Rhythmic Displacement: You Are What You Hear

Hearing a rhythm is a prerequisite to playing it.
Publish date:
Image placeholder title

Hearing a rhythm is a prerequisite to playing it. After three months of exploring rhythmic displacement, you should be able to recognize its use in a plethora of songs and styles. Our final installment examines a host of real-world applications for this versatile musical tool.

Ex. 1 lays down two quarter-note G5 dyads, and then displaces them to the eighth-note upbeats on the and of beats three and four to create a groove redolent of Keith Richards’ intro to “Honky Tonk Woman.” For total authenticity, use open-G tuning and tie the last eighth-note in each measure to the following quarter-note downbeat on the repeats.

Image placeholder title

Utilizing a single C chord, Ex. 2 extends the same idea over two bars by including an extra quarter-note downbeat and eighth-note upbeat, plus an additional quarter-note hit on beat three of bar 2, and brings to mind many popular songs, from the Beach Boys’ “Barbara Ann,” to the Doors’ “Touch Me,” to the Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil.” In a more prog-ish context, Ex. 3, excerpted from Todd Rundgren’s “Everybody’s Going to Heaven,” displaces a cool 3/4 lick over two bars of 4/4. Note how the last note is held to fill out the remainder of bar 2.

Moving on to three-against-four rhythmic displacements, or hemiolas, Ex. 4 illustrates a partial hemiola, i.e., one that does not completely recycle, and brings to mind George Harrison’s playing on “Here Comes the Sun.” The figure consists of four 3/8 arpeggios followed by four eighth-notes and a resolution to D, which could also be perceived as four bars of 3/8 plus a bar of 4/4.

Image placeholder title

The same hemiola is double-timed as four 3/16 groupings plus two eighth-notes in Ex. 5a, while Ex. 5b eliminates all of the sixteenth-note hits between accents, and instead sustains each hit for a dotted-eighth (3/16) duration. Graft the Bsus4 and B voicings shown in Ex. 5c for one bar each to the former, and then play a low-register F-A-C-E-D-C single-note line using the latter, and you should recognize the two classic rock figures that emerge.

In a funkier vein, Ex. 6 recalls the repetitive “Boom-boom-boom” interlude from Kool & the Gang’s “Funky Stuff.” This partial, two-bar 3/8 hemiola uses six sixteenth-notes with the fourth and fifth tied together, and features two accents per 3/8 grouping. Interestingly, the “boom-boom-boom” vocals do not observe the tie and are instead phrased in consecutive 3/16 groups until the end of bar 2.

We’ll wrap it up with classic rocks’ most notorious full-length hemiola. A study in advanced composition, Ex. 7a reveals how Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” layers four bars of a 3/4 figure over three bars of a rock-steady 4/4 drum beat. The brackets above the guitar notation illustrate how this figure could also be perceived as a 3/8 or 3/16 hemiola. The notes have been reordered to protect the innocent, so for the real deal you’ll have to play the whole thing backwards starting on the second chord in bar 1. (Tip: You can also tune to DADGAD and include the open first and second strings in each octave shape.) Finally, for extra heaviosity, Ex. 7b slightly alters the figure by adding a ringing open low-D string placed on the third eighth-note of each 3/8 grouping. It’s also notable that the next section of the song (not notated) features the same partial hemiola from Ex. 5b.

Image placeholder title

So, you see, rhythmic displacements are everywhere. Learning to recognize them in all styles of music not only unravels their mystery, it also grants you access to use them wherever and whenever you please. Keep your ears open and rock on!!