Jazz Drummer’s Workshop

Metric Modulation

by Rupert Kettle

Among the many lessons to be learned from the playing of Max Roach is the concept of musicality in drumming. This is shown no more clearly than in his solo work, particularly in the fact that Max has almost always played choruses of the tune being played, and most often uses little phrasing tricks to complement those choruses. One of the best of these is defining the bridge (or B sections if the tune is ABAB) through a shift in rhythmic base, just as a standard tune shifts its harmonic base for that period. At medium to medium-up tempos, Max affected this by generating a triplet feel in the A sections (as in Example 1) then shifting to a straight-eighth/sixteenth feel for the B parts (as in Example 11) or vice-versa.Jazz Drummers Workshop April 1978 1At the fast tempos, for which he is famous, Max most often resorts to a change in tone color for a tune’s different sections, but a few examples of the rhythmic device may be found.
Cherokee with Clifford Brown, is a good one.

Having learned this lesson, and wishing to experiment further with the idea, the creative soloist could begin by working with changing the meter, while still retaining the structure of the original tune, to offset the A and B sections. Rothman and Lang have laid some good groundwork here (Phrasing Drum Solos and The New Conception, respectively) but only within a four-measure framework. Same idea here, just simple arithmetic.

Let us assume you wish to set up some practice routines jumping back and forth between two eight measure 4/4 periods, A and B. At B, you wish to change to 3/4 meter, but still remain within the confines of eight 4/4 measures. Eight (measures) times four (beats per measure) equals thirty-two beats in the period. Three (beats per measure) goes into thirty-two ten times (or ten ¾ measures) with two left over. You would write a chart, just using “time” for the moment, and practice it. See Example 1 1 1.

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Note that while you’ve gone into 3/4 for awhile (with a measure of 2/4 to round things off) you’ve still played the exact amount of beats as the basic eight 4/4 measures. After practicing playing time this way for a few days, you should be able to get loose enough to start working some solo patterns into both the A and B sections.

Once you are used to the 3/4 idea, similar schemes may be contrived. Phrasing the B parts in five (six 5/4 measures plus one 2/4 measure equals eight 4/4 measures. Seven: (four 7/4 measures plus one 4/4 measure equals eight 4/4 measures) etc. When all of these possibilities are exhausted, there is always the sixteen measure period to work with, along the same lines. Another possibility exists in shifting from a base of 3/4 or 5/4, into meters superimposed on given numbers of measures.

Hopefully, I’ve presented some food for thought and practice. Concluding are a couple of short solos along the lines of the above to help you get started. See Example IV and V.
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