Rock Perspectives

Septuplet Fives

Polyrhythmic Permutation

by Aaron Edgar

Seven over five can be a challenging polyrhythm to master. We’ll start building this rhythm by playing every fifth septuplet partial in a measure of 5/4. It can take plenty of dedicated practice to master this figure, especially when we start to displace the starting position of the five-note grouping within the septuplets. However, there are some steps we can take to help internalize this rhythm.

We can lighten the load on our brain by using a sticking pattern to space out the accents. To accent every fifth note of the septuplets, we’ll use a RLRRL sticking pattern and focus on the lead hand. The right hand plays one accented note followed by two unaccented ones, while the left hand plays single unaccented notes in between each right-hand group. Count the septuplets out loud using the syllables “ta, ka, din, ah, ge, na, gah,” and work through the sticking pattern within the counts until it starts to feel natural. Make sure you’re feeling the quarter note, or “ta,” as the pulse while your hands play the syncopated rhythm on top of it.

When you’re comfortable with Exercise 1, try playing the same pattern with your right hand on the hi-hats while your left hand plays ghost notes on the snare.

Exercise 2 places the sticking pattern into a syncopated ride cymbal groove with a slightly embellished bass drum pattern. In this and all of the exercises in this lesson, unaccented snare notes should be ghosted.

One of the biggest challenges in these exercises is internalizing the quintuplet-based accent patterns within the septuplets. Isolating smaller pieces of the phrase can help you internalize the groups of five. Exercise 3 isolates the first and second quarter notes of the previous ride pattern. Feeling rests within septuplets can be especially challenging, so be sure to take it slow and keep each partial lined up with your counting.

Once you’re comfortable with Exercise 3, embellish the pattern on the bass drum and snare (Exercise 4).

One of my favorite ways to explore a new rhythm is to write out all of its permutations. There are fourteen partials in the following pattern, which has the five-note grouping from Exercise 3 starting on the fourth partial of the septuplet and phrased on two pairs of closed hi-hats.

Because there are fourteen partials, there are fourteen places in which to start the two-beat phrase in Exercise 5. Exercises 6–8 demonstrate some of my favorite permutations of this rhythm. Pay attention to the hand that plays the accents from our original rhythm. In Exercise 6, the accents are in the left hand, while Exercise 7 places the accents in the right hand. Exercise 8 returns to the original accent pattern with the left hand while adding a secondary layer of accents with the right hand to create a call-and-response effect.

Be sure to write out and practice the rest of the permutations—each one has a unique feel. Varying the way you split the rhythm between the hi-hats can also result in some interesting variations.

Next we’ll try a different section of Exercise 2 by isolating beats 2, 3, and 4. Exercise 9 demonstrates this section of the phrase with a quarter-note bass drum pattern.

The following examples create beats using permutations of this new right-hand pattern. Focus on the syncopated kick and hi-hat accents instead of strictly accenting the quarter notes.

In Exercise 12 we’ll loop another permutation of the previous pattern and place it into a bar of 4/4. Now the right-hand pattern on beat 1 occurs again on beat 4 before the whole phrase repeats.

The last example places the rhythm from Exercise 9 onto the hi-hats while replacing the right-hand hi-hat note on beat 1 with the hi-hat foot. The left foot will also play quarter notes on beats 2 and 3, which naturally opens up the hi-hats on the last partial of each septuplet.

Practicing these permutations will make the original seven-over-five polyrhythm easier to play. I also find that displacing patterns across odd rhythms almost always yields variations that I enjoy more than the original phrases. It’s inspiring to know that there are new rhythms hidden within almost everything you play, if you look deep enough.


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.