IN THE WOODSHED
Charlie Griffiths unlocks the secret to playing in one of the most popular and easy to grasp odd time signatures - 7/8. Get counting!
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.
THE SEVEN EIGHTH-NOTES CAN BE SPLIT INTO SMALLER GROUPS OF TWO AND THREE. THIS IS AN EASIER WAY TO PROCESS ODD TIME
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