Creative Variations to Warp the Pulse

This month we’ll take a look at playing triplets in groupings of four. This is a clever way to employ a metric modulation and imply a different pulse in any groove you play. In a measure of 4/4, when twelve 8th-note-triplet partials are played in groups of four instead of three, a half-note triplet is naturally emphasized. This creates the feeling that the tempo suddenly slows down. Thinking about polyrhythms and metric modulation can seem like an intimidating algebraic problem, but these techniques are naturally present in many common grooves and are fun to play.

We can think about this concept simply by applying a paradiddle sticking to triplets. Practice this first on the snare while the hi-hat foot maintains the original quarter-note beat. The paradiddles and bass drum outline the new half note-triplet pulse.

Next shift the rhythmic placement of the half-note triplet. The goal is to develop this skill so it becomes intuitive, allowing these ideas to manifest fluidly and naturally as you improvise. Move the bass drum to line up with the second, third, and then fourth stroke of each paradiddle. Shift the accents in the hands to coincide with the bass drum as well. Practicing the next three permutations opens new possibilities of time-warping devices, because the weight of the bass drum’s sound anchors the new implied time. Notice how drastic each change feels, and be aware that the ear naturally hears the bass drum as a strong downbeat. Controlling this tendency works as a deceptive tool to create drama and tension in your music.

By moving the right hand to either the hi-hat or the ride cymbal, we get a groove that metrically modulates. After you’re comfortable with the facility developed in Exercises 2–4, omit and/or add the bass drum as you like to color the groove.

Infinite groove possibilities are available by omitting, adding, or shifting the different ornaments, just as we’ve done with accents and the bass drum. Try inverting the paradiddle sticking or thinking of different paradiddle rudiments, such as flammed mills or drag paradiddles, to keep busy with even more variations. Exercise 6 demonstrates an example that utilizes flam paradiddles.

Mike Alfieri has a bachelor’s degree in music education from the Crane School of Music and a master’s degree in jazz studies from SUNY Purchase. For more information, visit