I enjoy taking small snippets of complex tunes and using them to practice these aspects of drumming. While it is challenging to learn a note-for-note transcription of a master playing on an odd meter tune, I find it more efficient to loop a small phrase of one or two bars and explore it.

Studying odd meter drumming is super fun, creating endless rhythmic scenarios for us to play with. Diving into odd meter will help you subdivide, hone your accuracy with note-placement, and expand your creativity and ideas. This is lesson one of this month’s four-part series on exploring odd meters.

In this lesson we are going to use this method of practice on a nifty groove by Jack DeJohnette from the tune “Nine Over Reggae,” from the album Parallel Realities by DeJohnette and Pat Metheny. DeJohnette plays a one-bar groove that matches the very syncopated bass line perfectly. Check out the overall bass rhythm in Ex. 1.

Ex. 1

When playing to a repetitive odd meter bass line you must both count and feel the groove. There is a sweet spot for us all in between the technical counting and simply grooving on a jam. Ex. 2 shows the groove that DeJohnette plays to start the piece.

Ex. 2

Remember, this is a simplified version of his phenomenal playing into a one-bar pattern. Next, we can move a bass drum note over one eighth-note (Ex. 3).

Ex. 3

Now let’s sprinkle in a few ghost notes (Ex. 4).

Ex. 4

Going through these groove patterns will give you insight on the subtle ways to modify a groove without straying too far from home base. Another method that will help with note placement is to superimpose a groove in 4 over the odd bars. This will expose if there is any inconsistency within your groove and subdivision. Try playing the a 4/4 pattern over the loop (Ex. 5), and remember to count out loud or use a click in 9 with an accent on beat 1.

Ex. 5

This opens up a whole set of possibilities. Try playing styles you are comfortable with and layer them over the 9/4 bass line. Since the tune is “Nine Over Reggae,” I like to play a 1-drop reggae groove over it (Ex. 6). I do not count in 4/4; I maintain the 9/4.

Ex. 6

Finally, try playing in a more “stream of consciousness” state and let your ideas flow. Have fun with it!

Stewart Jean is Program Chair for Drums at Musicians Institute in Hollywood, CA.