The Rhythmic Scale: Part 1

by Tim Lake

Outside of drummers and drumming circles rhythmical understanding is quite often the weakest link in an otherwise accomplished musician. For a lot of musicians, rhythm is more invisible than harmony or technique, but studying and understanding rhythm is as important as studying harmony or technique, and is useful in both composing and improvising.

Perhaps not the simplest place to start, the rhythmic scale, so called, is a useful tool to becoming comfortable with quintuplets and sextuplets, and shifting through subdivisions of the beat. It can be developed to give us an understanding of basic polyrhythmic concepts and metric modulations. What is important is to be able to feel the pulse throughout and it is essential to practice with a metronome.

I would recommend starting like a drummer and tapping out the rhythms with your hands on a table or on your knees. To help feel the pulse, it would be good to “walk” with your feet (right foot, left foot, right foot, left foot) in time with the metronome ( 1 2 3 4 ), but you should also be able to do it without this anchor ( the feet not the metronome) once the pulse has become internalised and when you come to playing on your instrument. Alternatively you could tap the pulse with one hand and the scale with the other.

Here is the scale from crotchets (¼ notes) to demi-semiquavers (32nd notes).

rhythmic scale figure.1

Here is a nice demonstration by a youtube user (frozenegg)

Let’s break down and build it up in stages. It is useful to work on the transitions so that they are smooth; indeed this is much of the point! Here is quavers (8th notes) to triplets, 2 bars of each.

rhythmic scale figure.2

Now work on triplets to semiquavers (16th notes). Make sure the transition is smooth.

rhythmic scale figure.3

Put the first half of the scale together. Watch the transitions and go back and work on any that need attention.

rhythmic scale figure.4

Before we go on, let’s apply this to a C Major scale.

rhythmic scale figure.5

Start playing around with this idea using different musical phrases. Being able to expand and contract a phrase through these four basic subdivisions has useful application in soloing and composition.

Here is a pentatonic given the rhythmic scale treatment. Starting with triplets we go up then back down.

rhythmic scale figure.6

Tim Lake is a jazz drummer and teacher based in London.



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