Etude 42-Polymetric Blues: 3/4 Over 4/4

This etude demonstrates a very simple way to add lots of interesting tensions to your solos through the use of polymeter. Specifically, I composed this entire 24-measure (two choruses) etude over the C blues in 4/4 time, by conceiving of all the melodic ideas in 3/4 time. Take a look at the example below of the first four measures:

In the first measure, I begin with a simple motif that consists of four eighth-notes and a quarter note (the third eighth note tied to the quarter), and then repeat a slight variation of this rhythmic motif beginning on beat 4 of the first measure, going “over the bar” into the second measure. The rest of the melodic material continues to follow this 3/4 subdivsion, which is implied either by direct rhythmic organization (e.g., four eighth notes followed by a quarter), or by tonal organization  (eighth-notes organized to create a 3/4 melodic “shape”).

I purposely chose the simplest blues harmonic form (just three chords), as well as some of the simplest tonalities (chord tones, parts of the blues scale, and a few passing tones). I did this to demonstrate how, even using simple tonalities, you can create a very lively solo, with lots of twists, turns and surprises. The time gets continuously “turned around” and generates great momentum.

Practice this with the metronome in the following  sequence, in order to feel and “hear” and understand the rhythmic tension:

In 4/4 with the metronome clicking on beats 1 and 3

In 4/4 with the metronome clicking on beats 2 and 4

In 3/4 with the metronome clicking an emphasis of the first beat (so for example, clicking “one” on the first beat of the first measure, then clicking “one” on the fourth beat of the measure, and so on)

In 4/4 with the metronome clicking only on beat 1

In 3/4 with the metronome clicking only on beat 1

(And of course, you can practice it with a backing track, if you have one.)

If you’d like to explore the power of polymeter in a more methodical and comprehensive way, please consider my e-book, Essential Polymeter Studies in 4/4 for the Improvising Musician. Click the link below for a free pdf of this etude:

Polymetric Blues: 3/4 Over 4/4-pdf