In Umphrey’s McGee, we really like to turn
rhythm on its head and are constantly in
search of cool ways to change up a boring stock
riff. In this lesson, I want to look at a fun little
idea that makes a small group of musicians
sound big and bossy. The idea is to play three
different time signatures against each other
and eventually have the parts unite as one
larger phrase. The riffs presented below are an
example of using this concept to create something
The first part—played on the guitar—is
shown in Fig. 1
. This riff was the original
idea. The time signature is in 5/4, but the
phrase should really feel like common time or
4/4 meter when you play it. This creates the
gamelan feel. We are taking simple math and
making more interesting parts over a common-time
pulse. This part comes off sounding very
much like Rush and King Crimson, and performing
this particular guitar part can be tricky.
Download Figure 1 audio (guitar part)...
The goal is to make this part sound very
consistent, even though you’re playing a
slightly unusual pattern. To do this, use strict
alternate picking—even when skipping to a
non-adjacent string. As with many tough riffs,
start by practicing this figure very slowly. Slight
palm-muting will help make the arpeggio have
more clarity—think Robert Fripp on the older
The bass section shown in Fig. 2
off more like a melody line. It’s written in 6/4
and should be equal to the guitar part in the
mix because the bass is played in the higher
register. To throw out another super-cool
prog reference, this part makes me think of
the hemiola patterns that Yes bassist Chris
Squire would play. His way of phrasing over
the barline was amazing.
Download Figure 2 Audio (bass part)...
When I was thinking up this bass
line, I wanted it to fall over the guitar in
a cyclical fashion. I played my classic old
Rickenbacker 4003 and used a pick to
accentuate the notes like a lead guitar line.
When you play the bass part, approach it
just like the guitar part: You want to feel it
in 4/4 or common time—don’t waste energy
always trying to count the written 6/4.
Finally, the drum section in Fig. 3
meant to be as obvious as possible. It almost
comes off as an old-fashioned Charlie Wattstype
groove. It has that sound of a million
drum patterns you’ve heard before. In this
lesson’s audio example, the recording is very
ambient and compressed, which gives the
groove that instant ’70s vibe and flavor.
Basically you could play any riff over this
groove, but we are trying to make it tricky
with simple math. That’s the game.
Download Figure 3 Audio (drum part)...
The word gamelan, to me, means layering
ideas that typically would not mesh,
but having them connect because they are
mathematically correct. I tracked the audio
example at my home studio in Michigan,
and it should give you a good idea of the
rhythmic vibe our band is going for when
we’re performing these parts.
To download my actual tracks, visit the
online version of this lesson. I’ve included the
final composite track, plus isolated tracks for
drums, bass, and guitar. Put these tracks into
your own recorder and use them to practice
over. Set up a loop of the whole form, and then
try creating your own melody or soloing over
the interlocking parts. This is an easy and cool
way to make something sound complex and
still be in the pocket.
Click here to download the full track.
Since joining Umphrey's McGee in 2000, guitarist
Jake Cinninger has become one of the most
respected guitarists on the jam-band scene.
Through relentless touring and willingness to
push the musical envelope, Cinninger along with
his Umphrey's bandmates have become one of
the most popular bands on the festival circuit.
For more information, visit umphreys.com