IN THE WOODSHED
Charlie Griffiths says that 5/4 is one of the most useful and accessible odd-time signatures. Here he shows how to master it.
Charlie Griffiths helps you hone your skills. This month he examines one of the most popular odd-time signatures: 5/4 time.
It’s quite easy to grasp 5/4 time and easy to utilise due to its close similarity to 4/4. Being an odd-time signature it has an inherent ‘off-kilter’ feel, but it’s also quCithe accessible. Songs like Radioheads’s 15 Step, Animals by Muse or Sting’s wonderful Seven Days are all prog-style rock and in 5/4 time. 4/4 means four quarter-notes per bar, which we usually count as simply ‘1-2-3-4’ over and over again. 5/4 literally means ‘five quarternotes per bar’, which is essentially a 4/4 bar with an extra downbeat added. Try counting ‘1-2-3-4-5,1-2-3-4-5’ repeatedly (or hip-po-pota-mus) to get a sense of the 5/4 feel. These five quarter-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. Generally a bar of 5/4 can be broken down to 3 then 2, or 2, then 3. This means you can simplify the bar by counting: ‘one-two-three, one-two’. This is demonstrated in Example 1, where the shape of the guitar part is broken into three beats, then two beats. This is similar to the Paul Desmond-penned jazz standard Take 5. We can also switch this rhythmic structure around and count ‘one-two, one-two-three’ as shown in Example 2. Example 3 uses both of these counting structures but this time applied to eighthnotes. This rock riff is in the style of Tool’s Adam Jones. If we used the fretted notes as the cue for the counting structure, we can see that the riff is ‘2-3’, ‘2-3’, ‘2-3’, ‘3-2’. This same structure is used again in Example 4 but this time played with sustaining chords. Keep counting the 2s and 3s throughout in order to phrase the riff correctly. For more solid timing keep your foot tapping in five even downbeats per bar. The final example is based in 16th-notes with a string-skipping shred-style guitar lick which has a five-note melody on each string. Five 16th notes played four times is the same as 5/4 time one time. Play through each example and make sure you can count along in terms of 2s and 3s as you go, as well as tapping your foot on the downbeat throughout. Once you have memorised the riffs try playing along with the backing tracks we’ve provided.
SONGS LIKE 15 STEP BY RADIOHEAD, ANIMALS BY MUSE AND STING’S SEVEN DAYS ARE ALL PROG STYLE ROCK IN 5/4 TIME
NEXT MONTH Charlie looks at performing picked arpeggios with note muting
Matt Bellamy wrote Muse’s track Animals using 5/4 time