Playing in odd timings: How do you make use of the space?

Reggae_Mangle

Silver Member
Hey drummer dudes,
I have been listening to a lot of progressive metal and its sub-genres and have really started taking drums more seriously. I mean who would have thought there's more than 4/4? Just by moving out of that comfort zone, I've started to experiment with ghost notes and odd feel double bass patterns.

I started out keeping things simple, and I think I've made progress, but I cannot seem to figure out how to move around the kit and add to what my feet are doing. All I can manage is to keep a steady beat with the snare on the 1, but the moment I try to hit some other part of the kit, say a tom, or play a role, the whole thing becomes a disgusting mess.

Could someone explain to me if I have a timing of 5/4, for example, what can I play in that space? Any examples you could provide? How do sub-divisions work? The same way, i.e 1 and a 2 and a...?

And assuming I figure that out, how do I not freeze when I go to an audition or jam and the guy says play x/y?

As I said, really having fun with it. I shot a couple of Instagram videos, one is a song where I really don't know the time signature? Can I anyone help? How I internalised it was to play in a completely different tempo, and it seemed to work beautifully. The other is just a double bass groove in 5/4, and you'll notice my hands move absolutely nowhere from the snare and ride!

I hope you enjoy these! Strongly recommend headphones for the second one, the mix on mono sources and small speakers is atrocious, so bad.
http://instagr.am/p/B9HSH30nvl-/
http://instagr.am/p/B9DrxMGnHz6/
 

moxman

Silver Member
No simple answer here other than drilling the pattern into your head. Like 'Take 5'.. get that melody line stuck in your head and practice the groove until you can step across the bar and as Mike Mangini says 'can you hear it?' .. that silent underlying rythmn and meter that you're playing with.
Sometimes it helps to break it into 3s and 2s eg. Take 5 could be 1-2-3-1-2 etc.
5s and 7s are not too hard... I find 9 and up can get challenging.. but that's when I break it down into smaller sections.
Steve Smith has a whole method on using word sounds 'eg Tiki-Taki. to describe odd meters - but whatever works!
I remember finding them difficult when starting out .. as I got hung up on counting... but today I find them easy to groove on and I don't count them. It's a mystery to me.. but I think I concentrate more on the melody and phrasing and probably a sense of what a 5 or 7 seven pattern flows like...
 

danondrums

Well-known member
I don’t really think there’s any difference in how to approach 4/4, 3/4, 5/4, 5/8, 7/8, 9/8, 13/16, 19/16...

You can place your notes anywhere that sounds good. For starters, Bass drum on 1 is helpful, your lead hand playing the smallest subdivision is helpful, and your other hand and bass drum can play off each other as needed.
 

Odd-Arne Oseberg

Platinum Member
Patience and working on the basics step by step.

Work on the same type of groove and fill exercises ou did in 4/4 when you started drumming. It won't really take that long as most of the elements in drumming you had to learn then you probably already know pretty well.

I've created plenty of "fat back" exercises and reading page exercises for odd time playing.

Do the ground work and if you can, don't work on anything else. It's not harder than playing in 4/4. You're simply not used to it. Focus on it as much as you used to do on other things and it will become natural. Just don't think it will happen over night and don't work on too many things at once.
 

MntnMan62

Junior Member
When I was younger and Zappa and his mad scientist drummers kept me busy trying to figure out odd times. What I'll say is that it is one thing to play the beat and lay down the groove, in any time signature. It is quite another to feel comfortable enough to be able to start to insert your own fills and play around with the beat. What I found ended up working for me was spending plenty of time playing the groove, say in 7. I'm talking about hours of it. I'd also be listening to tunes in that time signature and hear what the drummer is doing in terms of fills. I would then try and replicate the fills being done on the recording. The more I listened and played to it, the more other stuff would pop into my head on its own and I'd start getting more original in my take on the groove. But the key for me was really feeling comfortable with the groove, to the point that it's second nature, just like 4/4 has become. Listen, then play, then listen, then play. And play some more. As I reread my response I couldn't help but think "Dude, you haven't helped the guy out one bit." This is the best I can offer at this point. Mind you it's been about 40 years since I was playing odd times respectably.
 

rhumbagirl

Senior Member
I haven't been playing a lot of odd time stuff lately so I'm going to shoot from hip here. Is odd time usually played in terms of 3s and 2s, 4s and 3s, 4s and 5s etc?
5/4 = 3 + 2,
7/4 = 4 + 3,
9/4 = 4 + 4 + 1 (or 4 + 3 + 2) and all the permutations depending on what the melody of the tune is
15/8 = 8 + 7 (straight time for almost two bars)
 

moxman

Silver Member
That's kind of the way I look at - but with all kinds of combinations.. it depends on the tune or groove. It just helps to chunk it out in your head.. with the chunks fitting the groove. I think of the melody/phrasing primarily - and probably the chunks subconsciously - not the numbers. For example, I recently had to play a section that went into a loop of 4/4 to 7/4 .. and it was smoking fast - no time to count! But feeling the 7/4 pattern as 1-2-3anda1-2-3anda1--2--3--4-- helped to lock it in my head. Much easier to grasp than 123456712345671--2--3--4--
 

bigbang

Pioneer Member
It really sounds to me like you're trying to "run before you can walk " type of thing.
4/4 is so ingrained into drummers that its very difficult to work in odd times.
Like a couple of guys said you have to take it slow and work on your beats/grooves first.
Go slow and count like you would in 4/4 ....1+2+3+4+ ...etc. only using the time sig. you're in.
Breaking it down into what Rhumbagirl was saying is also very good ....it can create accents in different spots.
I used Ralph Humphries book " Even in the odds " to learn when I was younger. Its a great book.
The fills will come , you just have to slow down and work a little harder than 4/4.
 

SYMBOLIC DEATH

Senior Member
There's a good video of Mike Portnoy explaining odd time signatures and showing how he counts them in a Dream Theater song. It's called something like Liquid Dream Theater.
 

Odd-Arne Oseberg

Platinum Member
It really will depend on the tune how you think of it.

Many common tunes will tell you how the bars ar dvivided like "Take 5" Sting's "Seven Days" are an obvious 3+2.

Another Brubeck tune like Blue Rondo is 2+2+2+3 and 3+3+3 at the end. It just follows the phrasing of the melody.

In other contexts it may be more open and to play and solo over the bar line etc... you have to work on it in a different way.

Things that are conceptually hard as sais need to be worked on very slow. Slow enough so that you can really understand and hear what you're doing. A day like today when I'm just way to beat physically to do anything too technically demanding on the drums, is a perfect day for me to work on new concepts that require a way of practicing are mainly mental and aural in nature.
 

iCe

Senior Member
There's a good video of Mike Portnoy explaining odd time signatures and showing how he counts them in a Dream Theater song. It's called something like Liquid Dream Theater.
And there's also a demonstration in Progressive Drum Concepts


I've been playing in odd time for years and is almost a second nature now. With my own project it's mainly parts in 6/4 or 5/4, with occasionally 7/8 or 9/8. Nowadays i don't count anymore and instinctively know where the 'time shift' takes places, but when starting out i used to count along.
I always relate to 4/4 time and a 5/4 i count just as 1 2 3 4 5. Same with 6. With subdivisions like 7/8 i start using the 'e'-method, especially at higher tempos.
So 7/8 i count as 1 e 2 e 3 e 4: still 7 beats, but i divide them. 11/16 would be 1 e t n 2 e t n 3 e t (can't remember the 'official version', but i Dutch i count een - eh - tu - nn, twee - eh -tn - nn etc.)

What i play where depends on where the guitar and/or bass accents are. I try to figure out where what needs to go and then a matter of remembering what to do where, or to write it out.

Liquid Drum Theater is a great DVD by the way and there's a lot of odd time signatures in that. Also with the commentary on you can hear Mike counting along, which really helped me start to play in odd times.

What is a great exercise by the way to get comfortable with odd times is (what i call) reversing the beat.
Play a simple 4/4 beat with the bass on 1 and 3 and the snare 2 and 4. Play 8th notes on your preferred cymbal (hi-hat or ride).
Then after 4 beats reverse it; play the snare on 1 and 3 and the bass on 2 and 4.
This is really fun when you play in a band. I did it often for the fun of it because my bandmates thought i played another time signature or skipped a beat, but i still was in 4/4 but displaced the accents. Really helped the rest of the band to focus on my hi-hat and ride as main time keeper so in the event i screw up (lose a stick, come out wrong in a fill etc.), the timing it still solid.
This is also great, because in a lot of songs when the time signature changes you get most of the time a double hit: either another bass drum or snare hit (unless your name is Virgil Donati and you've transcended beyond time).
 

moodman

Well-known member
I've got a 5/4 'rudiment' RLLRLRRLRL that I use in one tune, R's all on the ride, L's between the snare and hats, the kick plays on 1 and alternates between the 2nd R and the RR. Easy to play straight but a little harder to swing it, implying triplets.
I like to think of odd time stuff in 2 measures, kinda straightens it out. My bare-bones 5/4 over 2 measures
Kick plays 1 in both measures, snare 4 in both, cymbal 1-3-5 in the first measure 2-4 in measure 2.
I like to establish this then do some soloing with flams and space improvising.

In solo competition (American Guild of Music, Louisville KY, 1964) everyone was doing Caravan type solos, I did too but put in some 5/4 copied Morello licks, got a 3rd place trophy and ribbon. It only took another half a century for me to be totally at home in 5/4 and not copy Joe.
 
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drumnut87

Well-known member
another odd-time master of the drums is virgil donati, he explains in some of his vids how he counts the spaces and the bars/notes
 

bud7h4

Silver Member
I have been listening to a lot of progressive metal and its sub-genres and have really started taking drums more seriously. I mean who would have thought there's more than 4/4?
Try not to dismiss 4/4 too quickly. You can make 4/4 sound and feel more complex than the craziest odd time. After I learned to play (and listen to) polymeters in 4/4/ more comfortably, odd time seems rudimentary by comparison.
 
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johnwesley

Silver Member
I just listen to the other instruments and vocalist and highlight what they're up to. That way I'm playing with the music and not overthinking time signatures.
 

bud7h4

Silver Member
I haven't been playing a lot of odd time stuff lately so I'm going to shoot from hip here. Is odd time usually played in terms of 3s and 2s, 4s and 3s, 4s and 5s etc?
5/4 = 3 + 2,
7/4 = 4 + 3,
9/4 = 4 + 4 + 1 (or 4 + 3 + 2) and all the permutations depending on what the melody of the tune is
15/8 = 8 + 7 (straight time for almost two bars)
I usually don't subdivide something that feels like a beat (lol) in it's entirety, like 5/4, 6/4, 7/8.
Anything beyond (and including) 9/4 and 9/8 gets broken up just like your 9/4 and 15/8 examples.

It gets really cool when you don't play the obvious notes, so the listener doesn't actually hear 123+1234. Tony Royster JR is really good at this.

13/16 I think
 
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