Let’s have some fun today! Odd times are a very interesting topic. Even if we end up never playing an odd time beat, spending some time practicing them is going to improve our musicianship in many ways.
The thing with odd times is that we think they are hard to play, while they are not.
I don’t want to go too deep on this topic, but I think there are a couple of useful ideas I can share with you.
To me, odd times are like 4/4, but since we rarely use them we are not familiar with how they sound. It’s just about ‘hearing’ them, and internalizing them until we feel perfectly comfortable playing them. In fact, if we only played 7/8 for years, we would feel weird playing in 4/4.
Understanding them is easy: like with any time signature, 7/8 (for instance) means we have 7 x 1/8th notes before a new bar begins. In 5/4 we have, in each measure, 5 times a quarter note value… and so forth.
Now, we can definitely count to get familiar with these ideas, and at least as we get started it’s important to do it. But the thing is, if you ask any great drummer, he will tell you that he just ‘feels’ the odd time, and he knows he is right because he’s played it so many times that he spontaneously knows what to do (just the way we typically feel about playing in 4/4).
So we might spend some time figuring out how each tempo is built combining parts of 3 and 2, mathematically: 5=2+3, 7=2+2+3, 9=3+3+3 or 2+2+2+3, and all other combinations.
But, here is the shortcut: the best way to learn how to play odd times effectively is to play along with them, have fun with them and keep going until they feel natural.
I’ve created a bunch of loops, one for each major odd time, so that you can start practicing them within minutes: it’s all mp3 files. For each example you’ll find 4 files, at four different tempos: 90 bpm, 110 bpm, 130 bpm and 150 bpm. Because as we know, it’s important to have the flexibility to play things at different speeds.
Here are the downloads:
The first one is a booklet with the transcription of a few odd time beats, to get you started, which also links to the loops download. The second one is just the loops.
The best way to use these files is to practice them with a few different approaches:
– Play only specific grooves, like the ones in the pdf.
– Jam along and improvise grooves.
– Jam along and improvise licks, fills and solos.
– Practice using a song form: 2 bars of time and 2 of soloing, 4 + 4 , 8 + 8, and so on.
I recommend that you create your own loops after spending some time with the examples I’m giving you.
And that you learn (or even write!) some songs that actually use them.
To learn more about this and all foundational concepts a drummer should be aware of, you may find useful to work with this method: