Rock Perspectives

A New Realm of Groove

Exploring Feel With Odd Subdivisions

by Aaron Edgar

It might initially seem strange using the term “groove” in conversations about patterns based in odd subdivisions. But examples of these phrases being used in popular music are abundant. A perfect song to demonstrate this concept is Snoop Dogg’s track “Protocol,” from More Malice, which is clearly phrased in septuplets.

Exploring Feel w Odd Subdivisions 1

The septuplet note placement in the groove in “Protocol” creates some interesting aspects within the feel. Using this subdivision allows the final kick in each beat to be placed slightly later in the measure than if you were using 16th-note triplets. Also, the hi-hat placement falls roughly on the first three 16th notes of the beat, but the notes are slightly skewed, which creates a lazy, swung bounce with a unique twist.

To create septuplet ideas from scratch, start by replicating the rhythmic structure of more ordinary grooves. We’ll use a simple set of rules to assign a 16th-note subdivision to quintuplet partials, and we’ll count them using an Indian system that assigns the syllables “ta, ka, din, ah, gah” to each of the five partials in the quintuplet. The downbeat remains the same, so the first note of each quintuplet, or “ta,” will represent our quarter note. The “e” of a regular 16th-note subdivision can be represented by either the second or third quintuplet partials (“ka” and “din”). The “&” can be represented by the third and fourth quintuplet notes (“din” and “ah”). And finally, the “a” can be represented by the last two quintuplet notes (“ah” and “gah”).

Exploring Feel w Odd Subdivisions 2

We’ll start by using full quintuplets on the hi-hats to replicate the 16th-note hi-hat groove shown in Exercise 3. In Exercise 4, we change the hi-hat pattern to quintuplets and use a later placement for each of the original offbeat 16th notes—the “e” becomes the third quintuplet partial (“din”), the “&” becomes the fourth quintuplet partial (“ah”), and the “a” becomes the fifth quintuplet partial (“gah”). Exercise 5 demonstrates an alternate variation with earlier bass drum and snare placements.

Exploring Feel w Odd Subdivisions 3

Exploring Feel w Odd Subdivisions 4

In Exercise 6, the bass drum falls on every third 16th note. To replicate this feel in quintuplets, we’ll play every fourth note on the bass drum until beat 4, as noted in Exercise 7.

Exploring Feel w Odd Subdivisions 6-7

In Exercises 8 and 9, we have a three-note pattern—a bass drum note followed by two hi-hat notes—that’s applied within a 16th and quintuplet subdivision. Keeping a strong backbeat on beats 2 and 4 helps anchor the groove. In Exercise 8, there are four bass drum notes between beats 1 and 4, and in Exercise 9 there are five bass drum notes within the same time frame.

Exploring Feel w Odd Subdivisions 8-9

To create grooves using septuplets, we’ll start with a hi-hat pattern that serves as the framework for a new groove. Exercise 10 utilizes the first, third, and sixth partial of the septuplet. Go slowly, count with the syllables “ta, ka, din, ah, ge, na, gah,” and try to make the hi-hat pattern groove on its own.

Exploring Feel w Odd Subdivisions 10

Once the hi-hat pattern in Exercise 10 grooves, add the snare and bass drum.

Exploring Feel w Odd Subdivisions 11

After mastering that pattern, come up with your own kick and snare placements. I suggest keeping the backbeat on beats 2 and 4 while embellishing other parts of the phrase to ensure that it grooves.

The final two exercises interpret one of my favorite Questlove grooves from D’Angelo’s “Left and Right” track off the album Voodoo. We’ll use quintuplets and septuplets for the spacing of the hi-hat and bass drum notes. I’m not sure if Questlove was thinking this way, but you can recreate his push-and-pull feel using these subdivisions. Exercise 12 will help you internalize the feel.

Exploring Feel w Odd Subdivisions 12

The last groove in this lesson presents a few challenges. First, you have to switch subdivisions without playing all of the notes. Try counting through the subdivisions along with a metronome before moving on to the full pattern.

On beat 4 of the second measure, the hi-hat is playing straight 8th notes, with a bass drum on the last partial of a quintuplet. When counting quintuplets, the second hi-hat note lines up between “din” and “ah.” Practice this slowly at first to learn how it feels.

Exploring Feel w Odd Subdivisions 13

The goal of this lesson is to prove that quintuplets and septuplets can groove. Keep an open mind, and count out loud. With diligent practice, these types of unique grooves will eventually feel natural.

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 You can find his book, Boom!!, as well as information on how to sign up for private lessons, at