Any odd meter based in 16th notes can be felt as a 16th note longer or shorter than a more common meter based on 8ths or quarter notes. Once you become comfortable with that concept, you can start to internalize any 16th-based meter. The first meter we’re going to explore is 15/16. Let’s start by relating it to a bar of 4/4, as shown in Exercise 1.
By cutting the last 16th note from the previous example, you now have a bar of 15/16. Go slowly and count out loud. Try to make the first three quarter notes have the same pocket as they had in Exercise 1. If you have trouble feeling the downbeat, try crashing loudly on beat 1. Once you get the hang of that, try alternating between four bars of the 4/4 groove and four bars of the 15/16 version.
You can also perceive 15/16 as being one 16th note longer than a bar of 7/8. Exercise 3 demonstrates a 7/8 groove. In Exercise 4, there’s a 16th note added on the hi-hat to turn Example 3 into a pattern in 15/16. It’s a subtle difference, but thinking of 15/16 in this way can influence how you feel and phrase odd-time patterns.
Odd meters based on 16th notes can feel strange because we’re used to feeling a quarter- or 8th-note pulse. When that pulse is cut short or extended by a 16th note, it can feel like a rhythmic hiccup. To combat that glitchy feeling, think of a larger rhythmic grouping. Exercise 5 demonstrates a funky 3/4 groove with a heavily accented quarter note. In Exercise 6, three 16th notes are added on the hi-hat to create a flowing groove in 15/16.
To further smooth out the glitchy feel of 16th-note odd meters, you can pull the listener’s attention away from a quarter-note pulse. Exercise 7 demonstrates this by placing the kick on the “a” of each beat, which feels like it resolves more naturally when beat 1 rolls around on the repeat.
The next step is to break from 8th notes on the hi-hat. Fifteen is divisible by both five and three. Exercise 8 embellishes the accented kick and snare phrase from Exercise 7 by adding a hi-hat pattern that’s grouped in five 16th notes. The five-note hi-hat figure repeats three times within the bar, making the transition back to beat 1 feel more natural.
Exercise 9 utilizes the previous kick and snare pattern with a repeated three-note hi-hat figure. The resulting hi-hat pattern creates a shuffle feel that resolves naturally within the bar of 15/16. Be careful not to perceive the groove as having a triplet feel. It’s still based in 16th notes.
Since five and three fit evenly into fifteen, Exercise 10 explores what it sounds like when we combine both of those groupings into a groove. On the hi-hat, we’ll play the first, third, and fifth partial of a repeated five-note grouping of 16th notes. The bass drum plays every third 16th note.
Not every odd 16th-note meter is evenly divisible by three or five. We’ll add one 16th note to a 4/4 groove to create a measure of 17/16. Let’s start by breaking it into combinations of smaller groups such as threes and twos. Exercises 11–13 explore three of those options.
Exercise 11 places seven groups of two 16ths and one group of three 16ths on the hi-hat.
Next we’ll play four groups of two 16ths and three groups of three 16ths in this order: two, three, two, three, two, two, three. The kick and snare follows the hi-hat groupings. Once that’s comfortable, mix up the sequence to come up with your own combinations.
This last example incorporates one grouping of two 16ths and five groupings of three 16ths.
You can apply these ideas in infinite ways. Try applying them to your own odd-time grooves.
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.