Gavin Harrison – Rhythmic horizons




Gavin Harrison - Rhythmic horizons Mini - DrumsCult


In his second DVD(*) Rhythmic horizons, Gavin Harrison discusses every aspect of rhythm manipulation and its possibilities. He also gives great lessons about how to develop good intrincate patterns based on overriding, polyrhythms, groupings, ostinatos and resoluting points.




Two songs: The sound of muzak and Halo, by Porcupine Tree. In my view, these are two of the most important contemporary songs for any drummer. They should be subjects of study and be considered key examples of what we can achieve as drummers by applying some advanced concepts.

The verses on Sound of muzak are in 7/8 and the chorus is in 4/4, but the listener will be driven throughout the song by a safe, constant pulse and an original but comfortable pattern. Transitions between chorus and verses will be nice and smooth.

Halo has an instrumental part after the second chorus which is in 17/8. On paper, it doesn’t appear to be the most comfortable rhythm to both drummer and listener. But Gavin Harrison draws a rhythmic design that makes every head in the audience dance to one pulse, and I mean you can dance to that part as if it was four-on-the-floor… with a 17/8!

So, two questions: ¿how do you get to that? And more important, ¿how could we, you and me, who are not Gavin Harrison, create something similar and make it sound that good?

These questions are just two examples of what you can get if you have certain knowledge of the parts that lie beneath every rhythm. Yes, there is a trick. But it’s not just “a trick”. In the best Neil Peart tradition, it’s the proof that study and planification can lead to musicality and beauty.

With this Rhythmic horizons DVD, Gavin Harrison goes beyond the concepts discussed in his last Rhythmic visions DVD. Following the wake of his second book Rhythmic perspectives, he expands his studies on rhythm structures and what is to be done with them. He presents new ideas but also discloses some mysteries regarding something most drummers fear: polyrhythms and odd and compound time signatures.

Gavin Harrison 1 - DrumsCult



Let’s play a rhythm in 7/8. The hi-hat will be playing a quarter note ostinato. In the first bar, our ostinato will be aligned with the pulse. In the second bar, it will go against the pulse. And on the third bar, it will align again, and so on. That’s how Harrison describes overriding. Technically we would be playing a 7/4 over a 7/8, but the main important thing is that we have an instrument (the hi-hat) that is giving us a constant pulse. Anyone can follow it, move his head and foot without losing it. It jumps over the bar lines, turning a measure of 7 to a nice and even pulse in our mind. This is the secret of The sound of muzak, a simple rhythmic manipulation… and an open door to a world full of possibilities.

Thus, Harrison gives us another pattern in 5/8 and 7/8 with different ostinatos, such as one stroke every 3 sixteenths, showing us the possibilities of different metrics. Then he teaches us how to resolve if needed to enter another musical part, counting the number of bars to end up in the right spot.

As a final example, he discusses a combination of two 5/8 and one 7/8 played against some ostinatos. If we take a closer look, there it is: the instrumental part of Halo, deconstructed for us to know how it is made, but more important, why, which is the rhythmic concept that lies beneath.



From the most basic polyrhythms (3 against 2 and 4 against 3) to the most complex, Harrison explains how to internalize them, counting them with the fingers without playing. We just need to pay attention and know when they resolve. He gives us some basic examples that seem to be complex, but they will make our lifes easier by understanding how they are made, how they are related and when they resolve. Groups of 5’s and 7’s in bars of 4 with groupings of 3/16, for example. I know it looks very difficult, but these exercises will make you internalize a lot easier, and we will learn some little tricks for counting without missing a note.

The most important thing here is to know where the resolution points are, when the count starts again. Then, it is much easier to make groupings of 5’s over 7’s while playing a paradiddle in triplets. Again, it sounds very complicated (and it must be in the first day), but if we pay attention to Gavin’s examples with no drums, we will learn that it’s just a question of time and concentration. To help us concentrate, Harrison gives us a trick for counting long series of bars and groupings without really counting them, just by looking at specific parts of our kit to help us to know in which number we are. One more opened secret for those who wonder how some drummers know where they are in long passages.

In the last chapter of Rhythmic horizons, he discusses different ways of resolving with groupings of 3, 5 and 7 notes, starting or ending on the downbit, in less obvious places, taking advantage from accents on the melody, playing certain subdivisions like triplets, 16th’s, 32nd notes… And then orchestrating everything with different voices available in our drumkit. As you can see, there are endless possibilities.

Gavin Harrison 2 - DrumsCult


Again, exquisite extras

As in his previous DVD, Harrison plays five songs, including Futile by Porcupine Tree and So what the classic song from Miles Davis. They’re beautifully played and we can appreciate some applications of the techniques we’ve just learned. His style is truly amazing, with an incredible creativity and attention to detail.

This is a double-sided DVD and it has been included a separate audio track for the lessons where we can listen to just the drums and the click. On the B-side there are some folders with notation in .pdf files, play-along audios in .mp3 for some of the exercices and a midi-file with the song 19 days. It has all the tracks included in order to study it. This is a complex piece and perhaps we would like to change tempo, isolate some instruments or repeat certain parts.

We also will find something really amazing: The cymbal song, wich is played with just cymbals in an inusual way, with hands, fingers, etc. that produce strange and curious sounds. Next, we have The drum song, which is the same sort of exercise but played on drums, or drum parts that are never played. Both themes are another example of Harrison’s amazing creativity. To close the circle, he combines the two songs and show us a strange mix of sounds and rhythms, and we can also see how they’re played. He really has an endless bag of tricks.

There is a little section where we find the two typical drum setups he often plays. They’re shown with all detail including his famous bell section, made from pieces of broken Zildjian cymbals.

He also plays a drum solo, but of course it is not a regular solo. It consists in combining two different takes: on one he plays some ostinatos in 5, 7, etc., and on the other he plays different patterns with sticks, hands, fingers on not just the drums but also on stands, rims, etc.

As another extra, we can enjoy the phenomenal song by Porcupine Tree Hate song played live, with and astonishing drum solo by Harrison. I think it is one of the best solos around in the recent years. By the way, don’t miss the ending credits. There is a final surprise about what you can do with a sink, a toaster and other furniture…

Again, Gavin Harrison has released a DVD with some serious material. It is adressed for those drummers who want to get inside the complexity of the rhythmic structures and to find which possibilities we have to manipulate them to be more musical and creative. As far as I know, this is unique material ready to go inside your tool box and it is explained very well. It is also amazing to watch, it’s played in a way that makes you want more.


(*) There is a special edition available that includes both Gavin Harrison’s DVD’s Rhythmic visions and Rhythmic horizons in one pack. It has more or less the same price of just one individual DVD. Since they complement each other, it’s really worthwile.

This post is also available in Versión en Español.

Carles Goodvalley (200 Posts)

My name is Carles and I am from Barcelona. I play drums since I was 14 but no continuosly or as a professional. For several years, I have been trying to acquire knowledge not only about "how to play" but in various aspects of the drumming world such as materials, techniques, styles, influences, characters and important records, drummers that have left their mark and all kinds of data regarding our instrument. I've played with differents bands and styles, mainly Pop/Rock and Progressive Metal.


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