by Mike Johnston

Playing songs in odd times can be challenging to you as a drummer, but one thing that doesn’t get much attention is how tough odd times can be on the audience. It’s called “odd” for a reason—because it feels odd. But it doesn’t necessarily have to be this way. A great number of pop tunes are in an odd meter, yet they don’t feel uncomfortable at all. Some examples are “Saint Augustine in Hell” and “I Hung My Head” by Sting (with the great Vinnie Colaiuta on drums), “Dreaming in Metaphors” by Seal, and “Seven” by the Dave Matthews Band.

Time signatures can be organized into two groups: common time (4/4, 2/4, and 6/8) and odd time (3/4, 5/8, 7/8, 11/16, etc.). With a song in 5/8 or 7/8, the audience is constantly trying to find the pulse, but as soon as they think they get it, they’re off again. A good way to make everyone happy, at least in a situation where you aren’t purposefully trying to stress out the listener, is to superimpose a quarter-note pulse on top of the odd-time groove. When you do this, you’ll be playing two time signatures at once, such as 5/8 and 5/4 or 7/8 and 7/4. The way to create the quarter-note pulse is to accent every other number of the time signature over the course of two bars.

Check out the April 2014 issue of Modern Drummer magazine featuring Johnston here, and check out more videos from Modern Drummer magazine on our YouTube channel here.