Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Cracking 5/4: the basics

It took me a long time to come around to accepting the type of method we're going to use here; for years the Syncopation-based interpretive method-- in which you think more like a horn player, creating a complete drumset part from a single written melodic line-- was the only legitimate one for me. 5/4, though, is so full of traps for improvising players that we need to take a more archaic-seeming "drummerly" approach, at least at first.

The first thing to know about playing in 5/4-- or any other odd meter-- is that each measure breaks down into threes and twos. In this case, 3/4 + 2/4:

Or 2/4 + 3/4:

This gets interesting after the break:

Here I highly recommend purchasing Ralph Humphrey's book Even In The Odds. In it he gives you a dozen or so different foot ostinatos, which you practice with several different ride cymbal patterns. I apply a few basic changes to those, which I'll give you here. These are meant to be played with a swing feel, but you can also play them straight. And it's good to think in two measure phrases.

First, the basic foot ostinato with the cymbal:

Then eliminate the bass drum on downbeat of the second measure (or of both measures):

Then move the bass drum on the downbeat to the & of 5 on either or both measures:

*At any point in the process where I have a bass drum on an '&' in unison with a cymbal, I will play that note as an accented long note part of the time. Note that the accented note is tied to the following quarter note:

The next step is to run the same process with a different feet pattern-- this is the way EITO is organized, and it worked well for me:

Or you could do the same foot part with a different cymbal pattern:

Or you could add a variety of snare drum parts. I found that the method is surprisingly effective without ever touching the snare drum, and never did much that way until I wrote the Elvin-style exercises at the links above. When I would play in 5 with a group, the snare drum was there without me having to practice it-- of course, that's not going to happen for you if you don't already have that stuff well together in 4/4.

Beyond the straight 3/4+2/4 or 2/4+3/4 thing, there are a few different constructions you need to be aware of to play in five with any kind of freedom, which we'll get into next time.

No comments: