Five and Seven Over Two
Exploring Odd Polyrhythms
by Aaron Edgar
The key to internalizing any polyrhythm is to feel how the rhythm interacts with the pulse. In its most basic form, we can build a five-over-two polyrhythm by playing every other quintuplet partial over two beats. This is demonstrated in Exercise 1 with counts written below the notation. Be sure to count out loud, and play your bass drum on the “ta” of each beat. The goal is to play consistent quarter notes with your bass drum—they shouldn’t feel like offbeats. Starting on beat 1, play every second quintuplet partial with your right hand while keeping an even spacing throughout the five-note grouping. “Ka” in beat 2 should feel almost like a slightly rushed offbeat 16th note.
When the rhythm is internalized, try playing a few different sticking patterns over Exercise 1. Try singles, doubles, and then paradiddles. The goal is to make the rhythm solid and consistent regardless of the sticking.
Exercise 2 demonstrates a basic version of a seven-over-two polyrhythm. Starting on beat 1, play every other septuplet partial over two beats. Use the same steps from the previous exercise to practice this example. Count out loud, and play solid quarter notes with your bass drum on the “ta” of each beat. The snare drum plays seven evenly spaced notes across the bar, and the “ka” on beat 2 should feel like an offbeat. If the second “ka” starts to feel like a downbeat, slow down and focus on counting.
Once you’ve internalized these rhythms, try thinking of them as quintuplets and septuplets over an 8th-note subdivision. Exercises 3 and 4 demonstrate a fun double bass application with each polyrhythm.
I find that the most enjoyable way to work on internalizing any polyrhythm is to apply it to a groove. If you alternate quarter notes between the bass drum and snare while layering a polyrhythm over it, you can naturally reinforce the pulse. The grooves in Exercises 5 and 6 are created from five-over-two and seven-over-two polyrhythms. Things get especially interesting when you start the polyrhythm on the subdivision’s second partial, as demonstrated in Exercises 7 and 8.
In Exercise 9, we’ll start the five-over-two groove on the downbeat while filling in the spaces with ghost notes and embellishing the bass drum pattern.
In Exercise 10, we’ll play an offbeat five-over-two groove with the right hand alternating between a cymbal stack and the hi-hats, and we’ll place the last note of the pattern on the floor tom. At first, try keeping your right hand on a single sound source while practicing. Add the right-hand orchestration once you’ve gotten the hang of the groove.
The last quintuplet example phrases a five-over-two polyrhythm on the toms. Your right hand plays ten evenly spaced notes on the floor tom while your left hand adds accents on the rack tom. Pay special attention to the hi-hat foot splashes on the “din” of each beat.
Exercise 12 demonstrates a septuplet polyrhythm groove that I call the Twisted Train. Those of you familiar with a train beat may recognize this pattern’s inspiration. Be careful of the sticking, as it will be reversed on each repeat.
A seven-over-two polyrhythm has a very unusual feel. We can use this to our advantage to build an angular variation of a 16th-note groove. In Exercise 13 we’ll apply a seven-over-two polyrhythm as a contrasting rhythm to a typical 16th-note hi-hat groove. Alternate between these two feels once you’ve internalized the septuplet variation.
Exercise 14 embellishes a seven-over-two groove by starting the hi-hat pattern on the offbeat. Pay close attention to the rest on the beginning of beat 3. The spacing of the rest will be easier to perceive if you focus on playing straight and consistent notes with your right hand. Try to use big motions and stiffer arms when first trying this exercise; it can help keep the pattern consistent.
This last exercise combines two of the feels we’ve worked on into a challenging groove with some fun and nasty hi-hat openings. The first half of this beat is a seven-over-two polyrhythm that starts on the downbeat, while the second half is a five-over-two polyrhythm that begins on the offbeat. At first, try starting with either the first or second half of the beat. Count out loud with your metronome and get comfortable with the hi-hat pattern without worrying about accents yet. Once that’s down, add in the rest of the beat. Lastly, add the hi-hat accents and openings. Pay special attention to the hi-hat closing on the second partial of the quintuplet on beat 3.
Once you’re comfortable with these grooves, go back and create some of your own patterns using Exercises 5 through 8 as a framework. Exploring your own creativity is one of the most enjoyable aspects of learning new rhythms. The offbeat five-over-two hi-hat pattern from Exercise 7 is one of my favorite ways to phrase polyrhythms in a groove. Have fun!
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 aronedgardrum.com.