In many concert etudes, along with several rock songs, there is an accented pattern that often serves as a link to a new section of the music. It also works as a great fill. It usually comes from the drummer, but I have heard it on other instruments as well. It is a pattern with accents in similar intervals

>     > |     >   |   >     | >   >
1 e & a | 2 e & a | 3 e & a | 4 e & a

And then of course there is it's brother, which seems to be the same beat just cut in half

>     > |     >   | >     > |    >
1 e & a | 2 e & a | 3 e & a | 4 e & a

What is the name and purpose of this beat, and why is it so popular with composers?

  • I've always called it the Tori Amos rhythm. :) Apr 11, 2013 at 10:21
  • Because she uses it in every other song. Precious Things is the only one I can think of at the moment, though. Apr 11, 2013 at 18:01
  • Because "always" for some people only goes as far back as Tori Amos.
    – Kaz
    Apr 18, 2013 at 0:52
  • It makes me think of "Twelfth Street Rag" by Euday Bowman. Apr 21, 2013 at 21:37
  • I know a name for a 3x2 section in 2x3 music: hemiola. This seems to be the same thing, except it's 4x3 in 3x4 music. But I've never heard a name for it. Apr 22, 2013 at 6:38

3 Answers 3


You can call it a polyrhythm or polymeter beat with an artificial resolution. (lots of buzzwords there...)

What it is doing is actually increasing the tension by using a 3/8 accent pattern over a 4/8 beat, giving it a sped-up effect. So if you are playing a steady 4/4 beat, switching to this would create an expectation for the listener, and hinting that something is coming up after this. By using such rhythmic overlays, you can also enforce a certain flowing or hurrying feeling. Luser Droog gave a Tori Amos example and there are many many more (if only I can remember them). A similar drum intro from a Megadeth song again with strong continuation feel.

This, in my personal opinion, boils down to the drum sticking pattern that almost every drummer learns at some point. It can be found in THE book, Stick Control for The Snare Drummer by GL Stone.

enter image description here

If you apply this over the whole drumset, often right hand travels around the drumset while the left hand plays ghost notes on the snare. This hopefully answers why it's 3 over 4 type accenting pattern. Now you can also think of finishing the last four strokes by

RLRL (given)
RLLR (this is what I meant by the following paragraph, switching hands switches the accent)

If you just shift the very last accent to the right(to the last beat), that would give a different kind of expectation, but still hints that hey we are moving on to a speedy section. The last beat and the first beat of the next 4 bars give hints for repetition via two successive accents, so it's a safe way to flavor up the rhythmic pattern since there is no risk of leaking out of the 4/4 feel.

LR.. (makes it rather a drum fill)

You can also let the whole 3/8 pattern go over the bar line and resolve itself after 6 or 12 bars, and that would also create a different expectation (or complication). This is often used to reset the listener's RAM (as we call it internally), because often the audience enjoys a short period of contrasting rhythms by the bass player and the drummer, but get a little confused as to what to follow. If you can land on the theme again perfectly, the resolution is more powerful after so many bars of contrast.

...... over the bar line case.....
RLLR LLRL LRLL RLLR || LLRL LRLL <insert your favorite eight beat group here> 

A common variant of this (for drummers) is to switch to a double-time shuffle with a minimum swing (every three note grouping is played with a slight triplet feel with the shuffle pattern) while still playing in 4/4.

Why the last part is 4/8 ? It depends on how you want to tie the last bit to the coming bar. You can keep going in an 6/8 song (this pattern is implicit in Waltz) you don't need to do anything. But if you are in a mainstream 4/4 situation, you have to place 12 or 15 beats in a 16 beat slot. It's up to you how you arrange them.

I tend to classify such patterns with the feel they give to the listener rather than the structure they have. Excuse my last example ;)

Amerie - 1 Thing

The producer probably used the same idea to connect the verses. Probably they came up with the chorus first and then made a song out of it (personal opinion).

  • Can you clarify what you mean by double-time shuffle and minimum swing? Even just adding a link to a Wikipedia article/other definition.
    – Hannele
    Apr 11, 2013 at 13:37
  • @Hannele Now you ask, my mind is now completely silent for a drum example for this. There should be a clean Dave Weckl trick in a song but I can't remember it. I can only think of a distant example from Dream Theater's Lines in the Sand around 8:46-9:00. But luckily internet is a big place and after a simple search I've found a guitar player who is doing the same thing; here is the video youtube.com/watch?v=50-5U72A-ng which is also pretty nice. I'm sure you'll say ah of course that's pretty basic stuff once you hear it but any particular song with that eludes me.
    – user1306
    Apr 11, 2013 at 14:08
  • I'm asking more for a definition, a clarification of what you mean by that. I can see a wikipedia article for half time shuffle, as well as for double time - is one of those close to what you mean?
    – Hannele
    Apr 11, 2013 at 14:28
  • 1
    @Hannele Oh sorry, I misunderstood. Indeed it's a combination of them but don't trust too much on these definitions. They are not called the same by everybody. So take the double time definition example and group them in threes, and introduce some swing (triplet feel without really making them triplet) to make the more groovy as opposed to even and mechanical. Note that you have to shift the snares into the 3-note groups to make them shuffle. You would get a fast shuffle inside a 4/4 beat. Does that make it a little clearer?
    – user1306
    Apr 11, 2013 at 15:09
  • Sure - would you be able to update your answer to include that information? Especially since the definition is not always the same.
    – Hannele
    Apr 11, 2013 at 16:14

It is sometimes referred to as a dotted rhythm because the first four notes are all dotted eighth notes. I think it is popular because it's a very easy way to disrupt the normal pulse. Basically, what you are doing is overlaying a pulse that is different from the regular pulse. It works very well as a fill between sections for this same reason. If it were anything more than a transient rhythm, it would be too disruptive.

That being said, I wrote a tune for one of my bands that used this rhythm to actually make tempo changes in the middle of the tune. Since the rhythm is steady, you can use it to establish the new tempo. It's quite dramatic, though sometimes a bit hard to pull off.

  • I've also found the rhythm to be useful in some melodies, especially in background parts.
    – Kevin
    Apr 12, 2013 at 6:43

What you're describing is very close to the Afro-Cuban Clave pattern. It's a very popular motif which has found its way into many modern styles.

The second example you give even has a name in Latin music: Tresillo, meaning triplet.

Source: Wikipedia

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