Rhythmic Modulations in Herbie Hancock's Chameleon

Chameleon is a well known jazz-funk composition by Herbie Hancock.
In the original studio version, around 12 minutes into the track, there is a less known part with interesting rhythmic modulations. Let's have a look at how it works!

Example 1

Before we get to the rhythmic modulations, let's have a short look at Harvey Mason's basic groove pattern, which is well known already.

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This is a cool pattern, and its main characteristic is the anticipated backbeat on the snare drum, right before the second beat.

  • My Time Manipulation Drum Book provides a whole section on anticipations, that will make the picture much more complete if you study it. See pages 49–62 of the book.

Example 2

This example is the transcription of the structure of a less known part of the tune that I call the interlude and which has interesting time signature changes that can be called rhythmic modulations.

  • Section G starts at 11:48 into the track, and it is in 4/4. It ends with a measure of 7/8 that makes the transition to the 6/8 measures in the next section.
  • Section H is in 6/8 for four measures and goes back to 4/4 for one measure.
  • Section I starts with three measures of 4/4, one measure of 7/8 and then seven measures of 6/8 and back to 4/4 in the last measure. It repeats three time and ends with the third ending.
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Video 1
  • Play the video below and follow the chart above
  • Look at the video below to see the structure that I outlined in the Transcribe! application.
  • Section markers are blue.
  • Measure markers are green.
  • Beat markers are thin and black.
  • Listen to the click provided by the markers.
  • See the time signature changes in the grey area above.
  • NB the video starts four measures before section G

Example 3

Here is a basic groove pattern in 6/8. This time signature is made of two beats.

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Example 4

To understand the general feel of what's being played in the 6/8 section, it is interesting to work on 2:3 polyrhythmic patterns such as this one:

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  • My Time Manipulation Drum Book provides many similar patterns in 12/8, including displacements of these rhythms. They will make the picture much more complete if you study them. See pages 100–107 of the book.

Example 5

We can have an interesting look at the 6/8 passages, if we count them in three beats instead of two.

Here is a basic 3/4 groove pattern:

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Example 6

What is interesting in this case is to feel a 3-count pulse, but to imply patterns in 6/8 - and therefore in two beats - within the 3-count.

  • Try to play the patterns counting aloud.
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Examples 7 & 8

Example 7:

  • There are 4 dotted eighth notes in the space of 3 beats (quarter notes).
  • There are 2 dotted eighth notes in the space of 3 eighth notes.

Now let's play this 4:3 (or 2:3) polyrhythmic pattern, again counting aloud in three:

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Example 8 is the same pattern with an alternate writing, which may be more common to drummers.

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Video 2

This is the same structure as in the previous video, but with 3/4 clicks instead of 6/8.

Listen with attention and you will hear that 3/4 ideas are actually played, as well as 6/8.

It always makes sense to have more than a single point of view on the subject of time signatures.

  • My Time Manipulation Drum Book provides a whole section on rhythmic modulations, metric modulations and implied modulations. Do yourself a favor and look at pages 122–137 of the book!

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Herbie Hancock Head Hunters
Herbie Hancock : keyboards
Bennie Maupin : sax
Paul Jackson : bass
Harvey Mason : drums

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