Odd Meter Soloing: Getting started with 5/4 – Jazz Blues in F

Odd Meter guitar solos can be very difficult to get into if you are not used to them. In this lesson I am going to go over how to hear or feel a 5/4 groove, play it through a blues and then expand this into a way of building a vocabulary that you can use for playing a solo in 5/4.

What we often forget is that we already have years of experience playing in 4/4 and that we rely on this whenever we play. It isn’t until we have to deal with a another meter that we start to notice how much we really use our basic feel of 4/4. So to learn to solo in 5/4 it is useful to first check out how to play a groove and understand how the meter sounds.

The 5/4 Meter and building a groove

The most common way of playing in 5/4 is to split the bar in 3 and 2, so the basic heavy beats of the bar are on beat 1 and beat 4 as shown in the example below.

The basic flow of the 5/4 groove is the pattern shown in the 2nd bar of the example.

It can be a good idea to just get familiar with these two patterns, playing them with a metronome and maybe counting along as I do in the video.

The next step is to start to turn these accents into a groove. 
A very basic 5/4 groove is shown in the 3rd bar here above and this is extended a bit to a solid F7 groove in the last bar.

Sub-division is King!

Feeling subdivision is at the root of all solid time feel and is the essential component to having good time. This is also true for an odd meter like 5/4. When I play in 5/4 I also rely on feeling the 8th note sub-division.

A great exercise to work with the subdivision is to play the 8th notes with a muted note and then accent the 5/4 Clave. This is shown below.  

The 5/4 Jazz Blues Groove

To get used to playing the groove it is a good idea to take the groove and play through a few songs. Any exercise is only really going to get in your system if you can apply it to a song, so this is a very important thing to always include in learning a new skill.

In the example below I have taken the groove through a 12 bar blues in F.

I don’t think I need to explain a lot about how it works, it is pretty straight forward. Maybe notice that if the bass note is on the 5th string I mostly alternate the bass on beats 1 and 4, but when the root is on the 6th string I just repeat that note.

Taking the groove to 5/4 solos on the blues

Once it becomes comfortable to play the groove through the form (and maybe a few other tunes as well?) then you can start working on soloing on the odd meter. The best way to do this is to build it up starting with the groove.

Since you can already play the groove you can probably feel the “clave” or accent-pattern associated with 5/4. So that the best way to start is probably with that pattern. 

First try to stick with the pattern and make your way through the blues form using simple melodies like the basic arpeggios. Gradually start to free up what you are doing melodically to incorporate other notes and connect the melody across bar lines.

With the first rhythm this might seem tedious and not really feel free or give you interesting lines, but keep in mind that the point is to have a strong foundation to build from.

Once you have taken this pattern through the form you can try the same with some of the other patterns I mention here below. You will probably find that you have a much easier time doing the next rhythms when you have worked thoroughly on the first one. That was at least my experience.

While playing the patterns you can also immediately start to try to vary them. The trick is to vary them but still use the basic version to keep track of where you are.

Making an Odd Meter less Odd.

A really good exercise if you can already play through a 5/4 in a basic way is to start to leave out parts and be more open in you phrasing. In that way you are really testing how well you have internalized this odd meter. 

I hope you can use the ideas in this lesson to get started working with odd meters and especially 5/4 time.

Good luck with it!

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Getting started with 5-4 – Blues in F

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