Axe of Creation: Improve Your Groove – Polymeters and Syncopation

What’s going on everyone!? Welcome to another installment of Axe of Creation here at the wonderful Gear Snobs. This month, we will be looking at some of my favorite rhythmic devices; polymeters and syncopation!

The Basics

The first thing we need to talk about, albeit briefly, is how to count simple rhythms. If we are in 4/4 time, we have 8 eighth notes. Usually, these are counted simply as 1& 2& 3& 4&, each syllable being one 1/8th note.  You can see this in the example below. Now the riff we will be playing will be 9 eighth notes long, which crosses the bar line, taking us into the next measure. This is significant because when we repeat the riff, we are now starting on the upbeat, the “&” in our counting practice. Voilà, Syncopation! You could think of this riff as being in 9/8 because it’s 9 eighth notes long but it’s not felt in 9/8. It has a very straight ahead 4 feel.

GS_August 1

The Riff

Let’s take a look at the riff it self. Very simply, our riffs centers around two note and rather than playing their octave, we will be playing some gorgeous tension intervals a half step below and above each note, octave displacement! Now, remember, this riff is 9 notes long so it carries over and starts on the upbeat of the first beat. If we just straight up repeated the riff we would fall back on the downbeat (trust me)…we’re not about that this month, so let’s add a tenth note so we continue on our syncopated journey.  I’ve written it out for visual purposes so you can see but remember, we’re not feeling these riffs in 9/8 and 10/8. It has a very straight, 4/4 feel. Plus, I did say polymeters…

GS_August 2

The Upbeat Is Your Friend

Let’s put the finishing touches on this riff. As you can see, I have written it out in 4/4 because your drummer (or the drums) will be the glue to all of this, hammering home the feel of 4/4. I’ve added in ** every time the riff repeats. All we’re doing is repeating the above phrase of 9/8 and 10/8 we saw above, though again, we’re in 4/4. You can see the riff begins initially on the downbeat (of 1), then the upbeat of measure 2, then the upbeat of the 2nd beat in measure 3. Finally, in the 4th measure, we land back on the downbeat (of 3). Don’t let that last measure of 3/4 confuse you, if you look carefully you’ll see that is just our 10/8 phrase carrying over into next measure.

GS_August 3

That wraps up part one of our August lessons. I hope you dig these rhythmic concepts and we didn’t even go into detail about the tensions, clashing of 7ths and b9ths! I’ll see you in part two!
13483187_868947283235087_6689828817923588477_oGregory Arthur is Axe of Creation, a Gear Snob, and a Father of Two. He challenges you to become uncomfortable with yourself in attempts to gain a new perspective. Never give your energy away to what you’re not. Focus on what resonates within you and bring forth in creation. 

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