Quintuplets and alternate picking (and 3/4 time)

Possibly a long shot, but curious if anybody else has dug into these much, or anything related. I think the first challenge is just properly feeling a quintuplet subdivision, then there’s the strange physical sensation of getting your body/picking hand to produce them in time and still feeling them as legit groups of 5, as opposed to say, 5 groups of 2. I think the latter is much, much easier.

I don’t have any specific question, just open to anybody’s comments about things like:

  • alternate picking riffs/melodies based off of quintuplets, either as part of a song or just as an exercise
  • examples from riffs, solos, melodies
  • composing with the concept
  • using them to ‘spot check’ dbx
  • anything else related

Over the years I’ve become a little obsessed with I guess what I call “fippers”: melodies or riffs that have an odd number of notes so when repeated (with pure alternate picking) have the reversed down/up strokes. They’re fun to come up with and provide a bit of a ‘spot check’ when I’m working on double escape things to make sure I’m not favoring one type of escape.

So of course any 5 note pattern alternate picked and repeated will achieve that criteria, but it’s not very interesting to repeat 5 notes over and over, and you can’t fit that many different types of string changes within 5 notes. So lately I’ve been enjoying trying to come up with different little riffs in 3/4 using quintuplets, so you get the 5x3, then on the repeat you’ll have to do the same 15 notes with the picking reversed.

I know by now this is pretty niche, but if anybody is interested, some sketches I’ve been saving and practicing a bit:

and of course, someone can take the same notes and accents and just add/remove some notes at the end or beginning to make it fit into 4/4 or another more standard meter

eg this 15 note pattern

if played twice with two beats added to the end is just two measures of 4/4, but still has all the same picking challenges

Meh…just sharing and throwing it out there. At minimum maybe somebody else will enjoy goofing off with these for a different kind of challenge.


I think the one example that comes to mind is the long line from Erotomania? I think it’s groupings of five. If so, at least a few people on the forum have done it or are working on it.

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Very intersting topic imo. Thanks for sharing these ideas.

This is a spotify list from Shawn Crowder. All songs in quintuplets.

I spent some time to get the sound / feel of quintuplets into my head, But it´s incredibly hard. I think, reason for this is the number of quintuplet sixteenths permutations exceeds the number of pure sixteenths permutations by far… i think 15 against 50something. and some sound really similar, so one could easily fall back into pure sixteenth feel.

Ah yes - not familiar, but I have seen that mentioned. Will check out!

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Ooooh yeah, great call re that playlist. I watched that vid and saved that link and had forgotten about it until now. Listened a bit while doing dishes today.

Re number of permutations, it’s way, way, way easier if you start with the idea that it’s either 3+2 or 2+3.
Then you have one part that has 4 permutations (in the binary sense of ‘play on this part of the beat’ or ‘do not play on this part of the beat’_ and another part of the quin that has 8 permutations.

Add to that, the whole idea with quintuplet swing is that it’s just a downbeat that lasts ‘3’ and an upbeat that lasts ‘2’. It can even just be a part of 4/4 but a different type of feel or expression of down/up

I’ve found with weird rhythms to get into my head if there’s some song or riff that is really easy to hear or already lodged in my brain that has at least something a little bit like the rhythm I’m working on, then there’s something for me to work with. I’ve found "ta ka ta ki da’ the easiest latch point for quintuplets personally

I’ve been working on John McLauglin’s DVD on Konnakol - the Indian method for rhythm. There is also a very comprehensive set of lesson on youtube that will be my next step.


They use vocal syllable with the emphasis on the capitalised syllable. Da, Ta ka, Ta ki ta, Ta ka di mi, Ta ka Ju no, and Da di gi na dum (which is your 5). They have a six and a seven that I haven’t worked on. these can be used in 4/4 or 3/4 or 3/2 , 3/3, etc…basic mathematical subdivision or to create additive rhythms 4 + 3 for a 7/4 would be Ta ka di mi + Ta ki ta…etc.

There is a method for counting with the hands while speaking syllables. I’m finding this is gradually getting over the feel of these rhythms and I’ve started translating them onto guitar. I have no formal training and this is really stretching me in frustrating (and therefore beneficial) ways.

I look forward to trying out your riffs as they will fit perfectly with my current routine learning the 5’s in konnakol.

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Awesome, yes I utilize konnakol a lot though admittedly don’t have much education in the subject. But some rhythms are just way too difficult to count in any other way.

As an offshoot for combining konnakol with western counting, i’ve often looked for ways to mix counting the # of main pulses with some konnakol syllables.

For example, all this stuff I’ve been doing lately has been 5s in groups of 3. I can say Da di gi na dum 3x each measure but an issue I run into is very quickly losing whether I’m on beat 2 vs beat 3, because it’s so much more natural to hear it as 4

So I’ve goofed with different things, like

1 ah di and uh 2 ah di and uh 3 ah di and uh

but lately i’ve been finding this easiest:

1 ta ka di mi 2 ta ka di mi 3 ta ka di mi

That’s a cool idea, especially if counting out while playing.

Have you tried the counting with the hands or fingers? There are two methods - the one John teaches with the clapping which is Carnatic (which can be used to count to 3 or 4 (or more I suppose if you want) and the Hidustani method where you touch each of your finger joints with your thumb (for a count up to 16). I’m finding this is working really well for keeping track of where I am as it becomes more engrained and automated. Still a challenge but getting there. The body is then keeping the count. My sitar teacher had me do this stuff while walking. I’m a beginner at all this but my impression is that keeping track of where you re in the measure eventually becomes automated.

Honestly I find odd groupings easier to play and feel using economy picking and or with a creative fingering or with a slide possibly. Probably not what you were looking for.

Oh for sure: much easier that way. Alternate picking is a binary.
If I’m actually playing ‘lead’ taking a solo, my phrasing usually has a lot of slurs and I am more economy-picking based anyway. But I do like how ‘tight’ things can sound and feel with the alternate picking.

Yeah, but I think making certain adjustments can facilitate a similar level of tightness using economy picking as well.

I’ve kind of come to the realization in the last 5 years that being able to play something is much more important than how your playing it. I very rarely try to go against the grain unless I truly see some long term benefits in doing so.

Playing odd groupings using strict alternate picking is pretty difficult especially because of those alternating accents. You constantly have to think too hard about where those accents are, which makes the timing and sound hard to nail. It’s one thing if you just want a brain and hand teaser for practicing, but in an environment where I was expected to perform them, I would just choose the method I know I would be able to consistently pull off.

Agree completely - for performance, not only would I look for an easier way to play these figures, I would also choose easier figures to play ::womp womp::

This is 100% laboratory stuff, in part experimentation to address some hyper-specific things I was working on both in my technique and in my rhythms, and in part just a ‘let’s see what happens’ kind of deal. Most of my personal practice or exploration these days isn’t very goal oriented; I typically just enjoy futzing around with a combination of concepts, and sometimes at the end of it i get a compositional idea or an indirect improvement of certain skills, and if not then I’ve at least enjoyed myself.

All that being said, I have found some contexts/figures for odd time things where I do think the alternate picking sounds better, but it’s sort of a moot point because those were figures I things I composed with that specific intention.

This was some odd time acoustic arpeggio stuff with 6s and 7s:

Interesting! I haven’t done much with that but you’re right obviously doing it while playing doesn’t really work. I have heard of some sneaky foot tapping strategies but haven’t looked into them in depth.

I can see a lot of those things becoming natural/ingrained but I guess I like the idea of a system that can be ‘plug and play’ with something that is new and very unnatural sounding. Or I guess another aspect of it is um ‘tangibility:’ having some way of counting through like odd tuplets in odd meters, while playing, and having a clear way of knowing whether I got off the beat or not

i went through all the possible quintuplet permutations and counted 31 of them (not 50 something). 32 if you would consider a quarter note rest a legit quintuplet permutation.
Interestingly i read in the book “Applying Karnatic Rhythmical Techniques to western music” in carnatic music they rather think of cells instead of permutation; and they only have 15 of them.
how can that be?
A cell (5 sixteenth notes quintuplets) can be divided in different groupings
obviously in one 5 note group
4notes divided into:
2+1+1+1; 1+2+1+1; 1+1+2+1; 1+1+1+2
3 notes divided :
3+1+1; 1+3+1; 1+1+3; 2+2+1; 2+1+2; 1+2+2
2 notes:
4+1; 1+4; 3+2; 2+3
And to make it more complex; you can also apply rests to these groupings and modify these cells in a way so that you are able to create the before mentioned 31 permutations out of these 15 cells.
To me this makes sense but it´s absolutely not helping with playing / feeling quintuplets.
What i liked to do was to clap quarter notes and for example count groupings of 3 (ta-ki-tha) in quintuplets so that the accent constantly shifts through the bar. of course you can to this with 4 (ta-ka-di-mi), 6 (ta-ke-ta-ka-di-mi), 7 (ta-ki-tha-ta-ka-di-mi)

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you might find flamenco tremolo interesting its in 5s.