Improhub

Rhythm Units

Every rhythm can be broken down into units of two or three notes. As practicing rhythms with the length of two notes by themselves doesn’t make much sense, we will use three notes and four notes as our basis. Practicing these units will give you a solid rhythmic foundation. If you are interested in odd meters or odd tuplets, you should practice the five and seven note groupings as well.

Four notes

With four time points and every time point being either a note or a rest, we get 16 different rhythms.

 1 ●◦◦◦     2 ◦●◦◦     3 ◦◦●◦     4 ◦◦◦●
 5 ●●◦◦     6 ●◦●◦     7 ●◦◦●     8 ◦●●◦
 9 ◦●◦●    10 ◦◦●●    11 ●●●◦    12 ●●◦●
13 ●◦●●    14 ◦●●●    15 ●●●●    16 ◦◦◦◦

We can now translate these patterns into quarter notes, eighth notes, sixteenth notes or even triplets (the rhythms would cross the beat then). For example, if we translate the patterns into sixteenth notes, we will get the following rhythms.

Four note rhythm units

This is a nice overview, but what can we actually do with this? Well, we can practice the rhythms as they are by repeating each pattern four times (thus filling one 4/4 bar) and moving through all the patterns without rests in between.

You should do this without your instrument first, and in two different ways.

The first mode of practice is to clap the 4/4 beat with the pattern shown in the chapter on Konnakol (X I I I) while singing the the rhythms using the syllables. There may be multiple possibilities for the syllables to choose, but here is a suggestion. This example is written in a way used in carnatic music, although usually the clapping pattern wouldn’t be included. It may look unfamiliar at first, but often, the structure of a rhythm is a lot clearer in this notation than in western notation.

X          I          I          I
Ta · · ·   Ta · · ·   Ta · · ·   Ta · · ·

X          I          I          I
· Ta · ·   · Ta · ·   · Ta · ·   · Ta · ·

X          I          I          I
· · Ta ·   · · Ta ·   · · Ta ·   · · Ta ·

X          I          I          I
· · · Ta   · · · Ta   · · · Ta   · · · Ta

X           I           I           I
Ta ka · ·   Ta ka · ·   Ta ka · ·   Ta ka · ·

X           I           I           I
Ta · ka ·   Ta · ka ·   Ta · ka ·   Ta · ka ·

X           I           I           I
Ta · ka ·   Ta · ka ·   Ta · ka ·   Ta · ka ·

X           I           I           I
Ta · · ka   Ta · · ka   Ta · · ka   Ta · · ka

X           I           I           I
· Ta ka ·   · Ta ka ·   · Ta ka ·   · Ta ka ·

X           I           I           I
· Ta · ka   · Ta · ka   · Ta · ka   · Ta · ka

X           I           I           I
· · Ta ka   · · Ta ka   · · Ta ka   · · Ta ka

X            I            I            I
Ta ki ta ·   Ta ki ta ·   Ta ki ta ·   Ta ki ta ·

X            I            I            I
Ta ki · ta   Ta ki · ta   Ta ki · ta   Ta ki · ta

X            I            I            I
Ta · ta ka   Ta · ta ka   Ta · ta ka   Ta · ta ka

X            I            I            I
· Ta ki ta   · Ta ki ta   · Ta ki ta   · Ta ki ta

X             I             I             I
Ta ka di mi   Ta ka di mi   Ta ka di mi   Ta ka di mi

X         I         I         I
· · · ·   · · · ·   · · · ·   · · · ·

For the second mode of practice, you just turn it around. You will count the beat out loud (1, 2, 3, 4) while clapping or drumming the rhythms on your thigh.

If you are having difficulties with a particular pattern (especially with the sparser ones), try adding voiceless ts sounds where the rests are when singing or soft claps when clapping. After a while, let those noises fade out until they are only left in your mind and you can do the exercise as written.

Three notes

Practice the three note patterns in the same way described above. Instead of translating the patterns into sixteenth notes, interpret them as triplets (or as eighth notes in a 12/8 bar).

I haven’t written it out, but you should still repeat every pattern four times.

Dot notation

1 ●◦◦    2 ◦●◦    3 ◦◦●    4 ●●◦
5 ●◦●    6 ◦●●    7 ●●●    8 ◦◦◦

Western notation

Three note rhythm units

Syllable notation

1            2            3            4
Ta ·  ·      ·  Ta ·      ·  ·  Ta     Ta ka ·

5            6            7            8
Ta ·  ka     ·  Ta ka     Ta ki ta     ·  ·  ·

Five notes

Play these rhythms as eighth notes in 5/8 time.

Dot notation

 1 ●◦◦◦◦     2 ◦●◦◦◦     3 ◦◦●◦◦     4 ◦◦◦●◦
 5 ◦◦◦◦●     6 ●●◦◦◦     7 ●◦●◦◦     8 ●◦◦●◦
 9 ●◦◦◦●    10 ◦●●◦◦    11 ◦●◦●◦    12 ◦●◦◦●
13 ◦◦●●◦    14 ◦◦●◦●    15 ◦◦◦●●    16 ●●●◦◦
17 ●●◦●◦    18 ●●◦◦●    19 ●◦●●◦    20 ●◦●◦●
21 ●◦◦●●    22 ◦●●●◦    23 ◦●●◦●    24 ◦●◦●●
25 ◦◦●●●    26 ●●●●◦    27 ●●●◦●    28 ●●◦●●
29 ●◦●●●    30 ◦●●●●    31 ●●●●●    32 ◦◦◦◦◦

Syllable notation

1              2              3              4
Ta · · · ·     · Ta · · ·     · · Ta · ·     · · · Ta ·

5              6               7               8
· · · · Ta     Ta ka · · ·     Ta · ka · ·     Ta · · ka ·

9               10              11              12
Ta · · · ka     · Ta ka · ·     · Ta · ka ·     · Ta · · ka

13              14              15              16
· · Ta ka ·     · · Ta · ka     · · · Ta ka     Ta ki ta · ·

17               18               19               20
Ta ki · ta ·     Ta ki · · ka     Ta · ta ka ·     Ta · ki · ta

21               22               23               24
Ta · · ta ka     · Ta ki ta ·     · Ta ki · ta     · Ta · ki ta

25               26                27                28
· · Ta ki ta     Ta ka di mi ·     Ta ka di · mi     Ta ka · di mi

29                30                31                   32
Ta · ta ki ta     · Ta ka di mi     Ta din gi na tom     · · · · ·

Longer groups

You can also practice longer groups, but the number of patterns will increase cubically, which means the exercises will get very long. Since all longer patterns will be combinations of the three and four notes patterns, you can split up the exercises easily.

For example, to practice all the seven note patterns, take the first three note pattern and combine it successively with every four note pattern. Then take the second three note pattern and combine it with every four note pattern again, and so on.

Applying rhythm units on the instrument

After practicing the units without an instrument, you may want to practice them on your instrument. Aside from just playing the patterns as written, you can use them to work on your technique as well.

To do this, you have to think of the patterns as binary patterns. Each time point can be either on or off.

●◦◦    =    on off off

The basic principle here is that you do one thing on the on-notes and another thing on the off-notes. There are a lot of ways to do this depending on your instrument. I will give you a few examples.

  1. All instruments: Play on-notes accented and off-notes without accent.
  2. Bass or guitar: Play the on-notes as normal notes and the off-notes as deadnotes.
  3. Bass or guitar: Play the on-notes as high notes and the off-notes as low notes on a lower string, for example a fifth or an octave lower (string skipping).
  4. String instruments: Play off-notes detached, but bind on-notes to the next note.

Additionally, you can use the patterns for independence training, for example:

  1. Piano: Play an ostinato in one hand and the patterns in the other. Alternatively, play ostinatos using the patterns in one hand and improvise with the other.
  2. Drums: Play a steady groove on bass drum and snare while playing the rhythms on the hihat, or the other way around.