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Tag: syncopation

Bro, Do You Even Syncopate?

Get out more, get more out of it Confessions of a working bassist #37: I’m terrible at getting out to hear gigs. Maybe 3 times a year I’ll get my…

Get out more, get more out of it

Confessions of a working bassist #37: I’m terrible at getting out to hear gigs. Maybe 3 times a year I’ll get my act together, check listings, book tickets and go and enjoy being in the audience rather than on the stage.

This post comes from one such occasion this time last year, when I saw that Mark Giuliana was coming to town – I’d heard lots of buzz about him from other musicians and was vaguely aware of his Beat Music project (featuring bass hero Tim LeFebvre) but had never actually bothered to listen to much of his output.

One of the most memorable moments of the gig involved a tune with a lengthy bass and drum intro that consisted of nothing but horribly syncopated unison stabs and didn’t appear to feature any repeating figures. After some Spotify surfing the following morning, it turned out that the song in question was ‘One Month’ from 2015’s Family First album – I realised yesterday that it had been on my transcription ‘to-do’ list for almost an entire year, and my brain was repeatedly nagging me to sit down and decipher what was going on:

 

It’s 2 notes in 4/4 time – how hard could it be?! Try sight reading this at 130bpm:

It’s a roast-up, right? Now, if you want a real challenge, attempt to memorise it.

Dealing with flyshit

I still vividly remember my first lecture at music college – I was 19 years old and had come from a small town with very little in the way of a music scene, so I thought I was pretty good. As soon as this was put in front of me I quickly realised that I knew nothing:

Having grown up on a solid diet of internet TABs and Hot Licks videos, my reading ability was somewhat lacking. I was determined not to be beaten by the little black dots, and by the end of the year I was one of the best readers in the class. How did I do it?

From zero to (reading) hero

My lectures didn’t start until 11am, so I resolved to get up at 7.30 every day and do a couple of hour’s work on my weaknesses – there were (and still are) many – with a particular focus on reading. I worked on rhythm separately from pitch and slogged my way through this riveting tome:

 

If you can read this book, you can read (almost) anything. And, if you can read it then you can also hear rhythmic figures elsewhere and write them down quickly There’s an entire blog post on it here.

 

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Rhythmic Displacement Part 2: Snarky Puppy – ‘What About Me?’

One of the most popular posts on this blog is a transcription of a Meshuggah tune that features some interesting rhythmic displacement ideas. Here’s a transcription in a similar vein…

One of the most popular posts on this blog is a transcription of a Meshuggah tune that features some interesting rhythmic displacement ideas. Here’s a transcription in a similar vein but from a more mainstream (and less angry) source, the heavily syncopated unison line in Snarky Puppy’s ‘What About Me?’:

The section I’ve written out comes at 45s into the track, and is featured again around the 5 minute mark:

Snarky Puppy - What About Me?

Just as in the Meshuggah transcription, the part here gets displaced when it repeats itself, creating an interesting rhythmic effect as the accented melody notes shift (compare bar 1 with bar 3).

This is a real test of your semiquaver rhythm reading abilities, but playing-wise most of the line is straightforward E minor pentatonic and falls under the fingers without too much trouble. The final run is worth taking your time over –  a minor pentatonic played in groups of 5 but phrased in semiquavers which has a strong Jaco influence to it.

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Rhythmic Displacement: Meshuggah’s ‘Do Not Look Down’

I have a confession to make: Although I have a deep appreciation of all things musical there’s one genre that I always come back to… metal. Proper metal. Played by…

I have a confession to make: Although I have a deep appreciation of all things musical there’s one genre that I always come back to… metal. Proper metal. Played by angry men with pointy guitars and beards; I was raised on classic rock (Led Zep, Sabbath, Deep Purple etc) and from there I spent my teens exploring the heavier end of the musical spectrum – I went through thrash metal (early Metallica/Megadeth), briefly delved into death metal (Carcass, Opeth, Children of Bodom) and even a had dubious metalcore phase before finding a handful of bands that made the sort of noise that really appealed to me…

One of those bands is Meshuggah.

This track caught my attention because it clearly highlights one of the band’s trademark writing techniques; the interwebs are littered with people asking ‘What time signature is this Meshuggah tune in?’. Whilst the majority of Meshuggah’s compositions sound as if they’re in odd time signatures the vast majority are in 4/4 – it just seems that the guitars have a healthy disregard for bar lines…

 

Djently Does It

The intro of ‘Do Not Look Down’ comprises of a unison guitar/bass figure that lasts for 17 quavers (or their equivalent) before repeating. When played over a drum part that in 4/4 this creates a shifting rhythmic effect where the accent at the start of the figure emphasises a different point in the bar each time it repeats.

The accent first falls on beat 1, then the ‘and’ of 1, then beat 2 etc. After 7 cycles we’re back to starting on beat 1 again. This could also be written as alternating bars of 4/4 and 9/8, or in the horrendous meter of 17/8, but what we’re really hearing is the effect of two different time signatures being played at the same time (i.e. polymetric playing)

The main purpose of this post is to highlight the concept of using polymetric devices to add a new dimension to compositions. This idea could easily be adapted to create basslines that use odd groupings of quavers (e.g. 5, 7 or 9) to create rhythmic tension when played over a drum part in 4/4.

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