Progressive Drumming Essentials

Part 11: Making Four Sound Like More

by Aaron Edgar

I’ll never forget the first time I heard Meshuggah. I only had a single track at the time, and I was mesmerized by the amount of pocket that they were able to get from what I assumed was an odd time signature. For a couple of weeks, I was completely obsessed and decided to transcribe it. To my surprise, nearly the entire song could be written out using over-the-barline rhythms in 4/4. 

“Stengah,” from Meshuggah’s album Nothing, showcases this odd phrasing technique perfectly. The opening guitar line takes up the space of eleven 8th notes and is repeated until it fills eight measures of 4/4. There are sixty-four 8th notes in eight bars of 4/4, so the 11/8 riff repeats five full times. Then the band fills the remaining 8ths with the a portion of the riff before cutting back to the top on beat 1 of the ninth bar.

Example 1 contains the 11/8 “Stengah” guitar line. Example 2 shows the eight-bar 4/4 drum pattern with the guitar line notated on top so you can see how the phrases interact.

Progressive Drumming Essentials 1

Progressive Drumming Essentials 2

There’s a lot to remember to make this eight-bar phrase work, especially since every measure differs from the one before. Pay attention to where the pattern lines up with the quarter note, which is played on the China. Every two passes of the 11/8 riff will line up on the quarter note (beat 4 of measure 3 and beat 3 of measure 6). Focusing on this can help you internalize the pattern so that you don’t need to think too much about it.

Now let’s focus on some shorter odd-note phrases. Example 3 has a funky bass drum figure in 5/8.

Progressive Drumming Essentials 3


Example 4 loops the 5/8 bass drum pattern across four bars of 4/4 time, with a standard hi-hat and snare groove on top. You can think of the hand pattern as being the length of two quarter notes. With that in mind, the 5/8 bass drum rhythm lines up at the beginning of the hand pattern on beat 3 of the third measure. Playing through the 5/8 pattern twice more will leave a single quarter note at the end. You can play part of the 5/8 pattern within that space, or you can smooth over the transition with a fill.

Progressive Drumming Essentials 4

Experiment with how the 5/8 rhythm works across different numbers of measures. For instance, try a shorter two-bar pattern. You’ll have to cut off the 5/8 rhythm at the end to make it fit.

To make the rhythm resolve naturally in 4/4, add one measure to the end of Exercise 4. The result is a five-bar phrase of 4/4 in which the 5/8 rhythm loops uninterrupted.

Progressive Drumming Essentials 5

Now try phrasing a 13/16 bass drum and floor tom pattern across four bars of 4/4. The left foot anchors the time by playing 8th notes with the hi-hat foot, and there’s a backbeat on beat 3 of each bar to create a half-time feel. Adding crashes that alternate between quarter notes and the underlying rhythm creates an intense progressive metal groove.

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If you’re having trouble phrasing the crashes, try working through the pattern and only adding the crashes that line up on quarter notes. Gradually add in the missing crashes as you get more comfortable.

I find phrasing odd-time patterns within 4/4 compelling because it allows you to highlight the quarter-note pulse to create a stronger groove and pocket. Spend some time trying this concept with your own rhythms.

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