Drum & Percussion Lessons
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Steely Dan - Aja

This classic Bernard Purdie half-time shuffle groove appears on the Steely Dan tune, Home At Last, from their 1977 album release, Aja (MCA Records).

The notated groove (see below) is the basic feel for the chorus (B section) of the tune. Purdie builds the chorus throughout the tune by improvising on the Kick drum. I've notated these "variations" in the Kick drum in parenthesis. Notice the open HiHat which also appears in the chorus. If we lose the open HiHat and improvised Kick drum — we've got the overall basic groove for the entire tune.

BernardPurdie_HomeAtLast

Steely Dan - "Home At Last"

PRACTICE

  1. Work on the sticking, RLR RLR RLR RLR on a practice pad. The goal is to get both hands flowing together; nice and even with equal volume between all strokes. For additional practice, or for left-handed players, invert the sticking: LRL LRL LRL LRL.
  2. With both hands on the practice pad or remaining on one-surface (eg. Snare drum), work on ghosting the inner-note of the RLR RLR or LRL LRL sticking. Ghost-strokes are very soft Tap-strokes, almost inaudible.
  3. Next, with both hands still on the one-surface, work on playing the basic Kick drum pattern; you can do this by just patting your foot on the floor ... if you're not sitting at the kit. Start slowly, listening to confirm that the Kick is lining up perfectly with the right hand; left hand if you are inverting the sticking.
  4. Continuing on one-surface, add the Snare backbeats (beat THREE); no Kick drum. Listen for a "flat flam" or unison between the right and left hand on these backbeats. Later on you can relax the backbeat a bit to mimic Purdie's pocket and feel.
  5. Go back to #4 but at the Kick drum pattern. If necessary, just play the Kick drum downbeats at first; gradually add in the syncopated notes.
  6. Go back and work on #2-4 using two-surfaces; hands on HiHat and Snare.
  7. To develop the open HiHat pattern, go back and work on #1-4 with one-surface, patting the HiHat foot on the floor. Listen for eveness on the unison strokes between the limbs.
  8. Go back and work on #2-4 using two-surfaces. Be sure to spend the time necessary to develop the sound and feel of the open HiHat before adding the Kick drum or Snare backbeats.

TIPS

  • Stay relaxed and work slowly. Once you master the "Purdie Shuffle" concept, you'll be able to apply it in numerous ways.
  • Ghost-strokes on the Snare drum should always be softer in volume than the HiHat. This is paramount to establishing the appropriate funky vibe in the groove and feel.

Learning this groove, a version of the "Purdie Shuffle", involves more than just playing what's notated. The feel is crucial, so it's important to spend a good deal of time listening to what Purdie is actually doing (note placement) within the track.


Bart Elliott

Bart Elliott is a degreed professional musician currently residing in Nashville, Tennessee. His 37+ years in the music industry, over 100 albums to his credit, as well as his understanding of contemporary and classical music, makes him a complete and skilled master musician. A highly sought after drummer and percussionist, both live and in the studio, Bart is widely known as a top music educator, consultant and gifted teacher, appearing as a guest artist and clinician throughout the USA and abroad.

Bart Elliott is the founder and sole proprietor of DrummerCafe.com (f/k/a Drum Ring International) — established in December 1996.