Rhythm Beyond 44

An in depth look at rhythm guitar and odd time signatures.

Ultimate Guitar
This is my first time trying to write something coherent on this site and I hope that it does at least help someone on UG. I'm writing this because most of the lessons focus on lead playing, and the rhythm lessons I found were for beginners. I want this to be a simply stated version of a complex subject: writing in odd time. First off turn get your metronome and get a feel for the beat, google weird metronome for a really good free one that clicks and can be customized. I can't stand the midi beeps, they irk me and make me want to punch the wall. A simple exercise in 7/8: count 123 1234 0010003 pp.ppp. Repeat this until 7/8 is as comfortable as a '58 Strat. On to something more challenging, namely the style I like to call lead rhythm. If the band is tearing up and you're the only guitarist, instead of mindlessly wanking or being content to chill with the bassist, listen to drummers and their fills. There is space for you to shine or shred in short bursts. Read some of the excellent lessons on phrasing here on UG if that statement seems odd. Say you're grooving to 11/8: 123 12 123 12 1
Now what's wrong with this? It's boring straight eights. How do we get this to sound like music? The answer is simple, diversify your right hand: 123 one-ee-and-a 123 one-ee-and-a 1
There are now two sixteenth note runs to add a bit of flavor, to keep the beginning and end apart end this riff on a harmonic. But a greater issue is how to get out of this cycle SMOOTHLY. An easy way for me is to make a brief trip to 4/4 for the transition, using quarter or half notes then jump into a more terrifying time 21/16 (oooh!): 123 123 12 one-ee-and-a-two
The last five notes are a 16th run, but picking in fives isn't something we naturally do. The hardest part about odd times is how easy it is to make them even, drop the last note and you're in 20/16, which is easier by far since it is only the fancy way of saying 5/4. Drop the run and you're in 4/4, and since you're reading this not where you want to be. Say you don't like my examples, that's okay I wrote them for this. But what you can do is start dissecting your own riffs and progressions and see where an excursion would fit. Take the classic:
Awesome but still 4/4, where we want to break away from... A weirdo like me would end up playing (in 9/8): 123 one-ee 1234 one-ee 123 one-ee-and-a 1 one-ee 2 one-ee
This would be the sketch approach, start with a good foundation then detail to your liking. The key to doing this is to always know the root notes, always know the beat, and always keep it consistent. No one really cares that you can play in 17/13, only that it sounds musical. Now for counting odd time signatures.
4/4: 1234
3/4: 123
7/8: 123 1234\  12 12 123 
9/8: 123 123 123 \ 12 12 12 12 1\ 1234 12 123
11/8: 12 123 123 123 \  1234 1234 123
13/8: 1234 1234 12 123
15/16: 1234 1234 1234 123
If you've noticed that this is all counting in 2s and 3s then you just learned the secret. The best way to internalize these counts is to finger drum (yes it is very annoying) or to carry a pick at all times to tap it out, or listen to alot of Tool, Meshuggah, Mahavishnu Orchestra, and Frank Zappa for unorthodox times, phrasing, transitions, and all around awesomeness. If you liked this article then please check out my band, the song "Bloodlust" would be the one with odd times quick changes and odd note groupings, just give us a listen and friend us if you like.

6 comments sorted by best / new / date

    good leesson, I give lessons also and this was coherent, interesting, informational\ . Check out Bill Brufort for some 15 time sig changes in one song.
    Excellent call on Mr. Bruford, he is now blowing my mind with his incredible drumming. I feel ashamed at how little I know about non-guitarists. Live and learn.
    Turns out Bloodlust is mostly 4/4, do I feel silly... I do now have a funny story of when I was corrected by a drummer though.
    Repeat this until 7/8 is as comfortable as a '58 Strat.
    Best line I've heard all day XD Thanx for the fantastic lesson, man!