PRACTICING ODD METRES
Before we go on, we need to clarify the term odd metres to understand what they are.
Odd metres = When we talk about odd meters we usually mean meters of 5,7,11,etc.
The word 'odd' also means 'weird' but...
"There is a widespread belief that some meters are somehow natural, and some are unnatural. This is a complete misconception. There are no unnatural meters, there is only what you are used to, and what you are not used to." – Ronan Guifoyle
(p. 32 book creative rhythmic concepts for jazz improvisation.)
Known metres in the west: 4/4, ¾, 2/4 or 6/8
Known metres in the rest of the world: 5/4, 7/4, 11/4 or 5/8, 7/8, 11/8, 12/8
Now that we clarified the definition of an odd metres, we can continue with Ronan’s very clear method to practice the ability to play free over odd metres as we are rhythmical free to play over a 4/4 or ¾ bar.
One of the problems with odd metres according to Ronan is that we don't know where the first beat is. In 4/4 or ¾ time we hear it automatically because we are so used to it. We don’t have that same kind of recognition with that first beat in odd metres. We need to hear the first beat in such a way that we can adjust our phrasing so that it becomes melodic or rhythmic and then fits comfortably into the new structure of an odd metre. One way to always hear where the first beat is in an odd meter is to practice with a clave (this is not coming from Cuban music so it is not strictly a clave). A clave gives you a basic simple pattern that contains the odd metre.
Ronan has two principals to find a suitable clave that you can use in your practice room.
this example we are looking for a clave in 7.
“On – off” principal
The first method is called the "on-off" principal. You count each beat we get in 7 - 1,2,3,4,5,6,7. Now if we clap on the first beat of a two bar pattern and then every alternate beat after that, we get a regular pulse that alternates between on the beat in the first bar, and off the beat in the second bar.
This alternating on/off feel gives you a regular pulse over the odd meters. You now get a big seven which can be a great help in eliminating the jerky phrasing that is so common in musicians' playing when they try to solo in odd metres. It gives you the opportunity to play more over the bar in a big 7 than to play in small cycles of one bar with the small 7.
2. The “Clave” principal
Another way to make a clave is the . You count each metre in half notes. This way, your 7 becomes a 3 and a half.
Original count: 1,2,3,4,5,6,7 | 1,2,3,4,5,6,7 |…
Half speed: 1 2 3 & | 1 2 3 & |….
It’s much easier to feel these slower pulses than the long 7. You can move this half note to wherever you want: 1 & 2 3 or
1 2 & 3,… it will give you a clave to work with.
Now that we have found our clave, we can start practicing with it.
Let use the 1 2 3 & clave for this example
1,2,3,4,5,6,7 | 1,2,3,4,5,6,7.
How to practice odd metres:
We use a metronome or a drum computer to give us the clave and we get used to the sound.
We can now learn to clap the clave. After enough repetitions it will come automatically.
One of the first things you should do when working on rhythm is to try to get the counting out of the way. Because counting is not really a musical thing to do. So in this case, while learning the clave, stop counting and try to listen and to find a kind of cycle.
Since counting is not really something musical to do, we will use the .
We now divide the clave in different ways by using the syllables.
1) We need to change the rate for the shorter piece.
2) We can keep the eight note triplets.
The different options:
After these exercises, you can try to put some of those ideas to the instrument. It's pretty much the same principle. You play it with a simple scale. Don't worry about chord changes, that's for later, just play over the C minor scale for example.
A melody is divided into sentences whether you compose or improvise it. So a melody needs dots and commas too. Those points and commas are the rests/silences you hear in the music. So let us use the same principle but this time with rests. We still use the syllables, but with some syllables you hear the syllable but don't say it. We first keep the one to keep the 7 still clear.
So now you can improvise with this. Always try to hit the first beat. The most important thing is that you can recognize where the first beat is and that you can hit it.
We have concentrated us on the downbeats and all the subdivisions on the downbeats. Once you feel comfortable with that, the next step is to not hit all the downbeats. Because if in the musical we were to play downbeats in every measure in 4/4 or ¾ we sound musically very doll very quickly. And we won't do anything in an odd measure that we wouldn't do in 4/4 or ¾, we want to be as natural in those odd measures as we are in 4/4 or 3/4. We have to get used to the idea of "I know where the first beat is but I don't feel the urge to play it".
That's the next step and we can use the syllables for that.
Just leave out the first piece, the first syllable:
So you hear the first part, but you don't really say it.
Same with the triplets:
I found the three perspectives that Ronan applies in the practice process an eye-opener. I came from a point of view where I thought that in school we are too much engaged with the physical part of rhythm by only clapping complex rhythms in rhythm class. And not involving the instrument in the lesson. But this book clearly showed that we need both. The clapping and the application to the instrument. There is even a third perspective that of the listener. I almost forgot the importance of re-listening to our process recordings. To be able to move forward.
I miss the opportunities for the perspective "as a musician on your instrument" in this book. Ronan gives many exercises for practicing the syllables of clapping, but I miss a clearer transformation to the instrument. Which scales… how to apply it on a jazz standard or a blues.
The subdivision concept of the Creative Subdivision System and the Odd Metre Guide with the concepts "on-off" principle and the "clave" principle are very clear methods. They give you a new and fresh way to approach subdivisions and odd meters. By reducing the subdivisions to the simple number of 2 and 3, you can easily arrive at more complex rhythms without having to think complicated.
The same applies to the odd meters. By using those Konnokel syllables you get rid of counting. Which usually gets in the way of your playing over odd meters. The clave method reaches out in a direction where you can play over odd metres and combines that with your already existing knowledge of 4/4 and 3/4.
Ronan also gives many definitions of rhythmic terms. These are actually necessary. In harmony and melody, it is very clear and defined what a minor 4 sound or major scale is. These definitions are necessary when experimenting with the possibilities. It is no different with rhythm. Here, too, there is a need for clear, delimited definitions. And Ronan tries to provide them in his book.
Ronan goes on to elaborate on various possibilities and exercises. However, I found that they often corresponded to Guiliana's D.R.O.P. system that I analysed in my earlier research. I find that the D.R.O.P. system provides a clearer or simpler solution to many of the overarching problems than Ronan's methods. Therefore, I chose to focus only on the Creative subdivision system and the "how to play over odd metre" step-by-step plan.
The lack of rhythmic focus and training is mentioned several times in this book by Ronan and other jazz musicians who give brief comments. So in this book, several professional jazz musicians indicate that a didactic system or tool with a rhythmic focus is more than welcome.