In this article we’ll play quintuplets within the space of three 16th notes. This concept can create some unique rhythmic statements, such as subtle hi-hat embellishments or twisted double-bass grooves.

Exercise 1 sets up a framework that places the bass drum on every third 16th note in a measure of 4/4. We’ll play alternating 16th notes on the hi-hat and the snare on beat 4.

Playing the kick on every third 16th note sets up a four-over-three polyrhythm over the first three beats of the bar. Count the 16th notes out loud, and focus on feeling the quarter-note pulse while keeping the bass drum even.

This next example places five notes over the first three 16th notes of Exercise 1. Try to keep the same flow in the bass drum as you did previously. It should still feel like an even four-over-three polyrhythm, except we’re squeezing a quintuplet between the first two bass drum notes. Go slowly, and make the switch between subdivisions precise. Avoid accelerating into the quintuplet and sliding back into the 16th notes. Try to make the rhythms start exactly on each bass drum note while keeping the kick evenly spaced.

Once comfortable with Exercise 2, move the quintuplet to the other 16th-note partials. In this next example, the quintuplet starts on the “e” of beat 3 and resolves on beat 4 on the snare.

In the previous exercises, the quintuplets fit within a single beat. The next two examples stretch the quintuplet over the quarter-note pulse. In Exercise 4, the quintuplet starts on the “ah” of beat 1 and ends on the “&” of beat 2. Focus on the four-over-three polyrhythmic pulse, and try to space five notes evenly between the second and third kick hits.

Make sure not to trick yourself into feeling the 16th notes as triplets. To be able to use these rhythms, you need to feel them comfortably in 4/4.

Exercise 5 places the quintuplet on the “&” of beat 2 and finishes on the “e” of beat 3. Again, focus on the four-over-three pulse.

Alternate between Exercises 2–5 and Exercise 1 to make sure the bass drum pattern sounds identical regardless of the hand pattern. You should be able to clearly perceive the four-over-three polyrhythm in each version. Try to internalize how the five-over-three figure feels starting on each bass drum note.

Now we’ll explore more musical grooves based on this concept. Try each of these beats with a solid 16th-note hi-hat pattern before inserting the quintuplets. The goal is to make the kick, snare, and tom phrasings sound identical with or without the quintuplets. Be patient, and work to make the rhythms feel comfortable. If it doesn’t feel good, it won’t sound good.

Next we’ll explore these rhythms with double bass. Play every third 16th note on a stack or China cymbal while playing an aggressive embellishment on beat 4 on the snare. Although the four-over-three polyrhythm fits evenly in a measure of 3/4, staying in 4/4 helps you feel the quarter-note pulse without hearing the stack and bass drum pattern as triplets.

As we did with Exercises 2–5, alternate between playing straight 16th notes on the bass drum and the quintuplet variations. The hand pattern has to feel even regardless of which bass drum rhythm you’re playing.

This final example combines the four quintuplet placements into a hypnotic two-bar groove. It’s based on a nine-note pattern with quintuplets played over the first three 16th notes of the phrase. Practice this with straight 16th notes on the bass drum first before adding in the quintuplets one at a time.

It’s important to feel a strong 4/4 pulse in these exercises. The goal is to be able to freely substitute quintuplets in the space of any three 16th notes.


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.