A few years ago I had the privilege of taking a lesson with jazz drumming legend Joe Morello. Mr. Morello’s time feel and note placement were some of the attributes that made him such an iconic player. The following exercise, adapted from Mr. Morello’s book Master Studies,* is designed to help drummers and percussionists improve their own time feel, note placement, and ability to subdivide. The exercise focuses specifically on increasing skill in the lesser known subdivisions and integrating them with more familiar subdivisions. The exercise was originally intended for drummers and percussionists, but can be useful for musicians on other instruments too.**
The Many Subdivisions of a Quarter Note—Joe Morello’s Table of Time
Much of the music we listen to is in 4/4 time, which means 4 pulses per measure, with each pulse represented as a quarter note. Musical note values are usually divided into multiples of 2’s, 4’s, and 8’s, starting with the whole note down to 64th notes, and beyond. Most of you are familiar with quarter notes, 8th notes, 8th-note triplets, and 16th notes and how they relate to a given pulse. There are, however, other less-known and less-played numerical subdivisions of the quarter-note pulse, including divisions of 5, 7, 9, and 11.
To help you conceptualize the various subdivisions, the following Table of Time depicts them as ratios. The number to the left of the colon represents the amount of notes to be played evenly over one pulse; the number to the right of the colon represents the amount of pulses.
Table of Time
|Ratio||# Notes per Quarter-Note Pulse||Type of Note|
|1:1||1 note per pulse||Quarter notes|
|3:2||3 notes per two pulses||Quarter-note triplets|
|2:1||2 notes per pulse||8th notes|
|3:1||3 notes per pulse||8th-note triplets|
|4:1||4 notes per pulse||16th notes|
|5:1||5 notes per pulse||Quintuplets|
|6:1||6 notes per pulse||Sextuplets or 16th-note triplets|
|7:1||7 notes per pulse||Septuplets|
|8:1||8 notes per pulse||32nd notes|
|9:1||9 notes per pulse||Nonuplets|
|10:1||10 notes per pulse||Decuplets|
|11:1||11 notes per pulse|
|12:1||12 notes per pulse|
It’s very important to practice this exercise with a metronome to ensure that (a) you feel each subdivision perfectly, and (b) you don’t alter the pulse to accommodate the subdivision.
Begin by setting the metronome to 50 beats per minute (BPM) and play one note per pulse (1:1), making sure each note is placed perfectly with the metronome beat. Play this pattern until you are comfortable with it. Next, play three notes per every two pulses (3:2) until you are comfortable. Following the Table of Time, play each note set, making sure your notes are evenly divided within the pulse for each subdivision. For example, 8th-note triplets (3:1) should divide the pulse into 3 equal parts, and quintuplets (5:1) should divide the pulse into 5 equal parts.
Before thinking about speeding up the metronome, be sure you have achieved consistency of sound and rhythmic stability within each subdivision. Eventually, concentrate on removing any accents that you may be inadvertently playing. It is also beneficial to go back and forth between two subdivisions to internalize how the rate of speed changes. For example, play one measure of 16th notes (4:1), followed by one measure of quintuplets (5:1), and repeat.
Good luck, and have fun!
*Morello, Joe. Master Studies. Modern Drummer Publications, 1986, p. 43.
**Players of other instruments can play the exercise progressively up a major or minor scale. For example, (1:1) could be played on note C, and (4:1) could be played on notes C, D, E, and F. I’ve included a PDF of sample melodies that can be used for each subdivision, but feel free to create your own. Chord arpeggios of any kind would also work well with this exercise as long as the focus is on rhythmic accuracy.