Learn Basslines in 9/8 Time Signature – Bass Practice Diary – 24 July 2018
This week’s bass practice diary leads on directly from what I was doing last week. I’m writing and recording examples for an upcoming book. Last week I was exploring bass grooves in 6/8 time signature. This week I’m taking a logical next step and looking at bass grooves in 9/8 time signature.
9/8 Time Signature
While 9/8 is a logical next step from 6/8, it also enters a new world of odd meters. However you group the nine eighth notes in each bar you will inevitably end up with an odd number. The most obvious way to divide the bar is into three beats, each subdivided into three eighth notes. This creates the feel of a 3/4 shuffle as I’ve demonstrated in the video.
So, 6/8 and 9/8 can both be related to 3/4 time signature. 6/8 can be played as a straight 3/4, as I demonstrated in this video last week. And 9/8 is most commonly played as a 3/4 shuffle. You can also think of a jazz waltz as being 9/8.
Odd Meters and Time Signatures
I know that the subject of odd meters can divide opinion amongst musicians. Personally, I find odd meters fascinating and I love to play in odd meters. Technically, an odd meter is any time signature with an odd number of beats in a bar. So 3/4 and 9/8 are both odd meters, and technically 6/8 isn’t an odd meter. However, the term odd meters tends to get attached to any time signature that isn’t commonly used. We tend to not think of 3/4 as an odd meter because it’s fairly common. But an unusual meter like 10/4, for example, would usually be categorised as an odd meter, even though it technically isn’t one.
I’ve also come across an attitude from some musicians, that they think odd meters only belong in “prog rock” and “fusion”. Prog and fusion are considered dirty words by many musicians, and my own odd meter influences certainly don’t come from prog rock.
The term “fusion” is one that I don’t like to use. If you think about it, virtually all music is a fusion of different influences. Certainly jazz is a fusion of many different styles and musical cultures. Too often I hear the label “fusion” attached to music as a way of putting it down. Somehow implying that it’s not pure. Particularly within the jazz world.
9/8 in Jazz and Indian Music
My interest in odd meters comes mostly from having studied jazz and Indian music. A great example of 9/8 being used in jazz, is the Dave Brubeck composition Blue Rondo a La Turk. What sounds like a very complex rhythm when you first listen to it, is actually quite simple. The melody is based around a rhythmic phrase where the nine eighth notes are arranged into three 2’s and a 3. I would recite the rhythm Ta-ka, Ta-Ka, Ta-Ka, Ta-Ki-Ta. After the theme, Blue Rondo a La Turk moves into a jazz swing feel, which highlights the connection between these types of rhythmic phrases and the jazz swing feel.
In Indian music, a Tala, which is a beat cycle can contain 3, 5, 7 and 9 beats or even 11 or 13. The Indian approach to odd meters has crossed over into Western music many times in the last fifty years. In jazz through musicians such as John McLaughlin and Trilok Guru and even in pop music. An example is All You Need is Love by the Beatles, who were heavily influenced by the Indian sitar maestro Ravi Shankar.
How to Groove in 9/8
I’m trying to find ways of grooving in 9/8 time signature, that move away from a straight forward 3/4 shuffle. I’ve included three examples in the video. The first two use the standard 3/4 shuffle feel. But in both examples the feel is slightly subverted by rhythmic variations.
This first example uses a 3/4 shuffle feel in bar 1. But the second bar has a rhythmic variation. The rhythm in bar 2 is the same rhythmic phrase as Blue Rondo a La Turk.
Example 2 stretches the shuffle feel even further.
In Example 3 I’ve moved away from the shuffle feel altogether. There’s no doubt that this example has much more of a feel of an odd meter, which some people will like and others won’t. I really like this bass groove, and I’ve combined it with some gospel style harmonies which I think makes a really interesting juxtaposition.
My Composition in 9/8 Time Signature
At the end of the video I’ve included a composition of my own. It is as yet un-named and un-released. It’s only a demo really. It’s one of many compositions I have compiled over the last ten years or more. Hopefully one day I’ll re-record it with a full band and release it. But for now I hope it can give you an idea of how these ideas can be applied to composing.