Welcome to the second part of this little series on rhythm guitar. If you want to get better at rhythm, then you've landed on the right page. I suggest you check out the Part 1 for a basic introduction. In Part 2, I'll finish explaining the concept of accents, and discuss odd meters and polyrhythms.
1. Practise Multiple Accents
Last time, we covered the idea of accenting one note inside one beat. Now I'd like to show you how to place more than one accent on a sixteenth note group. Besides the idea of developing rhythm skills and consistency, these exercises may help you come up with some cool rhythm patterns.
Let's start with two accents:
Adding another accent, we now have three:
And even if it's a little obvious, here are four accents:
2. About Odd Meters
Let's get into something a little deeper. Odd meters is a topic that many guitar players fear. Why? Well, in my opinion it's because they don't really know how to play rhythm in 4/4.
Let me explain. If you know how to do addition, even if you have to sum two complicated numbers, you shouldn't panic. It may take longer, but you know how to do it. The same principle applies to odd meters.
First of all, I want you to understand that an odd meter is just a meter where the upper number of the fraction is an odd number (is not a multiple of two). Look at it the same way as you would a bar of 4/4, but with more or less notes, depending on the meter.
Here are some songs that use an odd meter, so you can start tuning your ear to those kind of grooves.
This song by Beatles is in 3/4. You can relate this meter to a waltz, and in fact you would count it "1-2-3-1-2-3-..." It's fast tempo, but see if you can clap your hands along.
First, find the tempo. Clap your hands like a metronome, then start placing an accent on the 1. It isn't be hard, since it's just like a 4/4 bar but with a quarter note missing.
This second song, by Dave Brubeck, is a classic example of 5/4. Instead of having a quarter note missing, this time we have an extra one.
The song starts out with the drums, and you can hear the kick on the 1 beat. So again, try to recognize the pulse of the song, then count it (or clap it) out loud, and try not to lose the tempo while the music is playing.
Continuing on adding quarter notes to a 4/4 measure, this time we have three extra. Now, here's an important concept. One of the most-used tricks to count odd meters is to break them up. So, you could analyze 7/4 as 4/4 + 3/4, or vice versa.
The song is in 7/4 since the guitar riff clearly spells out the meter. But depending on how you break that meter up, you might accent some beats/upbeats rather than others.
Now it's time to wrap your head around a meter that contains one less eighth note than a 4/4 bar. This song, by Genesis, has multiple meters, so I'd like you to skip to 5:50. When the drums kick back in, they're playing 7/8.
Try to clap along, and keep in mind that the unit measurement is an eighth note. So if you tap your foot, it should be twice as fast as if you were tapping a quarter note. We'll learn a trick to help with this later on.
If you feel brave, then press play and count along with this song. Tool is one of those bands that you will rarely hear playing a straight 4/4 beat. After the intro the bass line starts, and it's alternating between one measure of 5/8 and the next of 7/8.
Don't get tricked by the fast sixtuplets: they're just pickup notes. Beat 1 comes right after them. I know this example is hard if you've never dealt with odd meters before, but it illustrates that you can play odd meters and still sound groovy.
3. How to Play Odd Meters
Now, let's get to application. Physically playing odd meters on your instrument will make learning them easier, and you'll get more comfortable with these types of grooves.
Let's start with 7/8. This meter is just like 4/4, but with an eighth note missing. Break it up into groups of two and three—you can consider a bar of seven as the result of two + two + three.
If you want to tap your foot, you need to tap it on every downstroke you hit. Otherwise it'll get reversed, and every other measure you'll have a downstroke every time you lift your foot.
Play the example, and make sure you use the suggested picking direction.
Once you can feel what's happening, start to count along while playing. You can avoid some of the eighth notes, and playing just accents.
You can break any odd meter into pieces. It doesn't really matter how fast you play them. It's more important to be able to count along, and not get lost in the bar. I suggest you to learn some famous riffs in odd meter, but instead of playing them by ear (as you're probably used to), why don't you count along?
You can do this exercise, for instance, with "Money" by Pink Floyd. Here's the famous riff:
Now, try to count to seven while you play. And, if you can record yourself, or you have a friend that can practice with you, try to solo over it.
Remember: It's not an improvisation exercise. What matters is that you stay in time, and know where you are. You could even start just by playing constant eighth notes, but trying to start on the one, and end on the one of the next bar.
4. About Polyrhythm
I want to explain polyrhythms as a follow-up to the concept of constant 16th notes we discussed in Part 1. You now have a bar of 4/4, but this time place the accent on every third sixteenth note.
As you can see, if you keep following this pattern, the accent won't fall on the first beat of the second measure. In fact, it will take three measures before it starts to repeat the same rhythm pattern again.
Did you notice something odd going on between the accents I placed and the metronome click? That's a polyrhythm: two rhythms which are not evenly divisible, played simultaneously.
This polyrhythm is a common one, called 3:4 (3 against 4). You superimpose a pattern of three against a metronome that clicks every four notes. What gives it the impression of oddness is the fact that the rhythm accented every three notes is based on a different musical pulse. And since is over imposed on the metronome pulse, we have a sort of cross-pulse or cross-rhythm.
Don't think it as separate rhythm, but try to understand where and how one rhythm falls into the other. Get to know where the accents fall for the entire three measures.
Don't make the mistake of believing that polyrhythm is something just too outside of the box! In fact, take a look at this lick? Have you ever heard it or played it?
In this tutorial we covered some more advanced concepts that I hope you will explore more. These topics can be applied to every genre, and can help you not only develop a greater awareness of rhythm, but also allow you to improve your grooves and get more creative.
I've personally found a lot of applications for polyrhythms and odd meters, not just in writing songs, but also while I'm soloing. I hope you do too.