Playing A 3/4 Groove In 5/4

A 'polymetered' drum parts where a 3/4 waltz style pattern is played underneath music in 5/4. Includes a free backing track.

In this lesson you will continue exploring polymeters which we first presented in our lesson on Playing a 3/4 Waltz In 4/4. I strongly recomend you work through the linked lesson before starting the content on this page. A similar more straight forward idea can also be found in our level 2 lesson on playing 4/4 grooves in 3/4.

As discussed in the lesson linked above, polymeter is when two time signatures are used at the same time. In this case I am going to use a piece of music in the time signature of 5/4 and you will be creating a drum part that falls (mostly) into 3/4. You can download a free MP3 of this backing track by By Clicking Here. The track starts with a four bar count in and is built of a four bar pattern played four times with a click playing constantly. There is a nasty alieny sounding noise at the start of each block of four bars to highlight the start of the phrase.

The drum part you are going to play is this very simple level 1 3/4 Waltz Groove, the complication is that you are going to keep the 3/4 feel under this piece of music in 5/4. That means you will be placing natural accents every 3rd beat whilst the piece accents every fifth, sounds pretty nasty right! Doing this requires a certain ammount of 'switching off' to the rest of the piece and just making sure you are in time with the click.

On this page I will be showing examples of four, eight, and 16 bar version of this pattern. In each of these versions you need to be aware that your 3/4 part won't end in line with the 5/4 part, in each case there will be a number of beats 'left over'. With these left over beats you can either add a fill or some other small variation to note the end of your phrase. The amount will vary in each case.

Four Bar Pattern

I'll start by showing you a four bar version that is quite easy to fit. It goes like this:

A four bar polymetered phrase

Let's discuss a few points about the notation to start with. First of all, the lines over the top are phrase markings to highlight where your bars of 3/4 fall. Each line marks one bar of 3/4 with the last line showing the left over beats. I have also beamed the eighth notes so that each block is a bar of 3/4, the result of which is that some eighth notes are beamed over the 5/4 bar line.

The first thing to note is that the 3/4 pattern naturally ends at the very end of the third bar of 5/4, meaning that last bar of 5/4 could be played anyway you want. A very common thing to do is play the polymeter to this point then play a full bar fill in the fourth bar, which I will show an example of later in the page. In this case I have tried to fit as many bars of 3/4 in as possible, which is six leaving two beats left over. In this example those last beats are played as straight semi quavers moved around in a simple pattern.

When it comes to fitting this with the backing track it is important to remember that you aren't playing in the same timing. Your insticts will tell you to emphasize the start of each bar of 5/4, which is when the chords change on the track, but you should ignore this as much as you can and put a bit more emphasis on those hi hat and kick notes at the start of each marked phrase.

The example provided here is purely to show you how the timing of the polymeter will work. Within those phrases you can vary the groove as you normally would with any 3/4 pattern. Experiment with different groove construction ideas covered in previous lessons and improvise the part as much as possible. Below is another four bar example but this time I have used a slightly more complicated 3/4 groove that has a quarter note right hand and the whole of the final bar is made up of a fill.

A four bar polymetered phrase

Eight Bar Pattern

For these examples you are going to keep the 3/4 groove going for twice as long. That will give you thirteen occurances of your 3/4 groove with one beat left at the end to play as fill. I have given an example of this below, you will be able to play this twice with the backing track. It is also worth noting that at several points during the eight bars the 3/4 pattern will line up with the start of a bar of 5/4, don't let this throw you off.

A four bar polymetered phrase

In these extended type patterns it gets even harder to keep track of where you are within the phrase. It really helps to be familiar with the music you are playing a long to and know exactly where the start of each phrase and each bar are. You will notice that the bar of 3/4 lines up with the start of each bar of 5/4 at a different point within the groove each time, this can be used to help you keep track of where you are also.

Learn the part given above then have a go at switching around the grooves and fills. Remember that you could cut off a section of 3/4 and start playing a fill earlier, there will be a point where it will feel like you should start playing a fill naturally, go with wherever that is for you.

Sixteen Bar Pattern

Finally, let's try doubling up again and keeping the 3/4 going over sixteen bars. The full pattern I have given will fit the entire backing track provided. As discussed above, the best thing to do when it comes to playing to the backing is just switch off to the 5/4 timing completely and keep your 3/4 pattern going. It will be easier to 'feel' the part than count when it comes to the fill placement, but follow the notation until you are comfortable with where this falls.

A four bar polymetered phrase


  1. Learn all exercises and fit them to the backing track.
  2. Experiment with different 3/4 grooves in each.
  3. Experiment with different lengths of phrase, maybe combine two or more different lengths to build up a full part for the backing.