Category: Composition

Mike Keneally Interview with SweetWater

Here’s an excellent 40+ minute  Mike Keneally interview.

He talks about his work, his upbringing, as well as his philosophy. 40+ minutes long.

Here’s an excerpt:

…especially nowadays where it becomes increasingly unlikely that anyone even at levels that appear to be successful. You’ll see bands that are touring all the time and are making records and people like the records and you’d think , “Oh, they must be doing ok,” and then you find out that they’re struggling, you know…. It’s just not easy.

There’s no shame in saying that I’m working 9-5 –  I’ve got this gig that subsidizes my life…. and then when I get home at night, I’ll get on the computer and work on music for a couple of hours, and maybe on the weekends, I’ll go out with my buddies and play in a bar or something.

Somebody will say that to me, “I’m not really a musician. I only play on weekends or anything. I’m only able to work on the computer once in a while and stuff, because I’ve got this gig.” …and I’d go, “That’s great! That’s really cool.” You’re not struggling, and you’re not panicked about the fact that music isn’t paying for your life. You have a thing that pays for your life, and then you’re able to do music for the best reasons to do music – because you love it.

They ain’t nothing wrong with someone that has a 9-5 gig and just does music when they can. The challenge of course is just making the time and having the energy, and that’s just something we all need to go through at any level – Just got to prioritize.

– Mike Keneally


As a very good friend of mine says, “Mike Keneally is a national treasure!

Best. Line. Ever.


ModernDrummer: Progressive Drumming Essentials

ModernDrummer: Progressive Drumming Essentials. The videos on the site go into the basics of odd time signature, polyrhythms and polyrhythmic grooves. The actual article in print form (from the magazine) shows everything in charts to make things easier to dissect and follow along if you’re interested, but the videos themselves are very, very cool in their own right.




Mike Portnoy’s Perspective on Odd Time Signatures and Groove

Just recently came across this Mike Portnoy interview on Drum Talk TV. Very cool interview where he talked about odd time signatures and groove.

From around the 10:33 mark:

I spend so much time playing odd time signatures and a lot of people ask me about that, and these are 2 schools of thought.

There are people who play odd time signatures that know exactly what playing in 15/8 is and playing in 19/16 is – There are people that technically know that stuff. Then there are people like in Soundgarden that play in 7 or 5 all the time but I would probably venture to guess they don’t even realize it, because they’re playing by the way it sounds, or the way it feels, and there’s something to be said for both. Now I”m at the point where I could feel pretty much any time signature. I don’t have to count it out. I can recognize it, just from the feel and the sound of it. But it’s also nice when you can count it and you do understand it. Because once you understand it, you can dig a little deeper and you can start breaking up the phrasings into different combinations and things like that – which is something I’ve always done. I think in the early days, the most important is to sound and feel right, you know, rather than it being a mathematical equation on a piece of paper.

I think when it comes to groove, first and foremost, to me, is it’s always about the kick and snare. Everything else is just icing on the cake and back in my old Dream Theater days, I used to think more about the icing on the cake, and I would spend a tremendous amount of time with the nuances. As time went on, as I grew older and as my tastes changed I realize those nuances are nice, but at the end of the day it’s about being the anchor and the groove and what is a kick and snare doing and a lot of times now, if I’m writing with the winery dogs, like the first album and as well as the new album that we’re currently making, we wrote both albums at Richie Kotzen’s house and he has a drum kit there that is literally kick, snare, ride and hi hat, and that’s it. No toms, no splashes, or chinas or anything. Kick, snare, ride, hi-hat and I’ve written now two Winery Dog albums, you know, writing the songs on a kit like that. Because at the end of the day, that’s what the groove is. Kick, snare, and then either the hi-hat or the ride. A good song, and a good groove and a good drum beat and a good performance is based around that. Everything else is icing on the cake. The icing is nice, but you’ve got to have a good cake first.



This is eye opening for me. I think as a non-drummer, it simplifies the writing process for me greatly. Knowing that I can set the foundation of what I’m looking for in my demos with just the kick and snares (even for odd time), I can ball park the feel of it with just those two in my programming, and let the real drummers do their thing when it’s time for the real thing. I can move on and concentrate on the parts for the other instruments. I’ve been doing that more so without knowing it, mainly because of my limited knowledge of drums, but it turns out that the strategy was valid!

Joe Satriani Commenting on His Approach on Writing Guitar Instrumental vs Non-Instrumentals

Just came across a new interview with Joe Satriani. There was something interesting I found around the 10:45 mark where he discussed his approach in writing instrumental music vs vocal-oriented music.–shockwave-supernova–518967893

Here’s the quote from the video, starting at around 10:45, transcribed for you here to digest:

In instrumental music, the solo section is often used as a ball of frenzy. You know what I mean?
Because you already played guitar – minute and a half, leading up to it, right?
Sometimes people want, just a ball of frenzy -“You’re a guitar player and I’m only listening to you because you do your thing” you know?
And of course I kind of rebel against that, immediately. Anytime sometime tries to put me in a space and say, “Please go do what we ask”
I’d go, “no i’m not going to do that”.
Right, just because, I”m not going to do that.
There are a lot of these spaces where I don’t feel that’s the right thing to do.
Perhaps it’s the attitude, the setup that, convey the real message.

Maybe when the solo comes, you kick back and you can show the other side
if I can get a little more song-writing-vibe about this, I’d say
You can use the solo section as a bridge
and that way you don’t have to put in a bridge.

If you got a vocal song you need a bridge to give you another side of the story
and it’s usually a softer sell
sometimes if the verses are dreamy
the bridge can be something that’s pretty outrageous

It could be 2 sentences. The break out part of the story.
The instrumental can be something different sometimes
because you can’t get away with 2 verses back to back
you have to go intro, verse, right to the chorus, and then somewhere else, because you don’t have words…  To give a different take on this story telling…

So then this leads me to this idea that maybe the solo should not be a ball of frenzy, that it should not be a self promotional thing where you say, again, that after 15 records, you can really play the guitar, and I’m going to show you right now.

Because that bothers me when I’m listening to a record, and I go, that guy is really trying to hammer me with that, you know.

So I would take certain songs –  I tell the guys in the studio, “The solo is going to soar. This melodic thing – you can play though through it.” Whereas another song or solo, they may go, “If you play a lot of notes here, pull it in tight, so you’ve got a really rigid canvas to put the ball of the insanity on top of it.” We have to think about that as we put together the record to make sure we produce every song right. I mean I’m looking at that too, but I’m thinking, “This record has needs to be the most melodic, and I want every solo has to have an invention in it, a motif.” Every couple of bars is a signature that you would say is a melodic signature, not just proof again that, “yes he did practice for all those hours”.


Odd Time Signatures and How I Got Started Getting into it – Written by a Non-Drummer (Part 3)

(…Continued from Part 2)

4/4 and 6/8 can be “odd” too

Nothing is preventing you from taking what may seem generic 4/4 (or 8/8), and make it sound interesting as well. A bar of 8/8 could be seen as 3+3+2 (triplet feel with a missing beat at the end).

A 6/8 bar could be seen as 4/8 + 2/8 (a 4 on the floor feel but with 2 eighth note beats missing).

A 9/8 could be seen as 4/4 + 1/8 ( a regular 4/4 feel but with an extra eight note) – rather than a 3/8 treated all with that triplet feel.

Making 7/8 not sound so much of the overdone 7/8.

If you recall from the intro of Part 1, where we discussed odd time signature being more common than most people think – here is a super interesting interview with Marco Minnemann on (video) that I recently came across, where he talked about 7/8 being the most common odd meter used, and how he deliberately tried not writing something in 7s but ended up being just that. (There’s an equally excellent interview with Bryan Beller (video) on the site too for those so inclined [, although not so much on our specific topic of odd meters].)


While I have not mentioned poly-rthythm in this blog post, I will end this blog post with this song by King Crimson, where you’ll find all assortments of creativity how the bars are phrased (and constantly changing). “Indiscipline” played by The Crimson ProjeKCT. (Self Promo Disclaimer: I have been very privileged to have both of these drummers, Pat Mastelotto and Tobias Ralph drum on my 2nd and 3rd solo record, respectively).


Odd Time Signatures and How I Got Started Getting into it – Written by a Non-Drummer (Part 2)

(… Continued from Part 1)

Understanding larger number time signatures

A lot of times, a song may have something in, let’s say 13/8. There are many ways the bar of 13/8 could be phrased, but one way could be a segment of 6/8 (which we’re all so familiar with), plus a bar of 7/8. Here’s a simple example you’ll find in “Jacob’s Ladder” (Live) by Rush at the 4:38 mark. It’s phrased as 6/8+7/8 (or think of it as 6/8+6/8 with an extra beat). The feel is really a 6/8 feel, but I have found that extra beat a really powerful tool to keep things interesting in the song. Sometimes that little kick is all you need. This example is a great one because each of the notes are different. Alex Lifeson’s notes on the guitar are just simply mapped one-to-one on each of the different 6 (or 7) beats, which makes this example easier to follow. Of course, you are free to add syncopated elements to your own productions and compositions.

Breaking down each full bar into different portions seems to be a shared perspective and approach. If you ask in person or watch many of the instructional drummer videos out there, like this one with Mike Portnoy. you would notice that being explained too.

In my own tune “Limping Milestone Celebration” at the 3:00 mark, the first 2 bars of 14 is just a break down into bars of 3+3+3+5. (Or you could think of it as having a 6/8 feel but with beats added/dropped in the final segment).

(In reality, there’s really no “separation”. If you think about it, this whole ‘odd time signature’ business is really as a means of transcribing or formally describe what’s going on with the song. Hell, you could even argue all all songs are in 1s (and set up your click track/ metronome in your digital audio recording workstation that way))!

Continue to Part 3

Odd Time Signatures and How I Got Started Getting into it – Written by a Non-Drummer (Part 1)

I once had someone asked me what progressive rock was, and one of the things in my response was that it’s a genre in which odd time signatures could quite often be found. He then proceeded to comment, “you mean like 3/4?”

The comment was something I found somewhat amusing, because the widely popular waltz, which has been around for centuries in Western Music, are in 3/4! Watch any Viennese Waltz genre/style of standard ballroom dance and you would see that they’re all 3-beats to the bar. Every musician knows that majority of popular music out there (at least in North America) is either in 4/4 or 6/8. Although one could argue that the feel could be slightly different between 3/4 and 6/8, aren’t the two mathematically related (ok… the same)? (Side note: interestingly enough, at the time of writing this, Wikipedia says the Waltz is a “Progressive Ballroom and folk dance”).

Odd time signature is actually not as rare in music you’re familiar with as one might think. Pink Floyd’s “Money” is in 7s. There are sections of Radiohead’s “Paranoid Android” (at the 3:16 mark) that are also in 7s. The jazz piece “Take Five” is, appropriately named – in 5s. While one may or may not say they’re progressive, we can probably all agree that they’re wildly widely popular. But as a song writer, you may ask: “how I break-free” or freeing your ear/mind into writing in that mode, for purposes of making a song interesting?

How does a working bass professional/legend approach it

I asked one of my favorite bassists Bryan Beller before a gig about a year and a half ago on his approach to writing material in odd time signatures – (BTW: Nicest person in the world who was happy to entertain a fanboy like myself). His response was that he does not consciously think of a specific time signature he would try to write in, but rather come up with a motif/riff first, then come back and figure out what time signature the part is in.

How I first started doing it

Rewind back several years ago, when I was first started messing with this whole song writing thing, I figured I would maybe give it a shot. I had a metronome on my computer and had it play something in 5 (with accent on the downbeat for me to lock in) for minutes until I felt comfortable. Then I started humming an idea/motif that would lock in with it. To me, I found singing to it, rather than playing to it at first, was a little earlier to grasp. On my way out for lunch, when I no longer had the metronome with me, I would tap the idea with my hands and sing (when no one was looking of course…!) – but now with emphasis on additional beats within the 5, to make sure I was really internalize it. I ended up with this little song for my first album. The main motif that you hear at the beginning of the song is in 5, and I think there are a couple of bars later on 14 in the middle at around the 3:00 mark.

The 5 was a lot easier to grasp than the 14, because the number of beats before it repeats is a much shorter. But there’s a catch with the bars of 14 though – or any odd meters that have more than 9 beats per bar.

(Continue to Part 2)