Billy Martin: Navigating Odd-Time Samba

Odd-Time Samba

By Billy Martin Originally Published in DRUM! Magazine's June 2009 Issue

I was never great at grasping odd-time concepts, and I still sometimes struggle with them. A big factor relies on who is writing the music and how the player interprets it. But either way, you should make it work within your style and the given musical context. The first odd-time groove that felt good to me outside of “Take Five” (Desmond/Brubeck/Morello) was a samba in seven (7/8). Because I was playing so much Brazilian samba in my developing years, it became second nature for me to adapt samba’s in seven, six, and five.

If you are comfortable with playing samba in eight (4/4), switching to 7/8 time is not much different. All you’re doing is simply removing the last eighth-note section of the measure. The groove feels similar with a slight “skip” in time. The relationship between the bass drum and hi-hat is the foundation in this example. The snare (side-stick) pattern is a clave (rhythmic key) that adds the defining flavor in this Brazilian recipe.

Don’t forget to play constant sixteenth-notes on the ride cymbal with your leading hand. First play the pattern in eight (Ex. 1). After you feel comfortable with that, switch to seven (Ex. 2), and then to five (Ex 3).

The next advanced step would be to keep your hi-hat foot playing the 4/4 feel, where you’ll find your hi-hat foot falling back into place after two bars. The first bar of hi-hat notes fall on the & (as written) then the second bar falls on the downbeats. Other advanced ideas would incorporate bass drum and snare variations of your own design. This is only the beginning, a launch point from which you can develop your own unique way of making it work.