Friday, February 1, 2013

Theory of Ethos 3: Mixed Meter

Theory of Ethos 3: Mixed Meter

Last week on Theory of Ethos we looked at a basic rock beat and some basic ways to vary the meter.  Every beat we looked at contained nothing but groups of either 2 or 3 eighth notes.  Now we’re going to see what happens if we mix and match 2s and 3s.

Let’s start with ¾. Here’s the drum groove again from last week. 

If we take the first group of eighth notes and add one we end up with 7 eighth notes also known as the time signature ⅞.

Let’s stay with ⅞ for a minute.  The above pattern is one that musicians call “3-2-2.”  It obviously refers to the grouping of beats.  If we move the added note to the second or third grouping we still end up with ⅞, but different patterns.  “2-3-2” or “2-2-3”

Musicians often think of odd meter in groups of 2s and 3s.  Every time signature, no matter how exotic, can be broken up into 2s and 3s.  The more pedestrian meters we talked about last week were consistent 2s or 3s as opposed to mixed meter, which combines them.  ⅝ would be either 3-2 or 2-3



Other combinations of 2s and 3s yield other time signatures.  Some Dream Theater songs string them together in long combinations.  The verses of “Wake Up” are in 13/8, grouped in 3-3-3-2-2.  Here’s a transcript of Corey’s drum part from the album.  You can see that it outlines the groupings very clearly.

Of course, groupings don’t have to be so obvious.  The main riff of “The Demon” is in ⅞, but the groupings are a little harder to spot.  However, a closer look still shows a 3-2-2 group defining the riff.  Next week’s Theory of Ethos will break down this riff, and then I’ll talk some more about how to construct melodies and rhythm parts in odd meter using 2s and 3s.  

Leave a comment below if you have something you’d like me to cover in Theory of Ethos or Doctrine of Woodshed.  It can be a Doctrine song, a specific problem you’re having, a guitar technique, or just a general topic you’d like to see an article on.  

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