The Notes We Don’t Play
Incorporating Rests Into Odd Subdivisions
by Aaron Edgar
To count quintuplets, I like to use an Indian counting system with the syllables “ta, ka, din, ah, gah.” It’s imperative to hear “ta” as the dominant note, as it represents the quarter-note pulse. Before jumping into Exercise 1, make sure you’re comfortable counting and playing quintuplets on a practice pad.
To practice the following example, count out loud and alternate between a measure of quintuplets and the first measure of Exercise 1. In bar 1, we’re only skipping three notes: “din” in beat 3, “ta” in beat 4, and “ka” in beat 5. The goal is to make the partials on either side of the rest feel as solid as they do when you’re playing all five notes. Tapping quarter notes with your foot helps solidify the pulse, but be careful not to become reliant on it. After you’ve mastered measure 1, repeat the same process for bars 2, 3, and 4.
Once you’re ready to put all four bars of Exercise 1 together, experiment with voicing the rhythms on the drumset. Start simply with a pair of surfaces, such as the snare drum and floor tom, and improvise the rhythm’s orchestration between the two. Eventually expand into improvising over the entire kit. The more comfortable you are with the rhythms, the more creatively you’ll be able to apply them to the drums.
When experimenting with Exercise 1, don’t be afraid to modify it. You don’t need to use the entire four-bar phrase; you can use pieces of it to fit into different musical contexts.
This next example uses the rhythm from bar 3 of Exercise 1 as a syncopated bass drum pattern in the context of a progressive-metal groove.
We’ll close out the quintuplet portion of this lesson with one of my favorite grooves—the main beat I use in the song “Van Halien,” the closing track on Third Ion’s 13/8Bit record. [You can hear the song on the October 2016 playlist at Modern Drummer’s Spotify page.] This groove uses a twenty-one-note bass drum pattern within quintuplets across four bars of 4/4. There are twenty quintuplet partials in a single bar of 4/4, which means each measure of this groove has essentially the same kick pattern displaced forward by one quintuplet partial. The pattern has six note groupings (one, two, three, two, five, and two), and each grouping is followed by a single rest. Just like we did with Exercise 1, make sure you practice slowly and count out loud. You may want to isolate the bass drum rhythm on a practice pad first.
Exercises 6 and 7 incorporate rests into septuplets. Just like we did with Exercise 1, practice each of these into and out of full septuplets. Make sure you go slowly and count out loud. The syllables I like to use for counting septuplets are “ta, ka, din, ah, ge, na, gah.” Again, make sure to feel “ta” as the dominant pulse.
After mastering Exercises 6 and 7 on the practice pad, work on applying the rhythms to the drumset. You’re only limited by your imagination. Here are some ideas to help kick-start your creativity. Exercise 8 applies the last four beats of Exercise 6 across two pairs of hi-hats in the context of a four-on-the-floor groove. Using this bass drum pattern emphasizes the quarter-note pulse. Keep practicing the example until your septuplet rhythm feels comfortable and fluid over an unwavering snare and bass drum groove.
In Exercise 9, the right hand plays the first four beats of Exercise 7 while the left hand and bass drum fill in the spaces. Be mindful of your dynamics. Playing ghost strokes and unaccented notes too loudly in a busy pattern like this can end up sounding barbaric rather than tight and funky.
These rhythms are often considered odd only because we don’t hear them often. But with diligent practice they won’t feel strange at all. I recall the tipping point in my own progress where phrases like these started to feel so natural that I thought I was actually playing them incorrectly. Beats with odd subdivisions can feel just as good as any other groove if you allow yourself to become immersed in them.
For additional rhythmic material to experiment with, check out one of my all-time favorite books, Rhythm & Meter Patterns by Gary Chaffee.
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.