Rhythmic Displacement Pt. 3 - Mo’ Hemiola

September 8, 2014
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Last time around, we concentrated on repetitive 3/8 and 3/16 hemiolas, or three-against-four rhythmic displacements, but this concept can also be applied in full or partial form to scales, melodic lines, and intervallic sequences, as well as other rhythmic groupings.
 
 For instance, Ex. 1a grafts an ascending A pentatonic minor sequence (starting on E, the 5) to a 3/8 hemiola. Played with an eighth-note triplet feel, this sounds like an ordinary scale sequence, but the three-against-four straight-eighth phrasing creates a rhythmic displacement that sounds much more melodic. As before, the hemiola recycles every three bars. This also works for descending sequences like the one in Ex. 1b, which is the same A pentatonic minor line in reverse. In Ex. 1c, we apply the same descending three-note motif to a fifth-position A Dorian sequence for equally melodious results.
 
As we saw last time, rests can be injected into any hemiola. The 3/8 motif shown in Ex. 2 uses two eighth-notes plus an eighth-rest and an A pentatonic minor sequence that descends in fourths to create a start-and-stop pattern that suggests an odd time signature (especially when played with a sympathetic rhythm section). You can apply the same concept to any interval sequence. (Tip: Try starting the hemiola with the rhythm from bar 2 or bar 3, i.e., displace the rhythm, but not the melody.) You can also precede or append any of the previous examples with one measure of 4/4 to form useful four-bar phrases.
 
Hemiolas can appear in any rhythmic grouping that runs counter to the basic meter—5/8, 6/8, 7/8, and 9/8, along with their quarter- and sixteenth-based cousins, all work well in 4/4. Ex. 3a depicts a Mahavishnu-flavored 5/8 hemiola that uses a descending A Mixolydian motif (4-3-root-b7-5), which repeats eight times over the course of five bars before it begins anew. Why? Because 8/8 = 4/4, and 4/4 x 5 = 5/4 x 4. Ex. 3b is a truncated, start-and-stop version of the same hemiola in which the fifth note of the motif is replaced by an eighth-rest. Again, the whole thing takes five bars to recycle.
 
As with 3/8 hemiolas, 5/8 versions can be applied to any scale or interval sequence. Ex. 4a features a 5/8 adaptation of a descending A pentatonic minor sequence similar to the one in Ex. 1b, while the partial variation in Ex. 4b is shortened to a more manageable two-and-a-half bars. (Tip: Try starting it on beat three.) In Ex. 5a’s partial hemiola, we convert the motif from Ex. 4a to 5/16 and replace every fifth note with a rest to form a one-bar lick that works equally well starting on beats two, three, or four. Ex. 5b brings on the bends for an even stronger Maha aroma. Once you become conversant in these and other hemiolas, introduce them to your favorite rhythm section and watch the sparks fly!

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