Char­lie Grif­fiths un­locks the se­cret to play­ing in one of the most pop­u­lar and easy to grasp odd time sig­na­tures - 7/8. Get count­ing!

Guitar Techniques - - CONTENTS -

The 7/8 time is one of the most eas­ily com­pre­hen­si­ble and us­able odd time sig­na­tures due to its close sim­i­lar­ity to 4/4. We usu­ally count reg­u­lar 4/4 in terms of eighth notes; ‘1& 2 & 3 & 4 &’ and so on. 7/8 lit­er­ally means ‘seven eighth-notes per bar’, which is es­sen­tially a 4/4 bar with an eighth-note re­moved. Try count­ing ‘1& 2 & 3 &4, 1 & 2 & 3 & 4’ re­peat­edly to get a sense of the 7/8 feel.

Th­ese seven eighth-notes can be sep­a­rated into smaller groups of twos and threes. This is of­ten an eas­ier way to men­tally process the rhyth­mic struc­ture of odd time bars. A bar of 7/8 can be bro­ken down to two ‘2s’ and one ‘3’. This means you can sim­plify the bar by count­ing: ‘one-two, one-two, one-two-three’, in­stead of say­ing ‘one two three four five six seven’. The two syl­la­ble ‘se-ven’ is not very use­ful for count­ing in any case.

Of course, this is just one way of break­ing down the bar. You could ar­range the bar in three dif­fer­ent ways: 2-2-3, 3-2-2 or 2-3-2. Each one of those has a unique feel, which can help you think more cre­atively when com­pos­ing or im­pro­vis­ing. Ex­am­ples 1 and 2 will help you prac­tise th­ese three count­ing con­cepts with some riffs in­spired by King Crim­son’s odd-time mas­ter Robert Fripp.

Play­ing con­stant eighth notes is the per­fect way to get used to the time sig­na­ture, but we need to prac­tise other sub­di­vi­sions too. Ex­am­ple 3 is a grungy riff rem­i­nis­cent of Soundgar­den’s Kim Thayil. This riff is based on quar­ter-notes and dot­ted quar­ter-notes and will give you an in­sight into play­ing sus­tained chords within 7/8. You can carry on count­ing 2s and 3s if you wish; a quar­ter-note lasts for a ‘2’ count and a dot­ted quar­ter-note lasts for a ‘3’ count.

Ex­am­ple 4 features some 16th-note scale play­ing, which will al­low you to fo­cus on the pick­ing re­ver­sal as­pect of odd-time play­ing. If you start on a down­stroke and al­ter­nate pick seven notes, the last note you play will also be a down­stroke. The next group of seven notes will there­fore start and end on an up­stroke. This con­stant re­ver­sal of down and up­stroke play­ing is a fea­ture of all odd time play­ing but with prac­tice your pick­ing will be­come even, re­gard­less of which stroke you start on. Ex­am­ple 4 will help you fo­cus on this. Most scales and modes have seven notes, which works rather nicely for our pur­poses. As you al­ter­nate pick through the scale no­tice that every time you play a root note the di­rec­tion of your pick switches be­tween down and up.

The fifth and fi­nal ex­am­ple is a two-handed tap­ping riff in­spired by pro­gres­sive me­tal bands like Sikth or Pe­riph­ery. Seem­ingly com­plex pat­terns can be sim­pli­fied us­ing the ‘2s and 3s’ sys­tem. Prac­tise slowly and build it up while keep­ing your foot tap­ping firmly on the quar­ter-note back­beat - and lis­ten to the drums to help you.


NEXT MONTH Char­lie looks at de­vel­op­ing flu­ency over the neck us­ing the CAGED Sys­tem

In 7/8 time your pick­ing di­rec­tion will change at the end of every seven-note scale

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