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Odd time,syncopation


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Ok,Ive the potential for a BIG audition,and I really wanna train up for this,I really need to get my oddtime playing right 7/4,10/8 etc...its quite a proggie band.

I need help here,no access to any decent drummers to jam with,or other musicians competant to help me,so Im turning to you guys and girls.

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With odd time signatures it is a good idea to see how the bar is divided. You can usually feel this or, go by what the melody or drum part is. If

So with 7/4 or 7/8 a couple of examples are: 2-2-3 or 3-2-2 or 2-3-2. A really quite easy way to think of these rhythms are to vocalise them as words. in this case...2=ap-ple 3=ba-na-na.

So 2-2-3 = apple apple banana.

Start by playing a note on each starting syllable on each word. This outlines the bar and where the accents are very clearly. Do this with either just the root of what the chord would be, or the tried. Or then start filling in the notes with other notes. Eventually you should just be able to feel this rhythmic pattern and the more you practice it the more natural it is, even to the point of where it is as natural as 4/4.

10/8 coule be apple apple banana banana.

This may sound silly, but for a lot of people this technique can really help you hear these odd time sigs a lot quicker than just learning a line over them as it also allows you to improvise parts once you have absorbed the feel.

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Its funny you should talk about vocalising things Mikey.
Quite often when we're bored in the band van (especially on tour) we'd practice polyrhythms by each picking a different set of words and seeing how long we could go before someone messed up :)

Our faves were:
What-is-the-beef = 4
Cheese-on-toast = 3
Un-i-ver-sit-y = 5

anyway, quite fun lol


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just a silly one that helped me out.. When I count along with those 'odd' time sigs I sometimes get muddled, especially when the music is at a fast tempo. So, instead of saying the word 'seven' (which has 2 syllables and, a rhythm of its own - ok.. maybe its just me who gets confuzzed!) I just say 'sev'

one-two-three-four-five-six-sev-one etc...

ermm, does that actually make sense?

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[quote name='Sibob' post='58433' date='Sep 10 2007, 08:48 PM']what do you reduce sixteen down to? :)


Similar to Mikey's post.. I try to chop it down to sections around 'musical sign posts' or accents for example. 6+2, 3+5 etc

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doobee, doobee, doobee, doobee...

abba, dabba,

split it into couplets or triplets and use nonsense words which can be said fast...

pretty soon, it'll sound like scat singing... :)


gives some counting based on standard counting schemes, there's a flash application that allows you to build a sequence and hear it counted out loud. Unfortunately, it only allows 4;4, 3;4 & 2;4 meters

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[quote name='ARGH' post='57989' date='Sep 10 2007, 01:22 AM']Ok,Ive the potential for a BIG audition,and I really wanna train up for this,I really need to get my oddtime playing right 7/4,10/8 etc...its quite a proggie band.

I need help here,no access to any decent drummers to jam with,or other musicians competant to help me,so Im turning to you guys and girls.[/quote]
Many years ago I played with Johnny Mealing, the keyboard player from Dick Morrissey’s 70's band If. They were famous for using difficult (silly) time sigs like 17/4 and 19/3! I asked John about this and he said that you couldn't count these numbers. You had to get a rhythm pattern in your head and stick to that. It has to be something you don't have to think about but can just feel.

I would imagine this is a field that needs a lot of playing time to get right. Good luck.

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Thankyou for everything so far!

Im trying to fill gaps,and praying my technique and taste are good enough for this band,They are educated..VERY competant,signed,and have big backing companywise.

Ive even started exercising in the attempt to be physically fit for this.

Ive found breaking down the timing helps so far into 2s and 3s..like

1-2-3-1-2 (as in 5/4) or
1-2-3-1-2-3-1 (for 7/4)....phonetic..or vocalizing it is the best as said by Mikey and Dan.

Im hoping my staminas enough as well (2-3 1hr sets playing multiple styles of music vs 40mins-ish to an hour of just one..) will help.

Just waiting for the audition cd now.

Edited by ARGH
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Good luck with the audition, sounds like a fun gig :)

I tend to use the 2s and 3s method mentioned above ( every time signature can be broken into groups of 1, 2 and/or 3).

Another couple of things I do sometimes which may be useful:

At faster tempos, counting individual beats can be hard going so, in the same way I'd probably count half time on a fast 4/4 walking bassline, I'll tend to just count the accents. So if I was playing something fast in 5/8 accented as 2+3, I'd just count da-daaa for each bar.

Another thing I do sometimes with very syncopated parts ( especially if I'm reading) is to count each note rather than the meter, so say you have a line made up of dotted 4 eighth notes and two eighth notes, which would be tied across the barline in 4/4, I would count the sixteenth notes - 3,3,3,3,2,2 rather than trying to think of it in terms of the 4/4 beats. It works out the same, is just easier for me to count.


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In those situations you describe Alun,seriously speaking,when writing or playing for those parts (given the constant is actually the ride cymbal usually in metal terms anyway) do you try to double the kick (playing a screwy pattern) or just ride through along with the guitars?....Making the 'WALL" as such.

I know,for me writing in oddtime is a swine,I dont like making life difficult......but I do 'feel' odd some days

(dont we all) :)

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I think it depends on the music in question. A lot of my odd time experience has been in more jazz and fusion areas where it's either a repeated ostinato or a line that's fairly independent from the other instruments ( yes, jazz really IS a group of people all playing different tunes at the same time :huh: )

In rock/metal stuff, it can sound messy doubling the guitars all the time if you're not careful, and I do enjoy the challenge of doubling a busy kick pattern :) , but ultimately I htink it comes down to what sounds best for that piece of music. If it's a repeated section, try a bit of both, maybe start doubling the kick for four bars then double the guitars for four bars or vice versa - it can make a nice change in the dynamics of the song (and highlights the bass more than just riffing along throughout)

Regarding writing in odd times, it's really easy to end up sounding stiff and forced whereas the trick is to get it so it feels as natural as 3/4 or 4/4. I'm "lucky" in a way that I got into Zappa early on in my playing development and am fairly comfortable in 5 and 7 ( in fact, for a long time I was more comfortable in 7 than 3)

Slightly off topic, but another concept to mess about with is what drummers refer to as "linear phrasing". Basically this means rather than playing neat little one bar phrases, maybe extend the phrase across a number of bars.

Eg Four bars of 4/4 gives us 16 quarter notes, so instead of playing a 4 beat riff 4 times, maybe try splitting the beats up as 5, 5 and 6 or 7 and 9 - basically anything that adds up to 16 :huh:

Or try something I've seen referred to as "over-riding" which is where you keep a constant pattern going against a different time signature which resolves every couple of bars. The best example of this I can think of is Vinnie Coliauta's drumming on a lot of Sting's odd time tunes. If you listen to the ride cymbal in "St Augustine In Hell", it keeps going on quarter notes even though the song is in 7/8. As a result, it's on the beats in the first bar, on the offbeats in bar two, back on in bar three and so on.

So much fun to be had!


Edited by Alun
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