10-Day Metric Modulation Lesson Plan Day 1: Double-Timing It


Imagine, if you will: You’re jamming along in 4/4, maybe using some bouncy footwork with a little shuffle driving the beat and … bam! All of a sudden you and the entire band are in a tasty, slowed-down 3/4 groove that has completely changed the feel of the song. Everyone within earshot is still grooving just as hard, as if you’ve been in 3/4 all along. You look down, and your sheet music hasn’t changed. You’re playing everything correctly. It’s almost as if — but it can’t be — as if you’re playing in two time-signatures at once! It’s true, and you can learn how to travel through time and tempo at will in just 10 days. Welcome, to the…METRIC MODULATION MATRIX.

Metric modulations are changes in tempo (or meter) that are derived from a note value and overall subdivision encountered previous to a modulation. These changes in feel require a shift in our counting system and notation. This allows us to begin a song at one tempo and end it at another, or return to its original tempo, without dropping the beat or implementing a jarring, disconnected change. Everything happens in stride so seamlessly that sometimes we don’t even realize what’s going on around us.

Metric modulations can be utilized in two general ways: 1. as a way to superimpose or imply a change in meter, feel, or tempo over an existing rhythmic template; or 2. as a vehicle in which to actually change meter, feel, and/or tempo. This is a different concept than polyrhythms, which are more like momentary ripples in the fabric of the timing of a song. Modulation can use a polyrhythm to get where it’s going, like a dotted eighth-note to create a three over four, but this is more of a vehicle to get from tempo A to tempo B. When a modulation happens, it feels like we are in two time-signatures at once. And we are, sort of. It’s all relative.

If we’re talking about musical time travel here (and we are), Elliott Carter may be the Albert Einstein of metric modulation. Like Einstein, whose theory of general relativity introduced a mathematical model for the theoretical possibility of time travel, Carter was the first composer to seriously consider the concept of musical time travel through metric modulation, in the late 1940s. If you’re craving a complete mind meltdown, check out Carter’s String Quartet No. 1, published in 1951. The quarter-note traverses tempos from 72 bpm to 270 bpm, down to 180, and then 64 and a host of other landing places before eventually ending at 134 bpm by the end of the 12-minute first movement. It wasn’t long before The Beatles took this idea and made it connect with the masses in songs like “I Me Mine” and “Yer Blues.” Now it’s fairly common in metal, prog, jazz, and many other styles — you can hear it in the Green Day song “Jesus Of Suburbia.”

In this 10-day lesson plan, top-notch instructors from the Musicians Institute in Hollywood, California present tutorials that will break down and explain the concept of metric modulation alongside examples of how to develop and use this technique.  The following lessons present nine different approaches and uses of metric modulation, from basic to advanced levels, culminating in a final challenge on day 10. Good luck and we’ll see you on the other side!

— Stewart Jean & Nicolas Grizzle


Lesson and video by Stewart Jean

Metric modulations create feel changes that require a shift in our counting system and notation, but this does not mean modulations must always be complicated. In its simplest form, a metric modulation is a great way to develop a better understanding of “double time” or “double time feels.” For instance, say you needed to play a 4/4 rock groove at 85 bpm, eventually switching to a double-time swing feel. A shift in our counting is required, thus creating a modulation.

For example (Ex. 1), in 4/4 the quarter-note gets the beat and there are four beats to a measure. The snare drum is playing on beats 2 and 4, the bass drum on 1 and 3 &, all underneath a template of steady eighth-notes on the closed hi-hat.


To make the switch to the double-time swing feel (Ex. 2) one must be aware that jazz, similar to rock, is felt generally in 4/4. The ride cymbal plays quarter-notes on every downbeat with an added swung eighth-note on the third partial of the triplet of beats 2 and 4, while the hi-hat (played with the foot) locks the groove in on beats 2 and 4.


When transitioning from the rock feel to the double-time swing feel, while maintaining the proper counting system, the eighth-notes being played during the rock feel will then take the value of a quarter-note with the switch to the double-time swing feel. On the chart, new note value assignments are displayed.

To better understand this concept, set your metronome to 85 bpm. In Ex. 3, count the eighth-notes as 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &. Next, after four bars, replace those eighth-notes with 1 2 3 4. You are now counting in 4/4 at double-time or 170 bpm.


This shift in tempo and feel can also be indicated with updated tempo indicators (Ex. 4). Once you are comfortable with this shift try applying this concept to the full kit (Ex. 5).


Finally, in Ex. 6, you can add small set-up fills to assist in making the transition from rock to double-time swing smooth and seamless. Start by looping a 16-bar phrase comprised of eight bars of rock and eight bars of swing. Play the written fills in the example below as a springboard to developing your own transition fills. This will add to your repertoire and make you an asset to an ensemble when encountering a shift to double-time.



Expand the phrases. Try extending the sections from eight bars each to 16, 32, or longer. Embellish the grooves. Try playing increasingly complex grooves or replace the jazz feel with a half-time shuffle.

10-Day Metric Modulation Lesson Plan – Day 2