In the previous two articles, we’ve concentrated on executing written exercises which have been designed to facilitate the playing of odd time. Another effective approach to learning is through listening and transcription. The following songs have one thing in common: They deal, in some way, with seven. However, the application of odd time can vary from one song to the next. For example, a song may be in 7/8 or 7/4 from beginning to end with one dominant feel throughout. This is evident in “Spectrum,” the title cut from Billy Cobham’s first solo album. Here, the musicians sound as comfortable playing in 7/8 as they do in 4/4. The melodic syncopations are further heightened by the way they are phrased to tailor fit the 7/8 context.
Billy Cobham: “Spectrum”
“Get Closer,” from the Linda Ronstadt album of the same name, is also in seven throughout, with the exception of one 8/4 measure (or two measures of 4/4) which occurs at the end of each verse leading into the chorus. The addition of one beat in this particular measure (which happens only twice in the entire song) adds a special and unique touch to an already exciting chorus lead-in. This song feels so smooth and natural that it takes a while to realize it’s not in 4/4.
Russell Kunkel: “Get Closer”
“Dawn,” from the Mahavishnu Orchestra album The Inner Mounting Flame, is an example of a song which is also in seven throughout. However, it clearly establishes two very different feels. The A section is mellow and relaxed, and definitely in 7/4. The feel is established by the bass guitar line which the drums, in turn, play off. In contrast, the B section is aggressive and raucous. The meter is still seven, though due to the apparent doubling up of the time and the phrasing of the last three beats of each measure, there are probably varying opinions on how to count it. (For those of you who are interested in the unlimited possibilities concerning time concepts, this is a remarkable album. If I had to name one album which had the most profound effect on me as a musician, this is the one!)
Billy Cobham: “Dawn” (very basic transcription; each measure is varied)
“Space Boogie,” from the Jeff Beck album There And Back, consists of three sections in three opposing time signatures, yet all are very closely related. This shuffle, which combines a dazzling show of physical endurance with very musical drumming, alternates between 4/4,7/4 and 6/4. The six and seven feels are derivatives of the 4/4 shuffle. The effect of the 7/4 groove is heightened by the grace notes in the snare drum part. By lightly filling in the middle note of the triplet, the groove is further intensified.
Simon Phillips: “Space Boogie” (derived from:)
“Tom Sawyer,” from the Rush album Moving Pictures, makes use of 7/8 in the instrumental sections of this otherwise 4/4 song. Rush has done quite a bit of experimentation with odd time signatures, and this song displays the effectiveness of mixing odd and even meters together.
Neil Peart: “Tom Sawyer”
“The Ocean,” from Led Zeppelin’s Houses of the Holy, demonstrates the application of seven as part of a two-measure phrase. This phrase, which makes up the song’s instrumental hook, is composed of one 4/4 measure followed by one 7/8 measure. Aside from this part, the rest of the song is in 4/4 (with the exception of a 7/8 measure lead-in to the hook). This clever use of the 7/8 measure heightens the already ultra-heavy metal intensity prevalent in this as well as many other Zeppelin songs.
John Bonham: “The Ocean”
The preceding songs have been chosen to show different applications of seven through actual recorded performances. The transcriptions are not necessarily exact. They are intended to map out the basic odd-time drum beats of each song in the hope of providing a general overview of playing in seven. Also, the songs are representative of different musical styles in an attempt to demonstrate the effectiveness of odd-time playing throughout the musical spectrum. From jazz/rock to pop, from fusion to hard rock to progressive rock, it really works!