Lesson 33: Rhythmic Grouping

Using odd rhythmic groupings when improvising can be challenging.  How many times have you tried to play a seemingly innocent group of 3, 5 or 7 while improvising over a song in 4/4 only to find that you’ve gotten turned around and are subsequently lost for a short duration.  This exercise which I learned from drummer Jason Harnell and which was also part Warne Marsh’s practice, has really helped me learn to keep the form better while improving with an odd grouping across the bar line.

The exercise is simple, but challenging, here it is in a nutshell:

1. With a metronome count out loud in whatever meter you choose. i.e. 4/4  =  “one, two, three, four”.

2. Clap an odd grouping in your hands at the same time. i.e. dotted quarter notes (3 over 4).

That’s all there is to it.  Although simple conceptually, it really helps and is somewhat difficult at first.

A variation which Jason recommends is to sing a simple song in whatever meter you choose instead of counting out loud, which is more difficult but also more musical and beneficial.

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One of my favorite drummers Jason Harnell did a “reply” lesson to my lesson using his voice, clapping and lastly drums. This is more challenging! Check it out:


One Comment

  1. Steve Ellis

    Hi Matt.

    Great lesson. Love your approach to music.
    Great timing (pardon the pun), I have recently been working with my drummer on playing 5 over two quarter notes. I find playing the 5’s evenly over the two beats relatively easy now, but I still struggle to hear the 4/4 time in the 5 time. Hopefully I can (somehow) apply this lesson to help!
    We are working on Misterioso with the drums playing in 5 (5 eighth notes over two of the 4/4 crotchets), and the band in 4, with the exciting buzz of being able to dip in and join the drummer when one feels the need.

    Thanks again!


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