Thursday, February 21, 2013

Drill: Hemiola

Hemmy-what?  Hemiola!  This is something I have loved for years even before I knew there was a name for it.  There is a harmonic hemiola, but we’re only going to talk about the rhythmic one.

A hemiola is where the space of three equal beats is played by only two.  This happens mostly in passages of 3/4 or 6/8 time, the triple feel being replaced with a duple one.

Two great examples of this are the Christmas song “Here Come the Bells” (where you can hear triple over duple in the melody) and “America” (at 3:06) where the iconic lyrics “I like to be in America/Okay by me in America/Everything free in America” demonstrate a hemiola.  (Count the syllables and you’ll feel a 1-2-3-4-5-6/1-3-5- hemiola.)

The key here is the number 6.  If you can understand how rhythm is just math, and understand how to subdivide the number 6 at will, you can produce some really magical stuff…or if you’re like me, you get people telling you to “knock it off!”

For this drill, you’ll be based in a triplets, 6 alternating notes with accents on the 1 of each trio: 1-2-3-1-2-3/1-2-3-1-2-3.  There’s no need to go fast with these, you want to maintain tempo while differentiating between accented and non-accented notes.

As for the drill itself:

1. Groove triplets for a while, slowly. 
     - Sometimes accent only the 1, sometimes only every other 1.
     - Count to three out loud as you play.
     - Don’t play any faster than you can count out loud clearly (slower is better).
2. Start cycling your triplets into four sets of three.
     - Feel the cycle as 1-2-3-1-2-3/1-2-3-1-2-3.
3. When ready, play 4 sets of triplets (“threes”) and 3 sets of “fours”, repeat. Accent on the 1.
     - 1-2-3-1-2-3/1-2-3-1-2-3/1-2-3-4-1-2/3-4-1-2-3-4
     - Keep counting the numbers out loud! 

4.  When ready, play four sets of triplets and three sets of doro-tsuku, then repeat.
     - Once you understand the sequence, a metronome is super-highly recommended!

At first this might be tricky.  Logically, it’s just math, right?

  • Each single triplet = 3 beats
  • Each single doro-tsuku = 4 beats 
  •  3+3+3+3 = 4+4+4 = 12

It may very well feel like two patterns that don’t go together AT ALL.  But that’s the brain-bending beauty of the hemiola. 

As for practical use, first and foremost you really have to FEEL this triple-to-duple effect.  If you throw it into a solo or make it a part of a song without knowing how it locks, it’s going to sound like you’re  Once you have it in your bones (or wherever you keep your rhythms; I keep mine in my bones), then anything with a dongo/swing is great for a hemiola pattern like this.  Dongo is really a 1-2-3-1-2-3 pattern without an audible 2 played (1---3-1---3-) and you can drop a duple/4-count/doro-tsuku pattern in there nice and tidy.

At advanced levels, you can get some really funky stuff going with this concept.  Just because it’s in 6 doesn’t mean you can’t do it in 8 – within a 16-beat patern (8+8) you can pull of a couple of patterns of 6.  You can cut and paste the patterns around if you understand the math, and/or shift to upbeats to really weave some great patterns.  Here's some cut-and-pasting:

Mind you, the beauty of this sort of pattern comes from playing it sparingly – a touch of heat in your soup and not a mouthful of Tabasco!  As always, practice practice practice!

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