Monday, February 11, 2013

Theory of Ethos: Writing in Mixed Meter

For the past two weeks we've been looking at rhythm and meter.  If you aren't familiar with odd meter, make sure to check out Lesson 2 and 3.

Now we're going to get into one of the most definable elements of progressive music: writing in odd meter.  We've covered how to read odd meters and the basic drum beats that outline them, finally now we're going to get back to guitar and talk about some riffs!

The simplest and easiest way to write in odd meter is to take the groups of 2s and 3s and simply play straight eighth notes over them.  This is the exact thing I do in Wake Up, which we talked about briefly last week.  Here's my guitar part laid on top of Corey's drum part.

You can easily see the 3-3-3-2-2 grouping.  13/8 is a highly unusual time signature, but ignoring that and simply feeling the groupings makes it feel much simpler than it appears at first look.

However, that is not the only way to make a part in odd meter.  Just as 4/4 can have syncopation (notes off the beat), odd meter can also have syncopation.  An obvious way to do this is to leave some of the main beats out.  What would "Wake Up" look like if the first note of every grouping in the guitar was gone?

A little more interesting, but also a little strange.  If that illustrates a mechanical way to make odd meter syncopated, then how do we make that syncopation musical?  That's a loaded question.  There's no quick answer to that question, but simply asking it is a step in the right direction.  Getting away from being so mechanical is a good start.  Let's put the downbeat of each measure back in, so that a listener is not so disoriented by the syncopation.

That's a little less strange.  It isn't the effect we wanted on "Wake Up" (or it would be on the album!), but it is a decent, musical riff in odd meter.

So far we've dealt exclusively with 8th notes - that is, the notes that make up the groups of 2s and 3s.  We can also create some syncopation by placing notes in between the 8th notes.  Here's a riff in 7/8 with some 16th notes.

Not bad, but it's a little busy.  Let's take another look at that tab.  In the "Wake Up" lessons last week, we left out the notes at the beginning of groupings.  The tab below takes the 7/8 riff and leaves out some of the sixteenth notes. creating a similar kind of syncopation.

Again, we have that disorienting sensation of not having a downbeat.  If we add that back in, we end up with a riff very similar to the opening of "The Demon."

Actually "The Demon" is really in E minor, not A minor.  Seven string players can just take above example down one string to play what I played on the album.

Creating this kind of syncopation is FAR from the only way to vary up the rhythm in odd meter, but hopefully this lesson will give you some ideas of ways to create new things in your own writing.

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