The five note grouping is a fun little entity that provides a superimposition of time that can, among other things, give the illusion of time slowing down. This is the first rhythmic quality that begins the series of “over the bar line” figures (values that don’t resolve within a duple meter) beyond the quarter note (the dotted eighth is greater than an eighth, but less than a quarter).
The Five Note Grouping as Math:
(Just a reminder…polyrhythms are values that have different rhythmic values, but all resolve together within a given space. Polymeters are figures that share the same subdivision, but have different values on top – three 16ths, five 16ths, etc. which cause the groupings to “overlap” each other in a way that it could take several cycles of the pattern before the downbeats line up together again.
Think about the planets. Each planet has a different rate at which it travels around the sun. That would be the same as the top number. Every revolution is different. The bottom number could be called “days” since that is the measurement that we use on earth. We could have the day be the subdivision, or the hour, or whatever time measurement we choose. So, just as it takes the Earth 365.25 days to revolve around the sun, it takes Mercury 88 days. Polymetrically speaking, if we want to know how often Earth & Mercury realign (as if to say play the downbeat of the same measure together) we would have to multiply 365.25 x 88 = 32142. Earth & Mercury will realign every 32,142 days. Luckily we are just talking about 5 note groupings in 4/4 time, and not 365 note groupings in 24th note subdivisions…
If you were to play a grouping of five 16th notes in 4/4 time, it would take 5 measures for your downbeat to fall back on beat one of the measure. (5 sixteenths x 4 beats = 20. Twenty beats = 5 measures of 4/4 time.) If you were to play a five 16th grouping in 5/4 time the pattern would resolve every measure, which would sound like a slow 4 superimposed over 5.
The accents would fall on 1, e of 2, and of 3, uh of 4, and then 5 in 5/4 time, or 2 of the next bar in 4/4 time. (see above example).
The Five Note Grouping as Quantum Mechanics (polymeter vs. polyrhythm):
(The observer paradox…)
If two people approached a third person (in the woods) playing a quarter note pulse in one hand, and a superimposed 5 note grouping in the other, there could be at least two observations of what is happening (actually 3).
Person A, the person performing the exercise would most likely be thinking of playing the pattern in 5/4 time. But the other two people could hear two completely different things:
Person B could be hearing the 5 grouping as the actual quarter note pulse, and thus believe he was listening to a Polyrhythm because he is hearing 5 notes being played in one hand in the same amount of time it is taking the other hand to play 4 notes. This pattern would resolve for him every measure of 4/4 time, and the 5 notes would feel “squished” in to the measure in order to resolve each bar…
Person C could be hearing what is happening in a third way. He could be hearing the pattern being played in 4/4 time with the five note grouping being played in an over the barline fashion, resolving every 5 measures. This would be perceived as a Polymeter.
The Five Note Grouping as Practice:
I would recommend, just as with any practice, doing every possible combination of this pattern you can think of – RH/LH, LH/RH, RF/LF, LF/RF, RF/RH, RF/LH, LF/LH, LF/RH, BF/BH, BH/BF.
The “skeleton” pattern is the following:
The Five Note Grouping as Concept:
“Creative expression” is a slippery slope. (One man’s cerebellum is another man’s aorta).
Its always tricky to determine what is musical, what is contrived, what is creative, what is calculated. If a difficult passage is practiced enough, it will definitely become part of one’s subconscious and thus may find its way into the “expression” category without sounding contrived. The creative drive in humans walks a thin tightrope upon which creativity can be confused with other acts of presentation that are merely regurgitation.
This concept is grounds for its own blog obviously, but very succinctly I will say that I believe the creative act to be a process by which the unknown comes into being, and anything else is a clever manipulation of what already exists. This concept requires much more focus, which I will do elsewhere…
The bottom line here is, once you have “mastered” a musical concept, it can be used in your palatte to paint the picture or story or emotion you are wanting to convey. A five note grouping may conjure an image in your mind that starts to find its way to the surface of your playing anytime something triggers the inspiration in the music. It could be a response to something else rhythmic that is happening, or it could be a way to manipulate the sensation of the pulse, or it could be an “inside joke” that you have through comraderie with your fellow musicians.
Or you could master this concept and never play it. Just understanding how time can be manipulated is sometimes enough to solidify your groove, or at least understand what others are doing. Having a deep relationship and knowledge of what is possible, and actually bringing it to the forefront of your playing DO NOT have to go hand in hand. Make your own decisions as to your own inner truth of what is important to state musically.