How many shades of Blue in Blues Drumming?
OK, you've answered an ad in the local rag that says "Drummer required for working blues
band playing all styles ...... NO TIMEWASTERS!"
You're no timewaster, you can play a rock beat , you know what a 12/8 blues beat is and
you can handle a basic shuffle so you ring ........
...... "Yeah, Hi, I'm ringing for the blues band gig, how many gigs you got and how much
do you get paid?"
Larry the bass player replies "Well, we play 2-3 times per week, playing some festivals
down the coast soon and we're getting material together for our second cd. We play all
styles from Tex-Mex to Second-Line New Orleans rhythms, some of our stuff needs a solid
Texan Shuffle and we have a tune that needs a variation of a Zydeco Cha-cha ........ can
you cut these?" ................ You very cooly reply .... "Whaaaaa?"
Blues, as most people know is the basis of nearly everything we play today, the rhythms
that are played have developed from the times of slavery in nineteenth century America.
Different regions of America have developed different variations of rhythms that have gone
on to become the backbone of many current musical styles.
Whilst researching this article I enlisted the support of Paula Dowse, drummer with the
Mojo's, a band that makes a specialty of blending a mix of Southern and New Orleans
Blues with a healthy dose of rumba, zydeco and swing thrown in for good measure, their
CD "Swing O'Clock Blues" is a mix of rhythms that is both fun, energetic and eclectic.
Lets summarise and quickly analyze as many blues based drumset rhythms as a 1000
word article will allow.
Basic Rock Beat and a 12/8 Blues Beat
To play a solid rock-beat is of course the first, most basic of beats required (do I really need
to explain this?), we then move on to a 12/8 blues beat, to explain ..... 12 eighth notes in
the bar played on the cymbal that can be counted:
1&a 2&a 3&a 4&a ..... with added kick on 1 and 3 and the snare on 2 and 4.
If you have a dinky little Casio keyboard at home with a doo-doo-di-di drum machine
program; it's usually called "Slow Rock" ..... God bless those stressed-out over-worked
bottom of the rung of the corporate ladder Japanese execs who came up with the name and
are being paid about four-times more than the average aussie muso.
How many Shuffles can you play?
The Standard Shuffle is based on triplets but you take out the "&" ......
1&a 2&a 3&a 4&a ... becomes 1_ta 2_ta 3_ta 4_ta
then add the bass (1,3) and snare (2,4). The standard boogie 12 bar pattern; if you can't
cut this, sell the kit and become a clarinet player.
The Texan Shuffle is one (obviously from Texas ... awww der fred!) where you play the
shuffle on both cymbal and snare with the left hand accenting 2 and 4; a real tricky snap!
The bass drum is usually "four on the floor" (beats 1,2,3,4) Check out "The Fabulous
Thunderbirds" with Jimmy Vaughn (Stevie Ray's brother) they're not too shabby at this
sort of feel. You need a left hand on steroids to cut this groove!
The Rolling Shuffle uses triplets played RLR LRL RLR LRL with the right hand on
cymbal and left on snare accenting the 2 and 4, add the bass drum first on 1 and 3 then
variate ..... a great rolling sound for faster things and a real rollicking groove, I used to use
this one extensively with an original band called Beltane around the turn of the last decade.
Ahhhh I remember when I was young the world had just begun ..... annnn I wasss
Half-Time Shuffle count: 1_ta 2_ta 3_ta 4_ta .... then add the bass on 1 and snare
on 3; this beat is also known as 90's hip-hop and also has been called a 70's "strut", It
wasn't anything in the 80's because neither Milli Vanilli nor Cyndi Lauper used it. I am
also pretty sure it was called a 60's something and 50's whatever .... a testament to the
fact that the only things new is made from things that have been forgotten. Awww that's
right, Jimi Hendrix is STILL releasing new albums even though he croaked when I was 10!
And ELVIS is touring next month!!!!
The TWIST Shuffle basically a twist beat "bounced" ....
1_ta 2_ta 3_ta 4_ta with right hand on either cymbal or floor-tom add left hand on 2
and 4_ta .... have a listen to Gary Glitter's "Rock and Roll" for the basic version, not a
blues tune maybe but you gotta love the sequins!
Now that we have the shuffles down, let's move on to New Orleans Street Beats and Bo-
New Orleans Street Rhythms and The Bo-Diddley Beat
One of THE most used rhythms in the world is the Clave ..... and specifically, a 3-2 clave:
count: 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 & | 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 & .... then add the following accents:
1st bar: One; the "&" after 2; Four. The second bar has accents on 2 and 3.
The Bo-Diddley Beat Play the clave and add the bass on 1 and 3 and hi-hat (with the
foot) on 2 and 4. If you play the rhythm on the floor-tom, you have a Bo-Diddley Beat; a
rhythm that has been around longer than Bert Newton .... the beat made famous by
"Hand-Jive" from Grease; Bo-Diddley the man was a groovy cat from the 50's who wore a
cow-boy hat and rattled off around 40-50 hits with the same groove and chord
progression, his popularity started to wane when he tried to rhyme "orange" with "door-
hinge" and "having a crush" with "she gave me thrush!"
New Orleans Street Rhythms - This rhythm was originally used in street parades and
believe it or not, funerals! (a New Orleans funeral march started with a sombre sad march
to reflect on a loved one's passing then jumped to a party groove to celebrate his or her life;
a bit like an Irish wake, only they didn't invent Guiness!)
If you move around the accents of the clave a little and play this rhythm on the snare with
a serious slap on the "four" of the second bar, you get a street rhythm which derives from
New Orleans and Cajun style blues. The Mojo's play this style frequently with one track in
particular .... "Goin' down to New Orleans" from their "Swing O' Clock Blues" CD. Play it
messy to get that down home flavour. It's ok to sink a few cans of piss before playing this
.... really ..... it helps!
The Reverse Clave - You can also use what is called the "reverse clave" ... you simply
switch bars, play the second bar first and the first bar second. It may sound tricky but if
your dyslexic it's no problem!
...... and then we move on to beats that are swung and have more of a jazz influence ......
Use the shuffle pattern: 1_ta 2_ta 3_ta 4_ta and then drop the ta's after 1 and 3, we
then get: 1__ 2_ta 3__ 4_ta. Act cool, shave your head, grow a goatee and try to get
an arts council grant. Say the word "Coltrane" a lot.
Dixieland Jazz - 1__ 2_ta 3__ 4_ta ... play this on the cymbal adding four on the
floor bass (1,2,3,4) and 2 and 4 on the snare and hi-hat (foot) .... won't yoo cum home
Bill Bailey, Hoi!!
Jump Swing - go back to 1_ta 2_ta 3_ta 4_ta ....... play the 1,2,3,4 on the cymbal
and all the ta's on the snare; four on the floor with bass drum, a little chilli and paprika with
a glass of hooch and voila! The Mojo's CD title track "Swing O' Clock Blues" nails this
beat. It sounds like hiccups, it also sounds like an ex of mine climaxing (aa-hah, aa-hah,
aa-hah, aa-hah, WAAAAAAAAHHHH!!!)
Be-Bop - although a definite jazz style, you can use the ideas to mix up your snare and
bass beats ..... keep the tingaling pattern on the cymbal with 2 and 4 on hi-hat and mix
the bass and snare shots with the riff/rhythm of the tune. Be careful to listen to the tune!
....... Jazz hacks who can't get a gig often try this out and fuck it up usually because of
So, here you are thinking a blues gig simply consisted of ........
"I's woke up dis mornin"
"wit my dik in de hand"
Well, some news brudda and sista ..... you gotta work yoo arrrsss offff!
Know these beats ......
1) Basic rock 2) 12/8 Blues 3) Standard Shuffle 4) Texan Shuffle 5) Rolling Shuffle 6)
Half-Time Shuffle 7) Twist Shuffle 8) 3-2 Clave 9) Bo-Diddley 10) New Orleans 2nd
Line 11) Reverse Clave 12) Swing 13) Dixieland 14) Jump 15) Be-Bop .....
Fifteen beats and not to mention up-two feels, Zydeco, swampy rumbas, and variations of
all and everything, get to work and be forever humble to the world of music that just when
you think you know enough to be smug, history and tradition rears its ugly head and
smacks you in the mouth!