Playing with time


There's a lot of stuff on this site about ways to play with harmony. Let's talk about playing with time!

One of my favorite "time toys" is playing one meter against another. I'm especially fond of implying triple meter feels against duple meter.

In the following example (HEAR EXAMPLE- SEE EXAMPLE), culled from the changes to a standard, I'm doing this by first dividing each 4/4 measure into quarter note triplets, then dividing each triplet in half and accenting them in groups of two notes.

If this is hard for you to get, try this:

First count "One, two" in a steady rhythm. Tap your finger on the "One".

Keep your finger tapping at the same speed (these are half notes).

Now say "hamburger" every time you tap. Space the syllables evenly. Each syllable in "ham-bur-ger" is a quarter note triplet.

Now let's get tricky! Think of the cheapest McDonald's burgers: each time you tap your finger (still on half-notes), say "little flatty burger". Now you're dividing the quarter note triplets in half. That's the feel in the first two bars of the example.

All of the stuff in the first five bars is based on this time feel, which is an idea I first got from listening to Afro-Cuban music. This example doesn't sound Afro-Cuban in the least, does it? Well, that's a key factor in my musical philosophy: anything can be used in any way at any time. Get used to it.

There's also some harmonic stuff going on in this example. I used a Bb major pentatonic scale in the first two bars (gives me a maj 9 sound on the Eb chord); there's some altered-dominant action in bars 4 and 8, and I'm futzing with the 13th of that C minor chord in bar 5. There. More educational value for your dollar.


It's fun to play with weird groupings, too. In this quickie example (HEAR EXAMPLE/SEE EXAMPLE), I laid 16th notes over the beat but grouped them in fives instead of fours. It just so happens that a dominant seventh chord (with root doubled) has five notes in it; that fit my evil plan perfectly. Over the static generic E vamp, I arpeggiated four dominant seventh chords whose roots are a minor third apart (E7, G7, Bb7, Db7). The resulting notes all belong to the E half/whole diminished scale, but it doesn't sound so obvious this way.

I threw in a right hand tap at the end of the line just to tip my hat to the purity of the jazz tradition and demonstrate my blues awareness.