The Django ‘shuffle’

I’m not sure if the Django ‘shuffle’ is its official name but everyone will have heard it on Django Reinhardt recordings – Django takes a solo and when he has finished he starts playing a rhythm behind the next soloist (often Stephane Grapelli) which lifts the whole band and feels as though the pace has suddenly accelerated though the actual time remains steady.

It has taken me a while, and Robin Nolan’s books, to realise what is happening here. The rhythm is still the straight four beats to the bar with accents on the second and fourth beats but instead of two upstrokes a bar, after the second and fourth beats, there are upstrokes after every beat. The difficulty of playing this rhthym, and it does seem very difficult, is to keep the upstrokes light on damped strings whilst letting the notes ring a bit on the first and third beats and whilst putting a strong accent on the second and fourth beats. If any of these elements goes awry, especially if you lose the emphasis on the second and fourth beats, all the swing is lost and it sounds dreadful.

I have found it a little like the patting your head whilst making circles on your tummy type of activity – I can hold it together for a while but then it unravels and is hard to get back again without stopping. I have found that switching my attention between the three elements, focussing on one element at a time, helps to keep it together but it is going to need a lot more practice. One problem I have encountered is the plectrum moving around and being unable to correct this. I use the fabulous Wegen picks favoured by many gypsy jazz guitarists which have a depression for the thumb and deep ridges on either side so there shouldn’t be too much problem with grip. What I think happens with almost all players is that the plectrum is always moving around but we unconsciously rearrange it in our fingers, however the only usual gaps in gypsy jazz rhythm are the two spaces a bar where there aren’t upstrokes and these disappear in the Django shuffle.

One unexpected benefit of practising this rhythm is that when I switch back to standard rhythm it all sounds more swingy than before.


One Response to The Django ‘shuffle’

  1. I love the shuffle rhythm, I have decided to master it and make it a big part in my playing, its nice for a few measures, or more, if you can keep it in time, a lot of bands don’t implement it but it adds so much swing and excitement!! Charlie from NYC..

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