Rhythm Workshop: The 20/8 Shuffle

In our last two workshops we explored the art of the shuffle and introduced 5/4 and 5/8 meters.
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In our last two workshops we explored the art of the shuffle and introduced 5/4 and 5/8 meters. Now it’s time to get crazy and combine both concepts for some Mahavishnu-style “Dance of Maya” madness.

We begin with a simple E5 chord played for two bars of 5/4 quarter-notes as shown in Ex. 1a. Next, Ex. 1b eliminates the bar line to produce a single measure of 10/4. From there, we halve the value of each quarternote, which gives us the 20 eighth-notes and measure of 20/8 illustrated in Ex. 2a. Here, the eighths are grouped in ten pairs of twos and bear no resemblance to a shuffle. But dig this: By maintaining the same tempo and regrouping the eighth notes into threes, we end up with six very triplet-like groupings plus a single two-note group as shown in Ex. 2b, and it is this 3/8 x 6 + 2/8 division of eighth-notes that provides the basis for our 20/8 shuffle.

The final step takes place in Ex. 3, where we tie the first two notes of each triplet and alternate between E5 and E6 chords six times to produce a distinctive shuffle rhythm, and then tag it with a pair of single eighth-note hits on E5 and E6. This final move turns the beat around as the figure recycles in the next measure.

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Now the fun really begins. Record yourself playing a dozen or so passes of Ex. 3, and then superimpose the 10/4-based arpeggiated chord shapes illustrated in Ex. 4. Since these are played as quarter-notes at the same tempo, the combined parts—3/8 x 6 + 2/8, and 2/8 x 10—produce a swirling polyrhythm that recycles every 20 eighthnotes. Adding to this fray the bluesy singlenote riff depicted in Ex. 5 is enough to make anyone’s head swim, but once you “get it,” you’ll realize that these three parts can be played in any combination or all at once.

Finally, Ex. 6 presents another set of arpeggiated chord shapes that reorganizes our 20/8 pulse into 5+5+4+3+3 eighthnotes. (Tip: Listen to “Lila’s Dance” from Visions of the Emerald Beyond.) Play this figure over Ex. 3 and witness how it too meshes with the 20/8 shuffle rhythm. Once you start experimenting with different eighthnote groupings to concoct 20/8 shuffles of your own design, I guarantee your ears will never be the same!

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