Alternative Rhythmic Placements for More Adventurous Options

If you’ve been working through my articles over the past few years, you’ve been exposed to a good number of odd subdivisions, particularly quintuplets. We almost exclusively start those advanced rhythms on the quarter-note pulse so that the notes line up nicely and evenly. But we can push our ear even further by exploring how to phrase odd rhythms starting on the offbeat.

In Example 1 we have an unassuming bar of 4/4. There are three beats of triplets and two 8th notes. The only strange thing is that the second group of triplets starts on the & of beat 2, which puts beat 3 in between the second and third partials of the triplet.

A great first step toward being able to accurately feel how that rhythm sits over the pulse is to double the triplet subdivision from 8th-note triplets to 16th-note triplets. Doing so fills in the spaces between the 8th-note triplet partials so that there’s now a note on beat 3 instead of a space. Example 2 is this basic rhythm phrased on the snare.

Example 3 accents the original rhythm around the toms while ghosting the rest of the notes on the snare.

Example 4 removes the ghost notes and adds 8th notes with the hi-hat foot.

Once you’ve got the hang of Example 4, try playing quarter notes with the hi-hat. Just be sure to continue thinking in 8th notes to maintain an even feel.

One of the best ways to internalize an unusual rhythm is to phrase it in a way that feels more like music than a math problem. Example 6 is the same triplet rhythm played on a stacker over a four-on-the-floor groove.

Example 7 dresses up the same rhythmic idea in a 16th-note groove. Pedaling 8th notes on the hi-hat helps solidify the rhythm.

Next, let’s explore a similar concept with quintuplets. First we need to get comfortable with quintuplets over 8th notes. Example 8 is an eight-on-the-floor groove with the first half of the bar subdivided into 16ths and the second half into quintuplets. Practice the quintuplet half on its own before alternating back and forth between that and 16ths. You can also double the subdivision of the quintuplets, similar to what we did with triplets, if you want to practice the rhythm with all of the spaces articulated.

Example 9 is a two-bar rhythm phrased on the snare that features quintuplets starting both on and off the beat. If you think about this pattern with an 8th-note pulse, every group of quintuplets will have one of those pulses placed in between the third and fourth partials.

Once you’ve gotten the hang of playing quintuplets starting on and off the beat, the next step is to apply that rhythm within the context of a groove. Example 10 sets up a four-on-the-floor groove phrased primarily in 16ths but with groupings of quintuplets starting on the & of beat 2.

Example 11 applies this idea over the bar line in a two-bar half-time groove. Don’t let the fact that the phrase goes over the bar line throw you off. It’s the same rhythm as before, only the quintuplet starts on the & of beat 4.

Examples 12 and 13 combine triplet and quintuplet variations within each groove. In Example 12, the notes compress and expand from 8ths to 8th-note triplets to quintuplets and then back.

Example 13 expands on the beat in Example 7 by exploring a more varied rhythmic phrasing with offset triplets that extend over the bar line.

One of the coolest things about these types of advanced rhythms is that there can be multiple ways to perceive them. For instance, you could hear Example 7 as a bar of 3/8 and a bar of 5/8, which would put the triplets on the beat instead of on the offbeat. Being able to conceptualize rhythms from multiple angles like that will give you a deeper understanding of time signatures, subdivisions, and pulse that can be applied to a wide variety of contexts.

By Aaron Edgar

Aaron Edgar plays with the Canadian prog-metal band Third Ion and is a session drummer, clinician, and author. His latest book, Progressive Drumming
, is available through Modern Drummer Publications.