Are you up for taking a break from common time? Charlie Griffiths presents a prog-influenced piece with odd time signatures, syncopated rhythms and some sign posts.
Charlie Griffiths tests your odd-time skills in a proggy piece for you to read and play.
This piece is inspired by progressive rock bands like Rush, Yes, Gentle Giant and Dream Theater. One of the common threads between all of these bands is the use of odd time signatures. Odd times can lead to more interesting rhythms and a more creative approach to the ‘feel’ of the piece, often changing numerous times within a song or section.
Have a look at the chart for this month’s piece and you’ll notice that there are various time signatures throughout: 4/4, 5/4, 7/8, 9/8, 7/4, 13/8 and 12/8. These pairs of numbers tell you two things; the lower one is the type of beat; here we have quarter notes (4) and eighth notes (8). The upper number tells you how many of those beats there are in the bar. This can be any number; for example, the first section in this piece is in 5/4 time, which means that the overall ‘feel’ of the bar is quarter-notes. The upper number tells us that there are five quarter-notes in that bar, so you can count five downbeats: ‘1-2-3-4-5’. Elsewhere, we have 7/4, which means that there are seven downbeats per bar, so you can count ‘1-2-3-4-5-6-7’ at the given tempo.
Bars with an ‘8’ as the lowest number are counted as eighth notes, therefore 7/8 means that there are seven eighth notes, which are counted ‘1& 2 & 3 & 4’ - which feels a bit like 4/4, but with an eighth note missing at the end. 13/8 is counted in the same manner, but is a bit longer ‘1& 2 & 3 & 4 & 5 & 6 & 7’. We also have 9/8 and 12/8, which means ‘nine eighth notes’ and ‘12 eighth notes’ respectively. The eighth notes in these bars are often grouped into threes, giving them a triplet feel ‘1& a, 2 & a, 3 & a’ for 9/8 and ‘1 & a,2 & a, 3 & a, 4 & a’ for 12/8. In essence, odd times are no more complicated than 4/4 time, the note lengths for quarter, eighth and 16th notes relate to the tempo in exactly the same way, you just need to get used to counting beyond the number ‘four’. In fact, when playing through the last four bars of the chart, you will notice that they are composed of a constant stream of eighth notes, which are all the same length. Play along with the backing track, however, and you will hear that the ‘feel’ of each bar changes depending on the backbeat provided by the drummer – so keep your ear tuned.
The song starts in the key of A minor, which has no sharps or flats (A-B-C-D-E-F-G) and is played in 5/4 time. The next section has three flats, which transposes us up a minor
(C-D-Eb-F-G-Ab-Bb). third to C minor It’s often useful to scan through the section to find the lowest note and the highest note, and from there you can choose the most suitable position on the fretboard.
Learning to solo in odd time can be a lot of fun!