I’ve met so many musicians who are scared of 7/8 because it feels unfamiliar and wrong, so instead of pushing themselves, they just add another eighth note (or quaver for you Brits) to the bar.
I once walked past a bar and heard the cover band inside playing Pink Floyd’s Money in 4/4 instead of 7/4 and it sounded all kinds of wrong.
7/8 doesn’t have to be daunting. It can be as simple as 4/4 with one less quaver or 6/8 with one more. You’ll likely have to jam with it for a while to internalize where the main beats lay in the bar (sometimes it helps to split a bar into a section of 3 and a section of 4) but once you’ve got it down, you’ll be able to laud your supreme intelligence over everyone listening.
In fact, once, after playing a show, a guy from the crowd approached me inquiring about the intricacies of one song we’d played. He thought the tempo in his head must have been all wrong because he kept falling out of time with us. Man, I was pretty smug that day.
OK Go – Needing/Getting
Ever since making that treadmill video, OK Go seem to have been striving to be taken seriously as musicians, though the endless stream of quirky music videos isn’t helping alter public perception.
In the Needing/Getting video, they recreate the song by driving a car past hundreds of pianos and guitars, whacking those instruments with brooms and the like. It’s a real impressive feat that unfortunately doesn’t sound great, and they cut out the best part of the song. In the final 2 minutes of the album version, the drums lead a transition from 6/8 to 7/8 with the simple addition of a quaver to the heavily established drum beat from the earlier half of the song. Here’s how that transition looks:
It’s dead-easy to play, but then again, a lot of 7/8 beats are, the trick is just getting your head around them. For those interested, this transition happens around the 3 minute mark on the album version of the song.
In popular music, a pretty typical use of 7/8 is to liven up an already familiar section by simply removing an eighth note (quaver). The idea is to kind of take the listener by surprise – they know the tune, maybe they’re humming along and before they know it, they’re half a beat behind. It’s a fun technique used in loads of songs, but here are just a few examples with time signature.
Blondie – Heart of Glass – 2:00 recurring theme is played in the bridge in both 7/8 and 4/4.
Radiohead – Paranoid Android – 2:08 for about 4 bars and again every time that section is revisited.
Foo Fighters – Times Like These – 0:13, though realistically this would probably be written in 7/4
Now that we’ve hopefully got our heads around counting bars of 7, here are a few great 7/8 grooves that I had to learn for my grade 8 drum exam. I tried to get out of it by claiming that a 7/8 piece would be far more aesthetically pleasing in the grade 7 syllabus for which I received a “must try harder” note in my planner.
Anyway, these beats from a piece called “7evens” (I’m not sure how you’re meant to pronounce it). They utilize a lot of bells, accents and hi-hat sizzles, which you’d be wise to ignore until you’ve got to grips with the root of the groove.
This groove is played with your right hand over the ride bell and your left on the closed hi-hat. The particularly tricky part with this one is that it actually appears earlier in the piece as a 4/4 groove, with a couple of extra semi-quavers at the end of each bar. Luckily, you don’t have to worry about that, unless you want to.
This beat is a cool brain exercise, because what you read and what you want to play initially are different things. Essentially, you need to keep the hi-hat steady, playing two 16ths and an 8th beat while you move the kick and snare around it. Fortunately, the kick and snare pattern is simple, do you just have to wrap your head around the movement. This is a trick that prog rock bands like Rush and Dream Theater utilise quite frequently.