Diving Deep Into an Odd Subdivision
by Aaron Edgar
I find that the best way to become proficient with a new subdivision is to isolate each partial within the grouping and then combine the partial with all of the other available notes in the subdivision. Using triplets as an example, you can play the first, second, or third note; the three different combinations of two of the notes; and all or none of the notes. This gives us a total of eight variations. When considering septuplets, however, the number of possibilities is exponentially larger, with 128 variations. Check out moderndrummer.com to see all 128 septuplet rhythms organized into a single document. We’ll be referencing rhythms from this sheet in the following exercises.
Playing septuplets with double bass can set up a foundation that outlines the subdivision. This is helpful because everything you play over it will have a partial to line up with—your feet create a grid that you can use to quantize your hands.
Practicing in the context of a groove can help you internalize how septuplets feel musically. In these first exercises, we’ll play septuplets with double bass in 4/4. The left hand plays a heavy quarter-note feel on a floor tom or gong drum on beat 1 and a snare backbeat on 2 and 4. When playing these exercises, count each septuplet partial out loud using the syllables “ta, ka, din, ah, ge, na, gah.”
First we’ll get comfortable with each individual partial. Exercise 1 places the first note of each septuplet onto a China or cymbal stack with the right hand. This reinforces our quarter-note pulse. Practice this until it feels consistent and has a solid pocket. It’s important to feel this quarter-note pulse throughout all of the examples.
Exercise 2 places the China or cymbal stack on the second partial of the septuplet, or “ka.” On beat 3, the right hand plays only the second septuplet note, which can be challenging. Before playing the entire groove, try looping the first half of the beat until it feels comfortable.
For variation, try playing the fourth note of the septuplet on the China or cymbal stack. The spacing between the left- and right-hand notes is slightly skewed from 8th notes and creates a tilting feel.
Apply the previous concept to each septuplet partial. It’ll take dedicated practice to be able to comfortably feel each individual note of the septuplet. But consider the previous exercises as your foundation. The 121 remaining septuplet rhythms comprise combinations of these seven notes.
Next we’ll explore the two-note options. Exercise 4adds the seventh septuplet partial, labeled Rhythm D4 in the supplemental document, to Exercise 3.
Work through all of the available possibilities in this fashion. Exercise 5 demonstrates one of the four-note variations, labeled Rhythm K6, with ghost notes added between the China or cymbal stack.
With so many rhythmic variations to work on, you can gain more benefit from your practice time if you combine other elements into these exercises. For instance, applying diddles into the septuplet bass drum pattern will force you to work on doubles with both feet.
In Exercise 6, the hands playquarter notes on the China or cymbal stack with a backbeat on the snare. There’s also a double stroke in the bass drum part on the sixth partial of the septuplet (Rhythm A6).
The two-note variations are especially interesting when applying doubles to the bass drum. Exercise 7 places doubles on the second and fifth partial of each septuplet (Rhythm D2).
Once you’re comfortable with the last two patterns, fill out the beat by adding a counter rhythm with a China or cymbal stack. Exercises 8 and 9 revisit the previous two examples while placing the first, third, and fifth partial of each septuplet on the China or cymbal stack (Rhythm H1).
When you start stacking multiple septuplet rhythms on top of each other, thousands of options become available. However, each variation is still a combination of the seven partials.
Exercise 10 places a ride pattern from two septuplet rhythms (Q4 and Q3) over the bass drum phrase from Exercise 9. Before trying the groove as written, get comfortable with the hand pattern over straight septuplets on double bass without the diddles. Once that’s solid, add the doubles.
You can also explore septuplet variations in a polyrhythmic context by spacing the seven-note grouping over two quarter notes instead of just one. Exercise 11 lays the foundation that we’ll use to continue drilling bass drum doubles. The hands play quarter notes on the China or cymbal stack with a backbeat on beats 2 and 4. The bass drum plays every second septuplet partial, which results in seven equally spaced notes over two quarter notes, or a seven-over-two polyrhythm.
Exercises 12 and 13 place doubles in the bass drum on two different septuplet partials (A1 and A5).
Exercise 14 explores an embellished hand pattern on the first, fourth, and fifth septuplet partial (Rhythm I1). In Exercise 15, add bass drum doubles on the third bass drum note of each seven-note grouping (Rhythm A3). In the following two exercises, unaccented snare notes should be ghosted.
At this point we’ve worked on balance, dynamics, time, independence, and technique, all while drilling septuplets with different rhythmic variations. Hopefully you’ve discovered new rhythms that inspire you. Don’t be afraid to branch off and modify this concept if it speaks to you rhythmically. However, make sure to return to the original material and continue exploring.
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 Drumeo.com. You can find his book, Boom!!, as well as information on how to sign up for private lessons, at aaronedgardrum.com.