I remember as budding drummer back in my teens, I bought Joe Morello’s book that had drum exercises in the 5/4 time signature. Music in odd time signatures was a goal of mine for a period. I felt as a drummer, my drum counting ability would help me play these more advanced time signature exercises.
Joe Morello was the drummer for the Dave Brubeck quartet, who had the hit instrumental in 5/4 time, titled – Take Five, back in 1959. The song was written in 5/4 time by saxophone player Paul Desmond, who played the catchy saxophone melody for this iconic song.
What I remember from the book is, that I worked very hard trying to play in 5/4 time. Counting music with 5 counts to the bar, is not natural to our music or our society. Most all our music is 4 beats to the bar. In the book, Joe wrote about studying an African tribe and their rhythms.
Dancing in Two Time Signatures
Joe said there was a dancing tribe in Africa, that had such advanced rhythm, they were able to teach children from the time they could walk, to dance from the waist up in one time signature, and from the waist down in some other time signature, at the same time !
At that time, that was a mind blowing thought for me. As a drummer, I worked to be able to have each hand and foot play a different rhythm, which it like dividing your brain into four parts. Trying to play two different time signatures at the same time, seemed impossible or super human.
Advanced Techniques For The Modern Drummer
My first drum teacher taught me the jazz book, Advanced Techniques For The Modern Drummer, by Jim Chapin. It focused on independence of the left hand and bass drum, while playing a swing rhythm on the ride cymbal.
I studied that book for a couple of years, and came out the other end, a budding jazz drummer.
My Latin Drum Lesson
I was playing drums full time in a band called Bounty in Vancouver in 1975. I wanted to learn more about latin drumming, so booked a drum lesson a music store that had a latin drum teacher, who’s name I don’t remember.
We each sat down at a drum kit, side by side. He started playing quarter notes on the hihat. I copied him. Then he added an open hihat on the 1 beat. That was new and a bit hard for me, but I copied him.
Then he added a cross stick on the snare on beat 2, and high tom notes on beats 4 and 4an. I copied that. Then on the bass drum, he added 2 beats on 2+ and 3. I was able to copy that. Then he started playing quarter notes with the right hand, on the bell of the ride cymbal. I copied that.
Then he started soloing with 16 notes on the right hand on the ride cymbal bell – 1 an 2 e ah 3 ah 4 an ! My brain exploded and I just about fell off my drum stool.
That ability to have the feet and left hand going, and then solo with the right hand, was beyond my ability at the time.
That was the only lesson I took from him, but that one lesson he gave me the path to work on right hand soloing and latin drumming skills for the next few years.
Over time, I found few drummers had developed latin drumming skills.
Years later, I saw a great drummer Dennis Chambers, who played with Santana from 1998 to 2013. I saw a video of his terrific independence, which I felt was even more advanced than playing two time signatures.
Dennis was able to play a jazz swing pattern with feet and ride cymbal. On the snare he played on beats 2 and 4, and then started to slow them down. He continued to slow them down until the beats were about 10 seconds apart. The swing rhythm from the feet and ride cymbal did not change. A great accomplishment.
See Dennis play this from a 2011 YouTube video titled –
Music In Odd Time Signatures
I came across a video on the YouTube Channel called Reverb. titled – 9 Popular Songs With Odd Time Signatures.
He talks about modern songs in odd time signatures, and breaks down the counting to understand it.
Did you know –
The Mission Impossible Theme is in 5/4 time.
The chorus of – I Say A Little Pray is in 11/4, divided as – 4 – 3 -4 .
Whipping Post – by Allman Brothers – is in 11/8 time divided as 3 – 3 – 3 – 2
All You Need Is Love by the Beatles – is in 7/4 time.
Deep Dive Into Odd Time Signatures
If you want to take a deep dive into odd time signatures, then read this Wikipedia article. It has many references of songs and works written in very odd time signatures.
It lists the time signature upper numbers from 1 to 59, with a list of compositions in each time signature.
Kudos to those musicians, who over the centuries, spent time working and composing in these odd time signatures. Check the article out here.
Syncopated Tintinnabulation ( bell sounds )
I am writing about odd time signatures now, in part because I am releasing on YouTube today, the video of Syncopated Tintinnabulation ( bell sounds ). This is the fourth track of my “drums only” album – Richard’s Best Drum Rhythms of 50 Years, my swan song to my years behind the drums.
While this drum track does not have odd time signatures, it does have unusual melodic beats, thanks to with a few special additions to my drum kit, and some complex 16th note rhythms by the author. Check it out Syncopated Tintinnabulation here.
So Much To Learn, So Little Time
Like other areas of life, we don’t know it all. There is always more to study and learn, in this awe-inspiring world.
Most of us live our lives within society’s parameters, which includes music. Some musicians will help move our “music listening needle”, around to new genres, over time.
Who knows, maybe songs in 5/4 time will become the next era of popular music.