Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The ‘Inner’ Inner Line

"Musical intensity will come from being able to play subdivisions with great specificity and control" - Peter Erskine
Peter Erskine

We were recording an album for a country artist. During a break, one of the rhythm guitar players came over to me and commented on my playing. He said he’d never heard anything like it before. I was just doing was my usual thing: finding a rhythm that fit. I thought I was doing a standard country groove -- right hand brush on the snare plus a cross-stick -- but I’d added a touch of double-time shuffle with the brush. It was a bit like a simplified version of John Bonham’s epochal pattern from Led Zeppelins’ “Fool in the Rain”.

Rhythm is made up of strong notes -- the outer line, and the weaker notes --the inner line. In an 8th-note feel, the main beats form the pulse… the outer line. The 'in between' notes create the inner line, and it’s the inner line that determines the feel.


We can vary the inner line to create different effects. It’s easy to add this concept to any sticking pattern by emphasizing one hand. For example, paradiddles can be played R l R R   l R l l  to good effect. Or the reverse: r L r r  L r L L … two distinct rhythms from one sticking.

Now, how about the ‘inner’ inner line? If we go one step further, we can work with the notes within the inner line. In my case, I was suggesting a shuffle within a straight 8th-note rhythm. My basic pulse for that country rhythm was 4/4. Within that I was playing an 8th note ride pattern. Then, within the ride pattern I was alluding to a double-time shuffle, which would typically be based on 16th note triplets. Here we’re taking the inner line concept and applying it between the 8th notes. Led Zeppelins’ “Fool in the Rain” uses this same concept: 1-uh-&-uh / 2-uh-&-uh etc.

Here’s an interesting application. We think of funk as being very 8th note or 16th note oriented, but a lot of funk actually gets its groove from relaxing the 'inner inner line'. You may think you hear 16th notes on the snare leading into the down beats, but if you listen carefully you’ll notice that those aren’t 16th notes at all, but are based on a 16th-note triplet shuffle played within the 8th note structure of the rhythm. That’s why those beats are so relaxed and funky -- and a challenge to play properly.

From country to Led Zeppelin to funk, it’s all in the inner line … and the line within the inner line.