Odd Over Even

Weekly Newsletter #23

January 14, 2021

Today’s Newsletter is going to focus on an interesting rhythmic concept I call “Odd Over Even”. 

Essentially, this boils down to playing an odd number of pitches over an even number of subdivided beats or vice versa. What do I mean by “subdivided beats”? I’m referring to any way that you could split one beat into smaller rhythmic values. 

For example, one beat can be subdivided into two 8th notes, four 16th notes, or even three 8th note-triplets. There are many other ways of subdividing a beat, but these are a few of the most common. 

The mixing of subdivided rhythms with an unequal number of pitches is an awesome way to create a lot of variation in your improvising without having to have a huge lick vocabulary. 

You can do this with any odd and even number of notes and pitches. For example, if you took a subdivision of four 16th notes but played a pattern of three pitches over those four 16th notes, you would create a “rolling” effect (an ostinato pattern) that is nearly impossible to produce any other way. 

Before we begin, you should download the TAB and watch the VIDEO. 

Ex. 1 showcases this Odd Over Even concept using a subdivision of 16th notes. You might be looking at the TAB and saying, “But there are only four pitches! Four pitches and four 16th notes don’t fit within the Odd Over Even concept.” 

You’re correct, however if you notice that the fourth pitch is actually tied to the next 16th note. This tie actually simulates a fifth note, even though one isn’t actually present. The tied note takes up a fifth 16th note. This creates four pitches repeated every five 16th notes. In other words: “even over odd”. 

Ex. 2 shows this idea using an awesome seven-note pattern being played over a four-note subdivision. The outcome is the ostinato feeling that cycles through for seven measures before repeating. 

Notice how many measures occur before the pattern repeats from the beginning? That’s right, seven! How many measures occurred before the pattern repeated in Ex. 1? Five bars. Notice a pattern here? 

The number of pitches you choose to put over the subdivided notes almost always determines the number of measures it will take before the pattern repeats. 

You can come up with your own versions of this idea very easily. First, decide what the subdivision will be. 

It can be 16th notes as we have seen so far, but it can also be 8th notes, 8th note triplets, sextuplets, or any other subdivided number of notes per beat. Whatever subdivision you choose, the pattern of notes being played over them must be the opposite odd/even combination. 

For example if you took 8th note triplets, that would be a subdivision of three notes per beat. In order to get this effect you must then choose an even number of pitches to play over those triplets. 

In Ex. 3 you can see that we’ve used 8th note triplets as the subdivision but have placed a pattern of 8 notes over the top of it. This A blues lick which is very commonly used in all types of playing has an even number of notes to the pattern (eight notes to be exact) but the subdivision is an odd number (three triplets per beat). Notice how the first note of each beat is accented in order to create the illusion of a changing rhythm. 

Instead of the pattern repeating after eight measures (although it could), in this case it repeats after eight beats. An unusual variation from the general rule mentioned above. 

Ex. 4 is a shred-style lick using the A minor pentatonic scale. The speed of the lick is due to the subdivision being sextuplets however the pattern of notes is unlike the previous examples. In this lick there is a 5-note pattern. 

The first five notes descend beginning on the pinky finger. Then the next set of five notes begins on the second string, again with the pinky finger. This pattern continues descending until the low A note on the 6th string is reached. 

Ex. 5 is unique in that it mixes the number of note-groupings. It’s also using a sextuplet subdivision, which makes for a very fast lick, but the pattern of notes changes with each group. The first group is a pattern of 7 ascending notes, followed by 6 ascending notes, then back to a group of 7 and finishes with a group of 4. 

By mixing the number of notes within each group you can create an effect which allows for a way more interesting speed lick then simply running up the scale in identical groupings. 

The main takeaway from this week’s newsletter is that you might want to begin thinking about how you structure the rhythms of your licks rather than relying on simple intuition. Very often players come to me asking how they can stop sounding the same all the time. 

My answer is almost always, “Start using rhythmic variety to your advantage”. If you aren’t consciously thinking about the rhythms you play while in the practice room, there is very little chance you’ll have a variety of phrasing at your fingertips. 

All the cool pitches and scales in the world won’t help you if your rhythms are always the same and predictable. 

Stay fresh, stay rhythmic. 

-Max Rich