Revisiting The Elements of Rhythm, Vols. I & II

On November 24th, 2012, I launched this blog about my books, The Elements of Rhythm, Vols. I & II (Rollinson Publishing Co.). It’d taken me thirty years to create the books in a format that I was truly satisfied with, and for the next three years, I had the time and energy to promote them to a fair degree.

But in all honesty, working full time in Los Angeles was simply too much, and I ran out of steam for getting the word out about what arguably was and remains one of the most systematic methods for studying rhythm patterns and their origins. I live in my hometown now (Austin, Texas), where the pace is a little more conducive to peace and sanity…

It’s my hope that if you’ve found your way to this blog, you’ll visit the dedicated website (www.TheElementsofRhythm.com) as well as read the other eleven posts I put up here a few years ago.  There are a finite number of building block rhythm patterns that all of the larger, more complex patterns originate from. My books contain the complete list and also offer an organizing system for categorizing them.

If you’re a serious student of rhythm, you’ve come to the right place. I appreciate you visiting the blog site, and I’ll be updating it much more regularly with comments, exercises and applications of the books’ contents. With everything that’s going on in the world today (Covid-19), we have a lot of time at home to study everything we never had time to explore. I hope this blog, the website and the books help you in your journey to better understand the subtleties and complexities of rhythm pattern evolution, and I hope you’ll check back often to see where we’re going with new ideas about this fascinating and dynamic subject.

With much appreciation, David R. Aldridge

2nd Video about The Elements of Rhythm, Vol. I, Introduction to Binary Rhythm Pattern Theory

I created a second video to present excerpts from The Elements of Rhythm. Vol. I, that help teach the basics of binary rhythm pattern theory. It’s a little fuzzy here and there, and I’m working to get my grasp of technology dialed in, but the message is very clear: there are a finite number of building block rhythm patterns that all the larger combinations come from.

The books (both volumes) explore this notion, but it’s Volume I that has the true theoretical meat to it.

If you watch this YouTube video and give me six minutes, it’ll radically change your notions about where rhythm patterns originate, at least mathematically. And we’ve really never had any kind of system quite like this before to make the complexities so understandable. That was my primary goal, by the way: to make the rhythmic universe comprehendible.

I hope you enjoy it and get see where things can go, because if you do, your rhythmic understanding will expand incredibly…

Reprint: Introducing the Elements of Rhythm, Vols. I & II

This blog was originally published on David Aldridge’s Drumming Blog, 11-14-2012…

How many rhythm patterns do you suppose there are?

Thousands, hundreds of thousands?

The list is infinite, but the number of patterns that make up the fundamental building blocks is finite.

I’ve spent the better part of three decades, on and off, working on a series of books that present the basic patterns and their logical evolution. I have greatly appreciated your readership of my blog, and I would now like to announce the official release of those books… The Elements of Rhythm Vols. I & II (Rollinson Publishing Co).

Many years ago, I took some drum lessons with Terry Bozzio when I was living in Los Angeles. He showed me a collection of simple 2/4 patterns and told me that they made up the basics of just about everything else I would ever see.

From there, I developed a list of 4/4 patterns as a sort of jazz drummer’s vocabulary list… and I expanded it significantly.

In the mid 1980’s, I met American music composer Lou Harrison and shared my list of patterns with him. He had written about a simple binary formula, 2n, that let you create basic silence and sound combinations. We had been working on the same thing in many ways, and he gave me a lot of suggestions as to where the book could go from there.

The level of detail became pretty intense, something much bigger than I had expected. It took many, many revisions to sort out all the information, but what I eventually came up was that the book and patterns formed the basis for something drummers (and all musicians, really) have never had: a rhythm pattern theory resource.

In Vol. II, I take the fundamental patterns and present them in multiple music lines. This lets you read a pattern in 4/2, 4/4, 4/8, 4/16 and 4/32, all stacked on top of each other. This shows that an identical-sounding rhythm pattern can be written many ways and still retain what I call its absolute sound shape. Vol. II also explores the many ways you can count a rhythm pattern, which helps de-condition you from always expecting certain note shapes to be counted certain ways.

Keyboard players can look at notes and see everything they will be working with. So can guitar players. But what do drummers have to look at? Where are the source of rhythm pattern origins? Where are our collection of basic shapes?

That’s what my books are really about. They give everyone a collection of the basic shapes that all the larger, more complex combinations come from.

The value of this list is that you can prepare your mind, your eyes, your ears, and your whole body with the fundamental movement possibilities. It’s not about sight-reading, however. It’s about preparing and programming yourself, completely, with nothing left out.

Several other authors have explored similar approaches using the basic patterns, to whom I give credit in Vol. I, but my approach goes somewhat further in terms of the different ways you can write a pattern. I use half, quarter, eighth, sixteenth and thirty-second rest/note values and create a very large collection of patterns that can be studied and mastered.

I’m going to be teaching seminars in the near future, demonstrating how drummers can use the patterns to explore odd meters, polyrhythms, and advanced improvisation methods. I hope you can take a few minutes and check out the website to see more about what I’ve created, and I truly hope that music teachers will find the materials useful for helping students gain a much broader perspective of how rhythm patterns logically evolve into an amazing structure. I also include teaching guidelines in the Appendices to help provide structure for this new approach to rhythm pattern study.

My dream is to travel the world eventually and share more insights, with both the music community and the music research community. There is so much to explore and so much to integrate… and we as drummers are truly the keepers of the temporal flame. If you’ll visit http://www.theElementsofRhythm.com, I hope you’ll see where the ignition for my passion comes from.

The Elements of Rhythm Poster: 0’s and 1’s Explained in 60 Seconds…

In June of 2013, I received a Yahoo Society of Ethnomusicology groups e-mail regarding a call for papers and presenters for RPPW 14, Rhythm Production and Perception Workshop, hosted this year by the University of Birmingham, in Birmingham, England. I had never heard of the workshop but was immediately excited at learning of their existence.

One of my long-term goals is to share my books, The Elements of Rhythm Volumes I & II, with the academic community. The comprehensive list of fundamental building block rhythm patterns and the indexing system used to number and identify them could be applied in many areas of study and research, so, I submitted an abstract of my books and theory to see if there might be an interest.

There was!

rppwjpeg14I was invited to be a poster presenter at the conference, which meant I needed to create a 4’ x 3’ poster to be displayed on a board in a room filled with other presenters. The poster had to convey what my books contained, so I condensed the two volumes into two sections on this:

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The left side shows the logical progression of a beat divided into parts, and then the parts being assigned 0’s for silence and 1’s for sound to. This illustrated that rhythm patterns could be created and roughly depicted at any beat division level.

Below that table, the possible number of combinations per beat and beat division level were calculated. Then, the 0’s and 1’s were shown being combined with each other to create the actual number of possible patterns. In this case, it was for beat division level 2. I refer to these combinations as Absolute Sound Shapes.

Next, rest and note shapes replaced the 0’s and 1’s to create the notation version of the Absolute Sound Shapes. This is the approach to rhythm pattern theory introduced and explored in-depth in The Elements of Rhythm, Vol. I.

The second portion of the poster presented the Binary Rhythm Pattern Indexing System.  I developed this simple system to number and identify the Absolute Sound Shapes within each of the combination tables. In this example, a measure of 4/4 is divided into four parts (quarter notes) and assigned four different rhythm patterns.

Below each pattern is its Binary Indexing Number (BIN). Those BIN’s are highlighted in each of the four combination tables found at the bottom of the poster, showing how the patterns evolves sequentially in each table.

One of the greatest honors for me was inclusion in the official RPPW 14 programme, which got used quite a bit during my three-day visit!

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After a 10-hour flight and gracious three day re-cooperative hosting by my friends, Bob Gentry and Tilly Casson, I left London by train and headed to Birmingham, two hours north. I hadn’t been back to Europe since I was in high school, and this was a lifelong dream to both return and to present my books and theory to the academic world. From September 11-13, I was completely immersed in the environment of some of the top rhythm perception researchers in the world. Surreal hardly even begins to describe the level of intelligence I was surrounded by.

Poster presenters were each given one minute to introduce themselves before the group each morning, and I was fortunate enough to be chosen for the first day. After listening to several Ph.D’s and Ph.D candidates give their 60-second summaries, I offered my books and theory as something that came from the layman’s world but that could be applied to many levels of academic research. As far as I know, I was the only non-academic presenter at the conference.

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After the morning lecture sessions, we broke for lunch in the poster presenting room. Mine was at the very furthest end, but quite a few curious and interested individuals found their way by to check it out and ask me questions. For the next two hours, I lived a dream I’ve had for thirty years: being able to show a unique and finished product and entertain questions and discussion about it.

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Some of the people who came by included Dr. Andreas Daffertshofer, a researcher from the University of Amsterdam who specializes in human movement. Dr. Guy Madison is a research professor at Sweden’s Umeå University and is also a drummer, as was Dr. Carl Haakon Waadeland, from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. Daniel Cameron is a neuroscience researcher and Ph.D candidate from the University of Western Ontario and drummer/percussionist who even joined me a few days later in a drum set/hand drumming event I presented for local group of kids and parents through Tourettes-Action UK, a support group.

But I’d say the highlight honor was meeting and speaking with the host of RPPW 14, Prof. Alan Wing. In the world of rhythm and timing research, he is the big dog rock star. He co-wrote a paper forty years ago that has remained the standard by which timing and rhythm perception questions are largely measured. I thanked him for the invitation to present and gave him a copy of my books, something I’d wanted to do for years.

My plan is to keep attending such conferences, make contact with the academic world, and work to bridge the gap between science and the arts. Our world as drummers is fascinating and relatively unexplored by science. I want to encourage this and hopefully offer my books and theory as source material to enhance that exploration.

To this end, I’m going to be collaborating with Dr. Gareth Dylan Smith, a drummer and head of the Percussion Studies division at  London’s Institute of Contemporary Music Performance. We are going to specifically work to promote the drum set as an instrument of academic study across many platforms. Gareth is also the author of I Drum, Therefore I Am (Ashgate Press), and I wrote a short blog piece about him here two years ago.

I can’t really describe what it’s like to see a dream that took so long all the way through other than to say this: it’s worth every minute, every struggle, every sacrifice, and every step you take to finish what you start. When you do, you learn to live and keep living. It’s huge, and it’s fuel for much more to come…

[originally posted as “Rhythm Production and Perception Workshop, and The Elements of Rhythm Vols. I & II” David Aldridge’s Drumming Blog, davidaldridge.wordpress.com  10-10-13]