Composing an Accompaniment (Activity for Teachers)

Finally, you can really compose. Given a new tune, we’ll call this one “Jeanne,” you can use the Drummer Playroom to make your own drum accompaniment. Here is an example of how you might go about it.

1. Listen to the tune and just clap each level of the 3-level beat hierarchy. Or if there are three or more people working together, there can be a clapper for each level.

2. Listen again and focus on following the beat grid in Figure 8. The top voice shows the rhythm of the tune. What are the proportional relations among the 3 levels—i.e. grouper, basic and divider beats?

                                              Figure 8

Screen Shot 2016-03-17 at 3.03.30 PM

Surprise: There is a 3:1 relationship between grouper beat and basic beat. Notice that three basic beats go by for every grouper beat. Or putting it another way, the basic beat is 3-times faster than the grouper beat. And still another way, it takes 3 basic beats to make one grouper beat. All of which are ways to describe a 3:1 proportional relationship. Listen once more and try to tap the grouper beat with one hand while tapping the basic beat with the other. Can you feel the 3:1 relationship? Did you also discover that between the basic beat and divider there is just a 2:1 proportion?  So just two divider beats go by for each basic beat.

So some experimenting to find a value for the basic beat. It turns out that a basic beat with a value of 6 fits the tune as it has been programmed. The children called the basic beat a “6er.” So, given the proportions you already found, and given this basic beat of 6, the values for the grouper beat and the divider beat will be:

Grouper-to-basic: 3:1   18:6

Basic to divider:  2:1      6:3

Listen to the tune accompanied by its metric hierarchy as shown in Figure 9.

Figure 9

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What about the proportional relationship between grouper beat and divider beat? You can see and hear that 6 divider beats go by for each grouper beat. So here is the whole metric hierarchy:

Grouper to basic:  18:6 or 3:1

Basic to divider   6:3 or 2:1

Grouper to divider   18:3 or 6:1

And 6 x 3 = 18

[6 dividers x 3 basics = 18]

Now, using the beat grid as framework, you can make a more interesting percussion accompaniment by using varied durations instead of just invariant steady beats. Listen to an example:

                                             Figure 10


To explore this accompaniment, open the Drummer playground, select “Jeanne” in the menu catalog, and copy the Drumblocks into your computer just as they are in  Figure 10.

Meanwhile, we can ask, how do the drumblocks in the accompaniment work? Drumblock 18 in Voice 2 is obvious—it’s the grouper beat (see Figure 9) so of course is fits (lines up) with the rhythm of the tune. What about the pattern of durations in Voice 3 (3 12 6)?  Looking at the graphics and listening, notice that this pattern, 3 12 6  = 21. Voice 3 sort of wanders around the 18 grouper beat;  why is that?

In contrast, look at the pattern in Voice 4—3 1 1 1 6 = 12. That total time is 12. With the grouper beat of 18, every three repeats of the 12 pattern will meet up with every two grouper beats. Why? Think about it:

12 x 3 = 36; 18 x 2 = 36.

Listen to the pattern in Voice 4 together with the grouper beat:

Where else do they meet and why?

                                    Figure 11

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Those are hard questions; they make you think about the meaning of the graphics, the meaning of the numbers, and how they go together. That might encourage you to think about what you take for granted when reading more familiar representations. With all that as an example, try making your own accompaniment to Jeanne. To help, you can open up the tune to look at how the durations of the rhythm have been programmed. Select the magnifying glass in the menu bar to open up the editor. (Click here for a short tutorial on editing and creating new rhythm blocks)


Think about proportions, common multiples, and simply adding up the total times of your rhythm patterns.


Listen to a more familiar tune. Here’s a picture of the rhythm of the tune and the metric hierarchy:

Figure 12


And at last, here is “Swing” with a bit more jazzy accompaniment:

Figure 13