Are odd time subdivisions worth learning?

Joffry

Member
I'm going through Chaffee's books and quintuplets, septuplets, and nonuplets are present in some of the exercises and studies.


I'm sure it can't hurt to be able to play these subdivisions, however, if I'm being honest, I fail to envision a musical situation in which I would use them...

I spoke about this with a mentor who has been on world tours playing funk, jazz, and fusion (the genres that I am most interested in), and he said that playing an odd time subdivision would at best confuse the rest of the band, and at worst, throw the band off of the pulse.

I feel confident in saying that most professional drummers, even the ones at the top of the game, use the "common" subdivisions based around quarter notes or triplets most of the time, even if they are capable of playing more uncommon ones.

I guess a broader question related to this would be:

Should one aim to practice EVERYTHING in a book or resource, or is it better to simply take what seems most relevant to your musical situations and practice those ideas/concepts?
 

BGDurham

Well-known Member
Imo, I don't have time to learn everything. I have to get good at the music I play while also giving enough time to the important non-drum part of my life. I recommend noting these more esoteric topics and coming back to them when you feel very competent in the more relevant stuff. I think Chaffee et al. would agree. That being said, I do try to challenge myself with the regular stuff that is more complex, and would consider these esoteric topics (oddtuplets) if I felt I was in a rut.
 

Push pull stroke

Platinum Member
5s and 7s are fun to learn, and they build your confidence as a player. But I’m not sure that I’ve ever actually been paid to play anything with those subdivisions. The only time I’ve played them is mostly in percussion ensemble in college, where 98% of all the crazy rhythmic stuff I’ve ever get played showed up.
 

Caz

Senior Member
Quintuplets have come up for me from time to time, either as the main feel for an original tune / an arrangement of a jazz standard in quintuplets, or specified quintuplet fills in otherwise standard time music (there's one in the big band arrangement from Cowboy Bebop for example). I've also been directed to play the 4th or 5th quintuplet instead of a triplet or 1/16th note ride pattern for jazz compositions. I think it's one of those things that if you're personally interested in then go for it, but it doesn't seem to come up that often so if your aim is to get out working as much as possible it might not be the best focus of time.
 

brentcn

Platinum Member
I'm going through Chaffee's books and quintuplets, septuplets, and nonuplets are present in some of the exercises and studies.


I'm sure it can't hurt to be able to play these subdivisions, however, if I'm being honest, I fail to envision a musical situation in which I would use them...

I spoke about this with a mentor who has been on world tours playing funk, jazz, and fusion (the genres that I am most interested in), and he said that playing an odd time subdivision would at best confuse the rest of the band, and at worst, throw the band off of the pulse.

I feel confident in saying that most professional drummers, even the ones at the top of the game, use the "common" subdivisions based around quarter notes or triplets most of the time, even if they are capable of playing more uncommon ones.

I guess a broader question related to this would be:

Should one aim to practice EVERYTHING in a book or resource, or is it better to simply take what seems most relevant to your musical situations and practice those ideas/concepts?

The gigs that pay good money, are not very likely at all to require that you play 5s or 7s. The gigs that you do for fun, that pay like $30 -- those are the gigs that you might use that stuff.

however, if I'm being honest, I fail to envision a musical situation in which I would use them...
Well, that's true for you today, but who knows what the future will bring? A composer with an adventurous sense of rhythm might throw some crazy music at you one day. It's rare, and not commercially viable, but let me assure you: music with 5s and 7s exists. Can you envision a future, 10, maybe 20 years from now, where you might get bored of playing pop tunes in 4/4, and want to play something more demanding of your talents?

Also, there is such a thing as your "internal clock", which will get sharper and more accurate as your playing ability grows. Learning to play 5s, 7s, with rests and odd-times, will grow your ability to play more common things like triplets, sextuplets, and 32nds, or dotted figures, and so on, much more confidently and accurately. You will sound better at the normal stuff, because you'll have some "headroom".

OTOH, it's okay to just want to play simpler music for the rest of your life, too. There's no law that is requiring you to become the next jazz/prog/fusion monster. Knowing what you want to learn means that you need to know yourself, and have some kind of idea of what will make you happy, not just today, but in the years ahead.
 

ToneT

Well-known Member
Absolutely! For me, working on fives, sevens, and nines is quite rewarding.
Check out the Mat Garstka PASIC 2021 masterclass on YouTube.
 

bermuda

Drummerworld Pro Drummer - Administrator
Staff member
Learning as much as you can is always good. But having the discipline to not try to use most of it is even more important. Probably the most complicated thing you'll encounter in real life is playing I Love Rock & Roll with its occasional bar of 3/4, or perhaps All You Need Is Love - mostly a shuffle in 7/4 - which we all know without having to count it.

As for focusing only on what's relevant to your musical situation, that's subject to change. You should always be ready for new music and new growth. But the reality is, you're probably going to be playing common signatures - 4/4, 12/8, 3/4 - as a steady diet. I've been playing with other musicians for just over 50 years (professionally for 45 years) and there have been literally a couple of occasions where I've had to go beyond the norm, and not very far at that.
 

toddbishop

Platinum Member
It's good to play through that stuff once, just to learn something about rhythm, but like your guy said, it mostly isn't useful in real life. That was my experience with it-- it sounded wrong when I tried to use any of it in music. It has to be a special situation where the writing includes that kind of thing and everybody agrees to play that stuff.

Should one aim to practice EVERYTHING in a book or resource, or is it better to simply take what seems most relevant to your musical situations and practice those ideas/concepts?

You have to pick and choose. I look at it carefully when a book/exercise/person/video makes some special, time-consuming technical demand. It's usually not necessary. The internet especially likes to make ordinary things into time-consuming things, so you have to beware of that, too. Everybody's out to waste your time working on their personal BS, basically.
 

V-Four

Senior Member
... Probably the most complicated thing you'll encounter in real life is playing I Love Rock & Roll with its occasional bar of 3/4, .....

I don't know why, but that always bothered me about that song, just sounds "broken" as I would call it, or like the record skipped.. 🤣

It's not difficult, but it still annoys me.

Actually, so does that silly part in the beginning of "eye of the tiger", now that im thinking about things that bother me. :unsure:

YMMV

T$
 

BGDurham

Well-known Member
I don't know why, but that always bothered me about that song, just sounds "broken" as I would call it, or like the record skipped.. 🤣

It's not difficult, but it still annoys me.

Actually, so does that silly part in the beginning of "eye of the tiger", now that im thinking about things that bother me. :unsure:

YMMV

T$
Ha! Yes, I have always been struck by that part too. I just put my beret on and listened to that song again and I'd like to test my understanding with you all: I think the song stays in 4/4 through that part (and through the whole song), it's just that the band delays their hits at that point in the song.
 

Duck Tape

Platinum Member
Learning odd subdivisions helps your odd time playing so it wouldn't be a waste of time.

I am guilty of taking what I want from a drum book and leaving the exercises I don't need/want aside and at the same time I have practiced things that prove fairly useless just because I felt like I had to cover every exercise on the page to feel accomplished.
 

JohnRick

Member
It's basically asking a guitar player if they are comfortable always playing in E. And even if you may not use every subdivision in the rhythmic scale, they add to the toolbox and your overall skill set. That said, you might decide not to dive deeper into quintuplets, septuplets, nonuplets etc, but you should in that case at least get familiar with the somewhat more frequently used concept of odd groupings, i.e. practicing phrases of 5, 7, 9 etc. in your "everyday" subdivisions.
 

pgm554

Platinum Member
Better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.
Most pop music doesn't require it ,but knowing how to make stuff tasty is what distinguishes the banal from the interesting.
JC Superstar had a top 100 hit that was in 5/4 (Everything's all right)
 

dcrigger

Senior Member
Last question first - I feel no obligation to use everything from every book (even my teachers didn't completely)... but of course while always keeping in mind, that (particularly early on) we're not always fully aware of what we may or may not need.

So on the topic of things that are odd...

I've always very broken this subject into two subjects - that certainly overlap a lot, but are in my experience really quite different.

In your post, you mention "odd time signature sub-divisions" and also "quintuplets, septuplets, etc. In my book, these are two very different things....

Remember that grid that most of us were shown when we first started to learn to read.... that shows whole, half, quarter, eighth and 16th notes all laid out against each other - and how the smallest grid columns lined up with each of them. 1 e & ah 2 e & ah etc...

Then later when we learned about triplets, we realized that they exist primarily on a DIFFERENT grid - where the wholes, halves and quarters line up - but everything that divides the main 1/4 pulse is different.

Well learning "tuplets" is about adding more, uniquely different grids... one based on 5 notes per 1/2, another based on 7 per 1/4. And of course just like when we learned to play "3 against 2" (laying the triplet grid over the straight 1/8th grid ) - studying tuplets can become about superimposing them as well.

But basically, tuplets are about creating more grids that all share the same 1/4 note reference point. - layering more and more grids vertically (on top of each other)

On the other hand - odd time signatures and odd rhythm groups is all about using the existing basic grids (straight and triplet) and messing with the horizontal layout of the grid.... Instead of sixteen 16th notes per bar, we might have 20 (5/4) or fourteen 16ths (7/8). If in 7/8 (fourteen 16th's), the music might be arranged as two beats (1/4's) each having four 16th's followed by a "beat" with six 16th's (a dotted 1/8th beat) or the music might be arranged with the dotted 1/4 first, then the two 1/4's.

These odd time signature subdivisions and notice I keep referring to the music being divided as certain way. This is because just in 4/4 - the musician's don't really choose what subdivision to use - the music does (or the person writing the music does). A piece in 11/8 decided 3+3+3+2 is IN the sub-division, just as nearly all of rock in 4/4 is divided 2+2+2+2. These subdivisions don't really dictate what we play - they define where we should "tap our foot".

The other part of this is "odd rhythmic groupings" - most of get pretty efficient at creating rhythmic phrases in 4/4 made up of little groups of three - the BoDiddly Beat has some in it. Sing Sing Sing has some. They are so commonplace many of us don't even realize that is what we are doing. Playing strings of 16th's in "groups" of three - not triplets, but 16ths. Usually accented the first note of each group.

All that "odd rhythmic groupings" are is creating phrase, patterns, fills based on groupings beyond threes. It is just a way of opening up our rhythmic palette - within the context of 1/8th's, triplets and 16th's.

So two different things - in my career, being versed in odd time signatures and odd rhythmic groupings has been essential. Essential for everyone, of course not. Odd meter playing is still, 50 years later, in no way commonplace. But... it is (at the pro level) a skill that is far less "out there" than it was when I started. Is it the first and most important thing to master... heavens no. But it does come up.

As for tuplets - as drum set player, even one known to be very versed in odd meter playing, I have to say, they just don't come up that much. I believe this is in part that they are really a product of 20th century classical music and as such, traditionally, don't really "groove". Which even in odd music, is still our main function... to groove.

But... that is changing - in that this new generation of players have found these tuplet groove concepts that marvelously imitated the sort-of laid back, drunken grooves that developed on many rap records.

So I'm by know means saying ignore learning anything about tuplets - of course not. Just saying that even in the narrow world of more odd music being able to fully use those tuplet concepts like Vinnie can in his soloing is a skill - that while utterly amazing, is in very little demand. (I mean, Vinnie is in demand - but for a myriad of reasons that have nothing to do with the special unique ability)

Hope that helps...
 

Neal Pert

Well-known Member
But... that is changing - in that this new generation of players have found these tuplet groove concepts that marvelously imitated the sort-of laid back, drunken grooves that developed on many rap records.

I definitely see and hear this as one of the more interesting developments in the music. Some of the grooves that you'll hear that sound like really lazy, stretched-out sounding shuffles could be quantized to quintuplets. You have the ability on some drum machines to adjust the "swing" of the shuffles to be wider than the dotted eighth/sixteenth rhythm, and I think guys are trying to emulate that.

You'll hear this sort of thing, too, with some Afro Cuban guys, as the sonic gap between a 3:2 clave and a 5:4 polyrhythm is not THAT big and playing the 5:4 can give that feeling of elasticity. In order to play a 5:2 or 5:4 polyrhythm, you need to build on quintuplets.

I agree with the general principle that one should put quintuplets and septuplets pretty low on one's list of things to learn. However, I didn't. I was fascinated by that stuff when I was at Berklee and I spent a chunk of my practice time one summer learning how to incorporate that stuff into jazz soloing and even grooving at times. I still don't use it much, but I do use it. I find that in order to use quintuplets musically in almost any context you really need to give the other players some additional information (hi hat on 2 and 4, at least).

I should probably make a video of what I'm talking about but I'd bet someone out there with nicer recording gear has already done it!
 

Caz

Senior Member
Just to add to my last post... I gave some examples of when quintuplets have come up on gigs for me, I forgot to mention septuplets.. just wanted to add I've never been asked to play septuplets on a gig, they seem to be even less common than quintuplets. Still fun to explore though if you are interested - the only two drummers I've come across so far who are quite comfortable with that and can use them in a musical context are Ari Hoenig and Stephane Galland. I'm pretty sure Dan Weiss and Asaf Sirkis would also be comfortable with these because of the Indian counting practice they do. I've only explored septuplets in nerdy jams with one particular bass player who is really into practicing quintuplets and septuplets.

Here's a really nice arrangement of Inner Urge by Nelson Veras with Stephane Galland on drums if you're interested in this stuff from a jazz perspective.. check it out, it's quintuplets based and the there are 3 beats per bar.. so it adds up to 15 beats per bar, which is close enough to 16 for it to sound almost normal and just a bit wonky!

Caroline
 

jazzerooty

Junior Member
.... and if not already mentioned. A more popular example from the YT generation is of course Anika Nilles obsession with quintuplets. Most notably in this diddy:
She's a very impressive drummer. The musical genre does little for me. But she's got it.
 

jazzerooty

Junior Member
All those "subdivisions" are useful, and sound great, of course. But one ought to be able to HEAR them as part of his/her vocabulary. Otherwise, you're just attempting to be "tricky," which oftentimes can be musically intrusive. Elvin, who was a polyrhthmic king, mostly had no anwer for what he was playing. He just had it and heard it.
 
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