Grounding Odd-Time Grooves With a Quarter-Note Pulse 1Grounding Odd-Time Grooves With a Quarter-Note Pulse

Playing songs in odd times can be challenging to you as a drummer, but one thing that doesn’t get much attention is how tough odd times can be on the audience. It’s called “odd” for a reason—because it feels odd. But it doesn’t necessarily have to be this way. A great number of pop tunes are in an odd meter, yet they don’t feel uncomfortable at all. Some examples are “Saint Augustine in Hell” and “I Hung My Head” by Sting (with the great Vinnie Colaiuta on drums), “Dreaming in Metaphors” by Seal, and “Seven” by the Dave Matthews Band.

Time signatures can be organized into two groups: common time (4/4, 2/4, and 6/8) and odd time (3/4, 5/8, 7/8, 11/16, etc.). With a song in 5/8 or 7/8, the audience is constantly trying to find the pulse, but as soon as they think they get it, they’re off again. A good way to make everyone happy, at least in a situation where you aren’t purposefully trying to stress out the listener, is to superimpose a quarter-note pulse on top of the odd-time groove. When you do this, you’ll be playing two time signatures at once, such as 5/8 and 5/4 or 7/8 and 7/4. The way to create the quarter-note pulse is to accent every other number of the time signature over the course of two bars.

In Example 1, you’ll see a simple 5/8 groove with the snare on the fourth 8th note. If you played the groove without the hi-hat accents, listeners would have to reset their internal pulse after each bar. But if you accent every other hi-hat note, the listener can feel the implied quarter-note pulse over the course of two bars.

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Quick tip: In each of the following exercises you’ll be accenting the odd-numbered 8th notes in the first measure (1, 3, 5, and 7) and the even-numbered 8th notes in the second measure (2, 4, and 6).

Let’s take the 5/8 beat from Example 1 and add the bass drum on the “&” of 2.

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In this example we’re increasing the difficulty by giving the hi-hats a more subdivided rhythm.

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Take it to the next level by opening the hi-hats on the quarter-note pulse.

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This variation features constant 16ths on the hi-hat and a few extra bass drum notes.

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Now let’s try the same things with 7/8. Here’s the basic groove to give us a handle on playing the quarter-note pulse in this time signature.

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Now add a couple snare hits and move the second bass drum note to beat 6.

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In this example we’re increasing the difficulty with a subdivided hi-hat rhythm.

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Take it to the next level by opening the hi-hats on the quarter-note pulse.

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Lastly, try playing constant 16ths on the hi-hat while emphasizing the quarter-note pulse with accents.

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Mike Johnston runs the educational website mikeslessons.com, where he offers prerecorded videos as well as real-time online lessons. He also hosts weeklong drum camps at the mikeslessons.com facility each year.