Exercises for Internalizing 16th-Note Permutations

Displacement is a beat-editing tool that can make a groove sound glitchy. This is achieved by shifting the groove in such a way that what was originally played on beat 1 is now landing somewhere else in the bar. The more recognizable the original pattern, the more tension the displacement causes for the listener, and the more difficult it becomes to continue to feel the quarter-note pulse. For example, if you heard someone play the following bar without a metronome or accompaniment, do you think you would feel the first note as anything other than beat 1?

Rock PErspectives 1

The moment you hear that first bass drum, your brain will insist that it’s beat 1. This is why beat displacement works the way it does. We’re so used to hearing grooves being grounded by the bass drum that it’s difficult to perceive those notes existing anywhere else.

You’ll have an easier time understanding displacements by starting with a more complex pattern that doesn’t have solid 8th notes on the hi-hat or predictable backbeats.

Each of the displaced positions (downbeat, e, &, and ah) has its own character in terms of how the accents interact with the pulse. And they’ll feel pretty much the same regardless of where in the bar the displaced version starts.

For the next three examples, don’t try to hear them as displaced versions of Example 2. You want each beat to take on its own unique character. Example 3 pushes the beat forward by five 16ths, so what was originally on beat 1 is now on the “e” of beat 2.

Example 4 pushes the beat forward by ten 16ths, so what was originally beat 1 is now on the & of beat 3.

Example 5 pushes the beat forward by three 16ths, so what was originally beat 1 is now on the “ah” of beat 1.

Now that you’ve played variations that start on each of the 16th-note partials, rewrite the beat yourself by displacing it to other points in the bar.

One of the best ways to understand how displacement works is to write out every displaced version of a groove until you return back to where you started. Practice each of those variations to learn what it feels like for a rhythm to be shifted to different starting points.

Grooves that have solid double bass are great for exploring displacements. Having a kick on every subdivision makes it easy to feel the pulse, and you’ll be able to perceive the displaced hand patterns very clearly. Here’s an example based on one of my favorite Gene Hoglan beats, which he played on the Death song “Sacred Serenity” (1:34).

You’ll get the most out of this exercise by handwriting the displaced beats yourself, so head over to moderndrummer.com to download and print out copies of the “Double Kick Displacement Sheet,” which has all the kicks and note heads ready to go. Simply fill in the hand pattern by shifting the snare and ride parts forward by a 16th note each time.

Here’s a method for learning how to feel those hard-to-hear 16th-note displacements. Each of the following examples contains two contrasting bars. The goal is for things to feel funky and groovy, so take as many repetitions as are necessary for each bar to feel good before switching back and forth between the two. (The first bar of each example is the non-displaced version, and the second bar is the displacement.)

In Example 7, the left foot holds down quarter notes while the right hand goes back and forth from 8th notes on the beat to 8th notes that are displaced to offbeat 16ths. When executed correctly, the right-hand pattern should sound consistent and should have a feeling of elasticity around the quarter notes.

In Example 8, there’s a simple beat placed underneath the right-hand cymbal displacement.

Example 9 keeps the right hand on the beat while the kick and snare pattern is shifted forward by a 16th note.

Once you’ve got those pieces down, it’s time to push the whole thing over by a 16th note. It’s going to feel like the floor fell out from under you at first, since the only thing playing the pulse is the hi-hat foot. Keep going back and forth between measures 1 and 2 until you can make the displaced side feel solid and funky. You’ll eventually want to eliminate the left-foot part while still perceiving the displacement correctly.

Rock Perspectives: Beat Displacements from Modern Drummer on Vimeo.

Aaron Edgar

Aaron Edgar plays with the Canadian
prog-metal band Third Ion and is a
session drummer, clinician, and author.
His latest book, Progressive Drumming
Essentials, is available through Modern
Drummer Publications.