The easiest way to create a five-over-two polyrhythm, or five equally spaced notes over two beats, is to play quintuplet single strokes across two different surfaces. In Exercise 1 we have a bar of 2/4 with the bass drum in quarter notes, which represents the two layer of a five-over-two grouping. We’ll play quintuplet singles between the hi-hat and ghost notes on the snare to start building our layer of five.
The hi-hat pattern in the previous example is already playing five equally spaced notes over two quarter-note beats on the bass drum. Before we dive into all the fun ways we can manipulate these groupings, let’s first turn this idea into a 4/4 drum groove to create a musical framework for internalizing the feel of five-over-two.
The first two beats of Exercise 2 are very similar to Exercise 1. The kick on beat 2 is pulled back by one quintuplet partial, and the ghost note on beat 2 becomes a backbeat. You may want to isolate this first half of the bar before attacking the entire phrase. The second half of the beat embellishes this first half quite heavily while still retaining the layer of five on the hi-hat with open and closed notes.
If you look at Exercise 1 and compare the ghost notes to the bass drum, we still see five equally spaced notes across two beats. However, instead of both rhythms starting together on beat 1, they line up on beat 2. A lot of the magic in polyrhythmic phrasing comes from shifting each side of the grouping to different parts of the beat. The overarching theme of this New Perspective series is that there doesn’t need to be a point where both sides of a polyrhythm line up—if we’re creative in our use of subdivisions. Be sure to check out the Five and Seven over Two chapter in my new book, Progressive Drumming Essentials, to further explore these permutations.
Exercise 3 sets up solid quintuplets in singles on the hi-hat. A ride bell on beat 1 and a snare backbeat on beat 2 phrase the layer of two. The five layer is pushed forward by half of one quintuplet partial and is played on the kick between the quintuplets in the hands. Count out loud slowly using the syllables “ta-ka-din-ah-gah,” and make sure the bass drum lands evenly between the counts and hi-hat quintuplets.
In Exercises 4 and 5, the ride on beat 1 has been replaced by a kick drum to make these patterns more musical. In Exercise 4, the five layer is in the same spot as in the previous example. In Exercise 5, it’s pushed forward to the next space between the second and third quintuplet partials.
There are forty different permutations of a five-over-two polyrhythm, and you can head to moderndrummer.com to see the full breakdown. The rest of this lesson sets up different types of frameworks for you to use while exploring all of those possible permutations.
First, we’ll set up a groove framework with a kick on beat 1 and our right hand playing a snare on beat 2. We’ll also play solid quintuplets with our lead hand, first on the hi-hat in Exercise 6 and then on the ride in Exercise 7. In Exercise 6, the left hand plays the five layer as aggressive snare rimshots starting between the first and second quintuplet partials. The bass drum voices the layer of two on the fourth quintuplet partial, or “ah.” The contrast of the kick-and-snare polyrhythm within the basic “boom, bap” groove is frantically energetic!
Exercise 7 pulls our bass drum’s layer of two back to the second quintuplet partial (“ka”), and the left hand’s five layer is orchestrated up and down the toms.
Using a solid quintuplet double bass drum pattern sets up an excellent framework for these rhythms, as there’s a solid note for every layer of the polyrhythm to either line up with or land in between. Exercise 8 starts both sides of the polyrhythm between the first and second quintuplet partials. This results in a unique syncopated feeling around the pulse. Concentrate on the quintuplets in the feet as opposed to the hands to internalize the pulse. Counting out loud is extremely helpful for getting this rhythm to feel right.
Exercise 9 lightly dresses up our framework with our left hand adding quarter notes over the quintuplet double bass pattern. The left hand plays a low floor tom, snare, high rack tom, and snare, almost like a rock beat on its own. The polyrhythm is played between an alternate small floor tom and a medium rack tom. The right hand on the small floor tom voices the five layer starting between the first and second quintuplet partials, and the left hand voices the two layer between the second and third quintuplets of each beat.
These offbeat polyrhythms are even more exciting when they interact with other patterns within the rhythms. In Exercises 10 and 11, our right hand plays a fairly common quintuplet pattern, accenting the layer of two starting on the beat, plus the third and fourth quintuplet partials (“ta, ka, din, ah, gah”). In Exercise 10, this grouping is played between the stack and snare, and in Exercise 11, it’s played between the floor tom and snare.
The next few examples keep the layer of five on the snare, as we played it in Exercise 6. Our right hand plays a backbeat on beat 2 and a cymbal stack on beat 1 while also highlighting the layer of two on the same stack. Exercise 12 places the layer of two on the third quintuplet partial (“din”). Exercise 13 pulls it back between the second and third quintuplet partials. And Exercise 14 phrases the two layer between the third and fourth quintuplet partials. Also in Exercise 14, your right hand is playing straight 8th notes, producing a second five-over-two polyrhythm inside of the original five-over-two grouping.
Exercise 15 embellishes this idea slightly with a few carefully placed ride bell notes, leaving the stack to voice the layer of two.
The best way to practice advanced rhythms is within the context of standard grooves—for instance, patterns with the kick on beat 1 and a snare backbeat on 2 and 4. This inherently reinforces how the rhythms fit into a musical context. This contrast between what we’re familiar with and what we’re not gives us the ability to understand what we’re working on vividly and thus the ability to apply it musically.
Keep it weird!
Aaron Edgar plays with the Canadian prog-metal band Third Ion and is a session drummer, clinician, and author. His book Progressive Drumming Essentials is available through Modern Drummer Publications.