rock This Town.

When listening to these songs, really focus on the drum grooves and play along to get the right feel.

Play Just the Shuffle: Nothing Else

It is tempting to start playing the entire shuffle groove because our ears naturally gravitate toward the bass and snare. However, it is essential to play just the shuffle rhythm, which will ensure that you feel the rhythm properly.

Here is an example of feeling the groove using my ghost note shuffle approach.

Emphasize the Back Beat

The essence of a shuffle is the backbeat or 2 & 4. When you listen to great blues musicians (even guitar soloists), they always stress the backbeat. This is the cornerstone of the shuffle groove. Be sure to play the backbeat with a heavy accent and let it be the dominant voice in your groove. While doing this, keep in mind the exercise you did in the last step, which is to maintain the shuffle pattern in the non-accented parts (hi-hat, ride, ghost notes, etc.)

Here is a simple shuffle example, which shows how to emphasize the backbeat.

Quick Recap

In the end, the essence of playing an awesome shuffle on drum set it taking the time to listen to the music, play the shuffle pattern, and adding in a strong backbeat. By doing these steps. your shuffle will sound amazing and as BB King said, you will have "paid the cost to be the boss." So, go try it out and keep drumming.

For more drum grooves, check out Tactical Drumming: Groove Survival Guide, which will show you a number of shuffle variations and other grooves. This can be found at or on Amazon at

By John Owens, Ph.D (Author, Drummer Educator). For John's bio go to


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