How to get into an odd-meter groove

Having trouble “feeling” odd rhythms like 9 and 11? Here are some suggestions I posted on this Banjo Hangout thread. Since it’s hard to communicate the beats in text, I’ll add “Intro to Odd Rhythms” to my video to-do list.

It’s all 2s and 3s

The main thing is to be able to hear and play the “quick” (2) and the “slow” (3). Everything is built on that.

For example, the 9 of Rampi Rampi could be felt as 2+2+2+3 and counted out as “1-2 1-2 1-2 1-2-3” with each number getting the same time value and with no pause between the clumps (chant robotically “1 2 1 2 1 2 1 2 3 1 2 1 2 1 2 1 2 3”). You could also think of it as “quicka quicka quicka slow-and-a,” with each syllable getting the same emphasis and no punctuation at the end of the phrase.

Start with the big muscles

The way I got into odd rhythms was by dancing. So I started by moving mostly big muscle groups, which got the rhythm into my entire body. Then I progressed down to smaller muscles like those needed to play banjo.

So I usually recommend that you find some music in the rhythms that you like and to do something approaching dance, even if it’s just walking across the room by taking a step on each major beat. This will teach your body the difference between the 2 and 3.

So, for example, if you wanted to get the Rampi Rampi 2+2+2+3 / “quick quick quick slow” into your body, you might try walking across the room while Rampi Rampi is playing, stepping only 4 times in each measure, one step on each “quick” and one on the “slow.” You’ll hold your last step (the 3 or “slow”) longer than the other three .

If that’s too weird, you could try tapping the head of the banjo on each major beat. When that seems to work, try adding smaller beats, such as tapping all 3 beats of the set of 3.

Try putting words to it

Another trick is to think of a sentence or phrase that matches the rhythm. For example, the Rampi Rampi 2+2+2+3 could be something like “I don’t want to see the hospital.” The trick is to repeat the phrase evenly with no pause in between phrases, like “I don’t want to see the hospital I don’t want to see the hospital….” (Not the cheeriest of phrases but I’m drawing a blank at the moment.)

Listen to lots of odd rhythms

Once you’ve internalized the difference between a 2 and a 3, you can play any of the common Balkan dance rhythms, because they’re all built of 2s and 3s. A sampling for your dancing/walking/head thumping practice:

11/8 (gankino or kopanitsa): 2 2 3 2 2 (“quick quick slow-and-a quick quick”)
Sample: Gankino Horo

7/8 (ruchenitsa): 2 2 3 (“quick quick slow-and-a”)
Sample: Bulčenska Račenica

7/8 (lesnoto): 3 2 2 (“slow-and-a quick quick”)
Sample: Kate Lično Devojče

5/8: 2 3
Sample: Jampolsko Pajduško

For more music, you might check out the Bulgarian, Macedonian, Greek, and Turkish pages of the Dunav site. There are several MP3s, and sometimes the notes explain the meter.

And if you’re in Germany in early May, come to the Banjoree, where I’ll be teaching how to clawhammer in weird rhythms.


1 Response to “How to get into an odd-meter groove”

  1. 1 jackguitar » Archive du blog » les mesures asymétriques à la guitare Trackback on March 21, 2009 at 10:51 am
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