Last month we tackled five-over-three polyrhythms by playing five equally spaced notes across a bar of 3/4. This month we’ll dive into a seven-over-three polyrhythm using the same process. To create this rhythm, we’ll start with a bar of septuplets in 3/4. Accenting every third septuplet partial will give us the seven side of the rhythm, while quarter notes played underneath the hands comprise the three side. It’s imperative that you feel the quarter note as the pulse and the seven layer as a contrasting syncopation—your rhythmic perspective is much more important than the physical pattern.
Exercise 1 demonstrates this grouping with both sides of the polyrhythm starting on the downbeat. Take this slowly, play unaccented septuplet singles on the snare with quarter notes on the kick, and count along with the septuplets using the syllables “ta, ka, din, ah, ge, na, gah.” Once that’s comfortable, add in the accents one at a time within the septuplets. Because we’re playing single strokes, the accents alternate between each hand. It’s a good idea to play the bass drum fairly hard to help reinforce the quarter-note pulse.
Once Exercise 1 starts to feel comfortable, start the seven side of the polyrhythm on the two remaining septuplet permutations, as notated in Exercises 2 and 3. You can also play the three side with the bass drum starting on any of the seven septuplet partials.
I encourage you to explore other sticking patterns with the hands. A great sticking to start with is RLL. Try repeating that three-note sticking within the accent patterns in Exercises 1–3.
This next example applies a five-stroke roll to the accent pattern from Exercise 3.
A great way to explore any polyrhythm is by utilizing double bass as a foundation. In this case, playing straight septuplets on double kick provides a solid reference for every partial of both sides of the polyrhythm.
Exercise 5 places the seven side on a cymbal stack with the right hand. The three side is played with the left hand alternating between the floor tom and snare, which implies a familiar kick and snare groove within the odd grouping.
Next we’ll utilize the herta rhythm within the seven side of the polyrhythm on the bass drums. Before adding the hands, practice the herta slowly while counting septuplets out loud, as notated in Exercise 6. Exercise 7 adds the snare and a twisted shuffle on a cymbal stack.
Let’s explore some funkier territory by playing the seven side of the polyrhythm with the right hand on a ride or stack. Exercises 8–10 explore each permutation of the seven side between the cymbal and ghost notes while maintaining a consistent, accented kick and snare groove. The hi-hat foot pedals quarter notes to highlight the three side. Play these examples until your right hand remains consistent through each exercise. Make sure there aren’t any hesitations or bumps in the flow of the right hand.
Now we’ll challenge ourselves by exploring the space in the seven-over-three polyrhythm. Exercise 11 removes all the ghost notes from Exercise 8, which leaves the riding hand and hi-hat foot playing the polyrhythm with only the kick and snare accents remaining.
Alternate between Exercises 8 and 11 and try to retain the evenly spaced right-hand pattern. Once you’re comfortable, practice Exercises 9 and 10 in the same manner.
Exercise 12 phrases the seven-over-three rhythm within the first three quarter notes of a measure in 4/4. The final quarter note breaks from the figure, turning the phrase around to help keep the quarter-note pulse solid. You may want to omit the hi-hat accents until you’ve dialed in the basic coordination.
Next remove most of the kick and snare notes to embrace this pattern’s space. Without the snare and kick embellishments, the hi-hat pattern speaks strongly through the groove.
The last example applies an alternating open and closed hi-hat pattern to the seven side of the polyrhythm. The result is a twisted seven-over-six disco beat with seven equally spaced hi-hat openings over a six-beat, four-on-the-floor-type pattern.
Applying a heel-toe technique can help you coordinate the hi-hat foot pattern. Slam your heel down on the heel plate of the hi-hat pedal for the open notes, and press your toe down for the closed notes. Make sure both are in time. Count out loud, and go slowly at first.
Once you’ve coordinated your feet and counting, it’s time to add in the hands. Make sure your feet feel as comfortable and consistent as when they were playing on their own.
The hardest part of Exercise 15 is articulating the notes that line up right after a quarter note, especially on the second septuplet partial (“ka”) of beat 6. Practice slowly, count out loud, and good luck!
Aaron Edgar plays with the Canadian prog-metal band Third Ion and is a session drummer, clinician, and author. His latest book, Progressive Drumming Essentials, is available through Modern Drummer Publications here.