Progressive Drumming Essentials
Part 5: Incorporating Odd Groups Into Grooves and Fills
by Aaron Edgar
One of my favorite things to do with quintuplets and septuplets is to create syncopated, angular-sounding grooves. Exploring this unusual territory can lend itself to establishing unique feels with a lot of rhythmic tension.
Last month we discussed how to count and feel quintuplets and septuplets. In case you missed it, I use an Indian counting system. There are many variations of this, but the syllables I like to use are “ta, ka, din, ah, gah” for quintuplets and “ta, ka, din, ah, ge, na, gah” for septuplets. When you’re working on these rhythms, make sure your internal pulse stays rooted to the quarter note (“ta”).
Let’s take a look at a basic quintuplet fill using single strokes. It’s a good idea to anchor the quarter-note pulse with your foot on the hi-hat. Go slowly and start by playing the fill one note at a time while counting out loud. Once you can play the fill comfortably, turn on the metronome and use the fill within a musical context. Try playing it with your favorite 16th-note-based groove.
Another way to use single-stroke quintuplets is to turn them into a groove. Starting with the bass drum on quarter notes, play singles between the hi-hat and snare. This naturally places the backbeats on the snare on 2 and 4. Lay into the bass drum with a solid stroke, which will help you feel the quintuplets more convincingly.
Experimenting beyond singles is a great way to start embellishing your subdivisions. Using sticking patterns that are the same length as your subdivision gives you an easy way to keep track of where you are within the odd-note grouping. A great sticking for quintuplets is RLRRL. Let’s use that to create a fun fill that leads out of a 16th-note paradiddle groove.
You can use the same idea with septuplets. Here’s an example of how to apply the sticking RLRLRLL to a septuplet fill. Make sure all your left-hand notes are played as subtle ghost strokes.
You don’t necessarily need to play all of the notes from the subdivision. You can put rests anywhere you’d like. In Examples 5A and 5B, we’re playing every other note of the quintuplet to create a five-over-two polyrhythm. Pay special attention to your quarter-note pulse, since you aren’t always playing on the downbeat with the hands. Bob your head to the quarter note or play a loud bass drum stroke instead of the hi-hat if it helps you keep the time steady.
The five-over-two polyrhythm works equally well as a groove. Let’s revisit Example 2 and remove the ghost notes and add some hi-hat accents. Make sure the accent pattern on the hi-hat doesn’t affect your pulse. In order to get a feel for this, try playing the ghost notes (from Example 2) on your leg and hitting the accents on the snare.
Let’s take a look at some sticking patterns that don’t fit evenly into our subdivisions. Example 7A is an accent pattern based on the inverted paradiddle (RLLR, LRRL) spread across quintuplets on the snare. Example 7B is the same pattern orchestrated on the snare and toms. The right hand accents on the floor tom, and the left hand accents on the rack tom. Be sure to count along, which helps you form a deeper understanding of exactly where each accent goes. Dynamics are especially important here. The more you accent the toms and keep the snare quiet, the more effective this type of fill becomes. Experiment with playing bass drum/crash hits instead of the toms as well.
What’s particularly cool about Examples 7A and 7B is that their accent patterns create a five-over-four polyrhythm. Let’s see what happens when we try another sticking that fits unevenly into our subdivision. We’ll use a three-note pattern over septuplets, orchestrated on the ride, bass drum, and snare.
Example 8 looks far more frightening than it is. The first step is to count septuplets out loud while tapping “right, left, foot.” You’ll need to count three full septuplets before you cycle back to having your right hand land on beat 1. Once you have a feel for the pattern away from the drumset, play it on the kit as noted below. The ride bell phrasing creates a seven-over-six polyrhythm by placing seven equally spaced notes across the six pulses of the two 3/4 measures.
While these examples may not fit into every musical situation, they’re inspiring tools that can add a bit of uniqueness to your playing, and mastering them will do wonders for strengthening your internal clock. I encourage you to dig deeper into these concepts. There’s a whole new world of rhythmic possibilities just waiting to be explored!
Aaron Edgar plays with the Canadian prog-metal band Third Ion and is a session drummer, clinician, and author. You can find his book, Boom!!, as well as information on how to sign up for weekly live lessons, at aaronedgardrum.com.