Unique note placements can sometimes make a groove sound off kilter. This is fairly common in R&B and hip-hop production. But rather than quantizing or “humanizing” a pattern in recording software, which can sound random, we can create these feels by exploring unusual subdivisions.
This month we’ll explore quintuplet kick and snare placements underneath 8th-note grooves. To do this effectively, we need to perceive 8th notes and quintuplets simultaneously.
The first step is to internalize a five-over-two polyrhythm, as demonstrated in Exercise 1. In a bar of 2/4, play quarter notes on the hi-hat and every other quintuplet partial on the snare.
When practicing these exercises, count quintuplets out loud using the syllables “ta, ka, din, ah, gah.” Make sure the snare lines up with your counting while the hi-hat holds down the pulse. Specifically on beat 2, the “ka” needs to feel like a syncopated offbeat. It can be helpful to bob your head on each “ta” to emphasize the pulse.
In Exercise 2, the rhythm is compressed into a single quarter note. Go slowly, count the quintuplet partials out loud, and try to feel the hi-hat as the pulse. The second hi-hat note falls on the “&” of the groove, which lies between the “din” and “ah” of the quintuplet. We need to feel the quintuplet partial after “&” as if it’s a syncopated offbeat.
Exercise 3 sets up the framework we’re going to explore in the rest of this lesson. Don’t worry too much about speed here—the goal is to play a straight-8th-note pattern while counting quintuplets out loud. Being able to vocalize the quintuplet on top of the 8th-note groove will help your kick and snare placement. Spend some time immersing yourself in these initial examples before continuing.
To emphasize the pulse, try Exercise 3 with a four-on-the-floor bass drum pattern.
Exercises 4–7 demonstrate the four remaining quintuplet partials within the basic groove. In Exercise 7, make sure that the bass drum lines up with the syllable “gah” (fifth quintuplet partial). It can be easy to play a lazy 16th note that resembles the quintuplet placement, but it’s an entirely different exercise to count and feel this placement properly within the quintuplet.
Once you’re comfortable with each single-partial possibility, it’s time to tackle the rest of the quintuplet rhythmic variations. You can find a complete list of each variation at moderndrummer.com, and we’ll be referencing this list throughout the rest of the lesson.
The next two examples explore a couple of two-note rhythmic variations. Exercise 8 places the bass drum on the third (“din”) and fifth (“gah”) quintuplet partials (labeled Rhythm C3 in the supplemental online document).
Exercise 9 places the fourth (“ah”) and fifth (“gah”) quintuplet partials (Rhythm B4) on the bass drum, and there’s an open hi-hat on beat 1. Be careful to close your hi-hat exactly on the third partial (“din”) so that the right hand plays the hi-hat between the left foot and the bass drum on “ah.”
The next two examples incorporate ghost notes into two-note quintuplet combinations. Exercise 10 places ghost notes on the second (“ka”) and third (“din”) partials (Rhythm B2), and there are some extra bass drum notes to beef up the groove.
Exercise 11 places ghost notes on the third (“din”) and fifth (“gah”) partials (Rhythm C3), and there’s a snare buzz instead of a ghost stroke on the last note of the measure.
Exercise 12 incorporates a four-note snare, hi-hat foot, and kick figure that starts on the second quintuplet partial of each beat. An accented snare note breaks up the pattern on the last beat of the measure.
So far we’ve looked at rhythms that fit within one beat. The final two examples explore polyrhythmic quintuplet phrases. Exercise 13 creates a five-over-four polyrhythm by repeating a four-note bass drum pattern (every first, second, and fourth note) across a quintuplet subdivision.
The last example is in 7/4 and applies a seven-note pattern (every first, fourth, and fifth bass drum note) to the quintuplets. This creates a five-over-seven polyrhythm.
The goal is to find the pocket and groove within these patterns. It’s one thing to make unique grooves by purposely playing notes slightly out of place, but that barely scratches the surface of what’s possible when you start exploring a subdivision with the concepts in this lesson.
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.