Rock Perspectives

Advanced Overlapping Phrases

Superimposing Groupings

by Aaron Edgar

I’ve always been inspired by phrasing that seems to dance its way around the pulse. Bands such as Meshuggah apply this effect. You can bob your head in quarter notes and feel their phrases starting on different parts of the beat—sometimes for several bars—before the figure eventually lands comfortably back on beat 1. We often hear this phrasing using common subdivisions, but applying this concept to advanced subdivisions such as quintuplets or septuplets can create some incredibly unusual rhythms. 

Here’s a four-note pattern superimposed over quintuplets. You’ll have to play the four-note phrase five times before it resolves on the first partial of the quintuplet on beat 1.

Advanced Overlapping Phrases 1

Make sure you start very slowly, somewhere around 60 bpm. Count the quintuplets out loud using the syllables “ta, ka, din, ah, gah.” Go slowly, count, and practice the pattern until it feels solid.

It’s imperative that you feel the bass drum as the quarter-note pulse as opposed to the hi-hat pattern. The five hi-hat accents create a five-over-four polyrhythmic feel. To really emphasize the 4/4 pulse, try adding a snare backbeat on beats 2 and 4.

The next step is to embellish the groove underneath the four-note phrase. In Exercise 2 we’ve added snare ghost notes and the bass drum while keeping the quarter-note pulse steady.

Advanced Overlapping Phrases 2

We can also design a groove around this phrase in which the accents follow the hi-hat pattern instead of the quarter note. Depending on how strictly you follow the pattern, you can easily create an implied metric modulation. In Exercise 3 we’ll do exactly that. Don’t forget that you need to feel the quarter note as your pulse, regardless of what you’re playing on top of it. Don’t trick yourself!

Advanced Overlapping Phrases 3

Exercise 3 can be used to transition out of Exercise 2 or for simply adding an interesting variation that creates rhythmic tension. If you play it after a similarly phrased 16th-note groove, it’ll sound as if you sped up by twenty-five percent.

The next example takes a similar approach to phrasing to the one we took in Exercise 3. This time, however, we’re putting emphasis on the third accented hi-hat note in each four-note grouping.

Advanced Overlapping Phrases 4

Next we’re going to displace the hi-hat pattern. Don’t let the notation scare you. It’s the same as if you were to start Exercise 1 on beat 4 of the bar, where the first note of the hi-hat pattern starts on the second partial of the quintuplet (“ka”). To make the rhythm clearer, I’ve written it as a four-on-the-floor groove. When this phrase is comfortable, use it as a template to embellish some of your own beats.

Advanced Overlapping Phrases 5

Now let’s apply some of the same steps to a five-note pattern across septuplets, which fits evenly in a bar of 5/4 time. Count out loud using the syllables “ta, ka, din, ah, ge, na, gah,” and make sure you’re feeling the bass drum rather than the hi-hat as the pulse.

Advanced Overlapping Phrases 6

Once you have a handle on the basic version, you can embellish it into a groove. In Exercise 7 we’ll continue accenting the quarter-note pulse to contrast with the hi-hat pattern. Seven equally spaced hi-hat accents in 5/4 give this groove a seven-over-five polyrhythmic feel.

Advanced Overlapping Phrases 7

In Exercise 8 we’re shifting the emphasis to the five-note grouping. With the exception of beat 2, we’re also accenting the quarter-note pulse. This results in a heavily syncopated groove that accents both sides of the polyrhythm. Phrasing this way is interesting because you can choose which side of the rhythm you want the rest of the band to follow. Or, for a multi-dimensional rhythmic effect, guitar and bass parts can be designed around both sides of the rhythm.

Advanced Overlapping Phrases 8

Now we’ll displace the hi-hat pattern to start one note later on the second note of the septuplet (“ka”). In this exercise, the accent pattern follows the hi-hat rhythm.

Advanced Overlapping Phrases 9

So far, all of the rhythms we’ve explored have been shorter than the subdivisions to which they’re applied. But you can implement this concept in longer phrases as well. The last rhythm we’re going to try is a common eight-note pattern that could work well in 16th-note funk grooves. We’ll superimpose it over septuplets and accent the first note of each eight-note phrase on a cymbal stack. This results in seven equally spaced accents over two bars of 4/4 and a seven-over-eight polyrhythmic feel.

Advanced Overlapping Phrases 10

These rhythms are often considered odd only because we don’t hear them often. But they’ll become much more comfortable with diligent practice. So throw on your metronome, and start exploring some unique rhythmic territory!

Aaron Edgar plays with the Canadian prog-metal band Third Ion and is a session drummer, clinician, and author. He teaches weekly live lessons on You can find his book, Boom!!, as well as information on how to sign up for private lessons, at