Asymmetrical beats are tricky if you’re not used to them. We as human-beings are naturally drawn towards symmetry and even-ness, so disjointed and uneven beats often seem just plain ODD. Becoming accustomed to music that has a repeating pulse of 5 or 7 opens this entirely new world of WEIRD SOUND POSSIBILITY. And it’s pretty fun over here in WEIRD SOUND POSSIBILITY land, I promise!
From my own experience, thinking of asymmetrical pulses as two smaller sums adding up to the big pulse is incredibly helpful. For instance, in a lot of orchestral music a pulse of 5 usually is either thought of as 2 beats + 3 beats, or 3 beats + 2 beats. When the pulse moves fast, it’s much easier to groove with those subdivisions than it is count straight 5 beats in a row.
For learning purposes, here’s an excerpt of a slower tune with 5 beats. You can hear it in another subdivision that will be helpful for ears new to complex meter: 4 + 1.
I’ve added a click track which gives five beats before the song starts. The strong-sounding beat always lines up with the first of each five beats.
This song 1842 by Samamidon has a pulse of 5, but in a way feels like it’s in a regular 4 pattern with extra time at the end. What’s happening is he plays 4 beats on the guitar and then adds a fifth or “extra” beat. This pattern is constant throughout the entire song. It doesn’t feel as complex as other 5-patterns because this addition of an extra beat is empty with no new material inside it. It’s an “empty” beat, thus why I can hear this is 4 + 1. To get a better feel of the basic 5 pattern in this song (and the 4 + 1), one could tap along on a table or cat or human or whatever is nearby and tappable, and note the “empty” beat at the end of each group of 5. Speaking the number of each beat out-loud is also a great way to feel what’s going on, and is something I typically do when practicing a musical passage that includes an asymmetrical or complex beat. I’m sharing classical musician secrets here, guys!
After hearing that bit with a click, it’s worth listening to the full track without the click to see if you can follow along.
Boom. Welcome to the Weird Sound World.
This is a fast banjo-y version of 1842, which is still in 5. OR IS IT (don’t worry: it is — try to listen for it!)