Rhythm Workshop: If 6 Was 12

Wait a minute—didn’t we just do this? Well, yes in a way, but this is different.
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Wait a minute—didn’t we just do this? Well, yes in a way, but this is different. The May installment of Rhythm Workshop dealt with how to create overlapping 6/4, 12/8, and 4/4 meters, primarily in a blues-rock context à la Hendrix, but this month we’re revisiting the concept as applied to “Healer,” a typically quirky Todd Rundgren tune that’s been rhythmically on my mind ever since I played it on our 2010 Todd/Healing tour.

We begin with Ex. 1, which illustrates two ways to play the rhythmic motif used during the song’s intro and verse figures. The top stave is written in 12/8, which imparts an almost Irish jig feel, with accents on every dotted-quarter-note downbeat, while the bottom stave maintains the same accents, but recasts the same eighth-notes in 6/4. Feel the difference? In 12/8, the eighth-notes are divided in four groups of threes, while 6/4 divides the same eighthnote pulse into six groups of twos. (Tip: Practice slapping both rhythms on your outer thighs while walking in tempo to internalize them.)

Ex. 2 assigns the notes of arpeggiated open D and Dsus2 chords to the motifs in both meters, as heard during the song’s intro ostinato. Again, the 12/8 version has a flow that brings out the Irish, while the 6/4 notation feels much more urgent. Both are totally cool, but I always gravitated towards the 12/8 feel. As it turns out, the joke was on me—after the tour was over, I found out that Todd had always envisioned the figure in 6/4! (Oh well, it’s all good.)

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As the verse begins, Ex. 3 adds four game-changing bass notes—a T.R. trademark. These appear over the course of seven bars as half-notes in 6/4 and dottedhalves in 12/8, and in the process redefine the D and Dsus2 chords as E9sus4-E7sus4, D/F#-Dsus2/F# (3 in the bass), Gmaj9-G6/9 (no 3), and D/A-Dsus2/A (5 in the bass).

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The crowning twist comes with the song’s off-kilter verse drum beat depicted in both meters in Ex. 4. Here, open and closed hi-hat eighth-notes (grouped in threes in 12/8 and twos in 6/4) provide a metronomic pulse for the unusually placed bass- and snare-drum hits. Program both beats, play along with the intro and verse figures (using either meter, or better yet, randomly swapping them), and dig the rhythmic (and harmonic) genius of Todd!