How to Write a Technical Drum Beat • Music Theory from TesseracT "Natural Disaster" 


How to Write a
Technical Drum Beat.



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includes multitrack MIDI file


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If you’ve been in the Hack Music Theory family for a while, you’ll know we love technical drum beats! And there probably ain’t nothin’ more tech’ than polymeters*. While polymeters were relatively popular with those bold “modern classical” composers of the early 20th century, they haven’t been used much since then.


And yes, over the last few decades there have been a few rare examples of polymeters in popular music. But, it wasn’t until a group of hairy Swedes with exceptional talent (otherwise known as Meshuggah) came along and re-popularised the polymeter. What made Meshuggah’s polymeters unique, though, is their genius idea of having their drummer’s hands (snare & cymbals) play in 4|4 as the one time signature, while his feet (kick) play in an odd time signature, like 17|16. The genius of the Meshuggah method is that listeners can nod (or mosh) along to the 4|4 time signature, while the odd time signature slithers around unpredictably. The brilliance of this can’t be overstated. They created a way to play in odd time while the audience dances in 4|4.


To get an idea of how weird odd time signatures sound without this method, listen to “March of the Pigs” by Nine Inch Nails. They alternate three bars of 7|8 with one bar of 4|4. And while we love this song, you have to have a relatively high level of music theory knowledge just to be able to dance along to it. That’s obviously not ideal for the average listener. Also, 7|8 isn’t even that weird. Meshuggah uses far weirder time signatures! But, because they’re playing them against 4|4, you can dance along.


Meshuggah’s method has become a favourite for prog/tech bands over the last couple decades, and TesseracT are one of them. Their new album “War of Being” kicks off with a great polymeter (in the track “Natural Disaster”) which finds them adding a few creative twists to Meshuggah’s method. So, inspired by “Natural Disaster”, here’s our 6-step method for making technical polymetric drum beats. But first… Tea!


*If you’re new to polymeters, it’s the term for playing in two (or more) time signatures simultaneously.




Step 1. The Even


When it comes to the Meshuggah polymeter method, the one time signature is usually 4|4 played by the drummer’s hands (snare and cymbals), so that’s where we’re gonna start. And this is where TesseracT brings their first creative twist to the table. This type of polymeter almost always loops every eight (or sixteen) bars of 4|4. However, TesseracT loops their polymeter every four and a half bars!


So, set your DAW’s time signature to 4|4. Then, create a loop on your drums track of four bars and a bar of 2|4 at the end, making the polymeter’s loop a total of eighteen 1/4 notes. And for this step you can set your grid to 1/8 notes.


If you look up the tempo of this song online at one of the many BPM websites, they say the tempo is 165 BPM. But, the pulse of this song (measured in 1/4 notes) is clearly half that, so set your tempo to 82.5 BPM. It might not seem like that’ll make any difference, but at 165 BPM all the notes values will be twice as fast as their normal range. For example, a 1/4 note pulse, which is the range your heart beats in when it’s resting, will instead feel like you’ve just been for a really fast run!


Now, draw in 1/8 notes on your crash (or hi-hats, if you don’t want the section to sound heavy). Then, draw in a regular backbeat snare, which is on beats 2 and 4.


4|4 pattern consisting of 1/4 note pulse on crash and regular backbeat snare (highlighted)




Step 2. The Odd


Right, now it’s time to get this polymeter party started, so change your grid to 1/16 notes. TesseracT chose 17|16 for their odd time signature, so we’ll use it too. It’s a super fun time signature, because it’s only one 1/16 note longer than a bar of 4|4, so it feels like a slightly stretched out 4|4. Now, spend some time making a creative kick pattern in 17|16 (i.e. the pattern’s length is seventeen 1/16 notes). You can play two or three (or more) consecutive 1/16 notes, but be sure to leave some rests too, as that contrast will actually make your drums groove way more! Download the PDF to read the rest of this tutorial…


Kick pattern in 17|16




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Lastly, are you new to music theory? Or are you experienced, but you want a refresher? Then download our FREE BOOK (link opens in new tab). It only takes 30 minutes to read, then you’ll have a solid theory foundation that you can instantly apply to your songwriting and producing. Enjoy!






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Ray Harmony
Multi award-winning college lecturer