Lesson #11: Groove Me Pt.2 – Da Dutch Shuffle
by Ed Friedland
I hope you’ve all enjoyed the holiday season, it is usually a time for relaxing and letting things slide a bit. Okay, you’ve had your fun, now it’s time to get back to work on the single most important aspect of bass playing: groove.
Continuing on from our last lesson where we played a simple two-bar pattern in quarters and eighths with a click on beats 2& 4, now we’ll climb a little further up the rhythmic hierarchy and get into the eighth-note triplet zone. Eighth-note triplets are the basis of many different feels that we bassists deal with all the time: Swing, Shuffles, Hip-Hop, Afro Cuban 6/8, 12/8 feel, and many others. But certainly none are more commonly played than the mighty blues shuffle. While rooted in the 6/8 pulse of West African music, the blues shuffle has come to be the quintessential American groove. It has made its way into the music of artists as diverse as Muddy Waters, Willie Nelson, Art Blakey, and Pat Boone [him again, what is this fixation I have with Pat Boone?].
The first step in really nailing the shuffle is to have a conscious realization that you are dealing with triplets! Sure, it ain’t nothin’ but a feelin’, but I’m amazed at how many people are unaware of this simple fact. Clap your hands at a medium-slow tempo (no click necessary), and count out loud: “1,2,3 1,2,3 1,2,3 1,2,3″ making sure that “1″ is on the clap, and that “2″ and “3″ are all evenly spaced between the claps.
Triplets are magical because they always leave a little space for the voodoo to take place. 100 divided by 2 equals 50-end of story. Take 100 and divide it by 3. What do you get? 33.333333333….. There is a tiny little piece of space left over and that is where the fun happens. This micro-gap is what makes triplet interpretation so variable. You could take 5 drummers and ask them to play a swing ride cymbal pattern, and no 2 would sound exactly the same. As far as the goal of this lesson, the magic zone is not really the point; but, I’m just sayin’…
What is important here is to be able to effortlessly and accurately nail the eighth-note triplet and shuffle rhythms with a metronome clicking on beats 2 & 4. Let’s start now. Figure 1 is the same chromatic bass line from the last issue-a simple and well-worn pattern that you can relax with. Remember how to shift the click to beats 2 & 4? Set your metronome to 40bpm and tap your hand on your knee in time with the click. When your hand is in the air, start counting; “1″, the hand taps the knee; “2″, etc. Make sure you are locked in with the tempo before you try to play. Play Figure 1 at 40bpm (which is really 80bpm-remember the click is half-time). Listen to how even your triplets are, they should have a rolling, rounded feel to them.
Listen to: Example 1
Once you have Figure 1 sounding good, kick up the tempo. You will find that because you’re playing three notes in the space of one beat, that the actual speed of the triplets will reach your technical limits fairly quick. 60bpm (120 in real time) doesn’t seem that fast, but playing even, flowing triplets at that tempo is not easy for a lot of people.
Listen to: Example 2
Next, we will remove the second note from each triplet and create the shuffle rhythm. The space between the first and third beats of the triplet is another place where magic happens. Shortening or lengthening this gap on a quantum level is how we humans make the shuffle a personal thing. But of course, to really get this-it helps to recognize that there is indeed a space there. I’m a big fan of singing rhythms, and a good set of “lyrics” for this rhythm has to do with one of my favorite countries, Holland. As a New Yorker, if you asked me what nationality of people lived there, I would answer: “Da Dutch!” To sing your shuffle, say “Dutch, Da Dutch, Da Dutch, Da Dutch, etc. with Dutch on the downbeats of each quarter note.
Now, go back to 40bpm with the click on beats 2 & 4, and play the shuffle rhythm in Figure 2 with the same bass line. Pay attention to the space where the “tch” in “Dutch” falls.
Listen to: Example 3
Get comfy with this at 40bpm and gradually push your way up to faster tempos.
Listen to: Example 4
Now that you’re aware of the space, and hopefully able to feel it while playing, let’s play a variation-the long shuffle. Instead of leaving a space, we let the first note of the triplet ring through the gap, still playing the third beat of the triplet as a pickup to the next downbeat: “Da Dutch, Da Dutch”.
Listen to: Example 5
Spend some time with this even though playing a shuffle might be very familiar to you. Locking in with a click on beats 2 & 4 and making it feel good brings a new element of challenge to this everyday task. For an extra measure of torture, record yourself playing these examples.
Ed Friedland is a renowned Bassist, Educator and Author. He has authored over 15 books and DVDs and has played with the likes of Joe Beck, Larry Coryell, Robben Ford, Paul Horn, Clay Jenkins, Mike Metheny, Bud Shank, Lew Tabackin & Michal Urbaniak to name just a few. Ed is also currently teaching at Bass Emporium in Austin, Texas. Check out the Ed Friedland website for full information about him at http://www.edfriedland.com/.