View Full Version : BackTrack Spotlight: "Tom Sawyer" by Rush

03-11-2015, 11:25 PM

Each week we showcase an existing song from our extensive Rocksmith song library on the weekly Twitch stream, in addition to the current week's offerings. We’ll announce the BackTrack here each Wednesday and offer some thoughts about the featured song.

This week's BackTrack Spotlight comes from notetracker Greg Barr.

Rush -- "Tom Sawyer"
Originally released as RS1 DLC on November 13, 2012
Notetracked by Greg Barr
All arrangements in E Standard Tuning


Since its release in 1981, Rush’s “Tom Sawyer" has become one of the band’s most popular songs. In 2009, VH1 named it the 19th greatest hard rock song of all time, and in 2010 it became one of five Rush songs inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame.

Much could be said about “Tom Sawyer, but one of the song’s most distinctive features is its occasional use of an unconventional time signature or meter. Most of Tom Sawyer is in 4/4 time, also known as common time, with four even beats per measure. However, at a few points during the song, the meter changes from 4/4 to 7/8, and becomes uneven.

4/4 is a divisive meter: each of its beats can be divided evenly in two. 7/8, on the other hand, can’t be divided evenly; it’s an additive meter, comprised of small unequal groupings of beats that are stitched together end-to-end. Each measure gives you seven short beats to work with, but they are grouped together in different ways.

Try reading the following groupings aloud slowly but at a constant pace, emphasizing each “1” you come across:

| 1 2 1 2 1 2 3 | 1 2 1 2 1 2 3 |
| 1 2 1 2 3 1 2 | 1 2 1 2 3 1 2 |
| 1 2 3 1 2 1 2 | 1 2 3 1 2 1 2 |

Notice that each measure has seven pulses, but in each case they’re grouped into three longer beats, each of which is a grouping of either two or three of the shorter beats. Each bar contains two shorter beats and one longer one, with the longer one happening in a different place in each line.

short – short – long
short – long – short
long – short – short

Now take a listen to the synth part right before the guitar solo. It may be difficult to tell because the melody seems to fit so smoothly, but the rhythmic pattern consists of two measures of 7/8. Unlike the above examples which have two consecutive measures of the same pattern, the synth line in Tom Sawyer combines the patterns from first and third example:

| 1 2 1 2 1 2 3 | 1 2 3 1 2 1 2 |

Try playing the bass or guitar part right before the solo slowly and counting along. You’ll find that the natural emphasis of the riff fits this pattern perfectly.

While songs like “Tom Sawyer” brought this kind of rhythm to mainstream audiences, Rush was by no means the first band to use it. Fellow progressive (or “prog”) rock pioneers Gentle Giant and King Crimson and early fusion groups like Mahavishnu Orchestra all worked with additive rhythms. Much of traditional Balkan folk music is based on additive rhythms, with modern acts like Farmers Market blending funk, jazz, and rock with a distinctly Slavic feel. These rhythms may seem jarring at first, but you’ll be amazed how smoothly they can flow when properly deployed.

Thoughts? Ready to start playing in 7/8 24/7? Let us know!!

03-11-2015, 11:47 PM

03-12-2015, 01:43 AM
Can't wait..

The only thing that's holding me back is Steam's DLC lock of the Rush Song Pack for RS2014 owners.

03-12-2015, 02:36 AM
Nice topic about this song!! Just the drums could have got all the attention!!!

Would have been nice to have a look at those 2 bars with the one before and the one following it in standard notation with the counting over/under it. To understand how going from 4/4 to 7/8 and back to 4/4 is done counting along.

03-12-2015, 03:08 AM
that break kills me on bass, my fingers don't want to do it lol

03-12-2015, 04:00 AM
that break kills me on bass, my fingers don't want to do it lol

try it like this:


fretting fingers are above the tab, picking fingers are below the tab.

I don't like the 5 on yellow because then you'd have to shift, make it an open on blue and then you won't need to shift to reset for the next phrase. I also do this when the riff is transposed to the higher strings.

03-12-2015, 12:08 PM
Nice pick JarmacSF! Even though you keep ignoring my BackTrack requests for Blues I can't complain because you keep selecting awesome songs. As a young paperboy I remember listening to Tom Sawyer on my Walkman cassette player as I would wake up at 0400 and go outside and deliver my neighborhood paper route. Basically wore out that Moving Pictures cassette as well as Def Lep's Pyromania cassette...funny how music brings back those memories.

03-12-2015, 12:17 PM
Jarred, thanks for that insight. As a guitarist, I rarely count time signatures, leaving that to the drummer, but when I play bass, I need to know where the one is. Tom Sawyer always felt like an exercise in control when it came to playing bass in the pocket with the drummer. Tom Sawyer (and Rush's catalog in general) was where I learned how tightly knit the guitar and bass needed to be. The weaving of the instruments made their sound huge, especially for a 3 piece. Rush and Iron Maiden are incredible at switching time signatures without leaving the brand feeling confused. Their command of rhythm and polyrhythm is insane.

I don't know as I would say that Rush introduced 7/8 into the mainstream as Money by Pink Floyd had a few years of popularity by that point. The intro to Money is in 7/8, the sax solo is in 7/4, and the guitar solo is in 4/4.

03-12-2015, 01:09 PM
one of my alltime favorite songs, listened to it for decades... Tom Sawyer, Subdivisions and Red Barchetta are my top 3 Rush favorites. I've found the Rush songs hard to play on guitar, wish i was better lol. Rush is one of my favorite bands in history, they rock. impressive bass & key work by Geddy Lee. I can play their songs much better on keyboards than guitar

03-12-2015, 02:08 PM
I remember when Permanent Waves and Moving Pictures came out: a good number of Rush fans that I knew were crushed, because the albums were a departure from their high concept albums and started to favor keyboards and synths. They felt like Rush was selling out by trying to push radio-hits, and abandoned their prog roots.

I thought the albums were great, and they ended up being highly prized by many of the same fans that initially felt let down by them.

While many people focus on the intimidating drums and bass lines, RS has given me a new appreciation for the complexity of their guitar arrangements: while they all work beautifully for the entire composition, the guitar parts are unusual to me, and require that I have to think about hand position and economy of movement.

03-12-2015, 07:08 PM
I can't believe it took until I read the lyrics in Rocksmith to find out that the lyric wasn't "and the Spacey Invaders get by on you" but "and the space he invades gets by on you"

I had always assumed it was a video game reference :D

03-12-2015, 08:43 PM
I can't believe it took until I read the lyrics in Rocksmith to find out that the lyric wasn't "and the Spacey Invaders get by on you" but "and the space he invades gets by on you"

Understandable, and probably reinforced by the spacey (Close Encounters-esque) synth solo blasting in on the heels of that line.

Edit: I also suspect that the popularity of Space Invaders could have had some influence on Peart's choice of words for that line. That line is a bit nonsensical except as a mashup of some phrases roughly fitting the general theme of the song.

03-12-2015, 09:12 PM
+ from what i remember in one of Chuck episodes they were playing Space Invaders and this song was in background (and i thought it was due to lyrics...)

03-13-2015, 03:59 AM
Couple of comments...

Was David (I think) playing Rush bass using a pick?? Is that not a sin against god and man? :-) Actually I just did the same.

This song (on bass) is mostly not all that difficult for at least 50% of the song. I just got 75%, and I barely know how to play.

Nonetheless, great song and fun to play.

03-13-2015, 06:25 AM
Nice BackTrack, now I wish the video was not blocked as I love it when there is a song I like in BackTrack,

03-13-2015, 08:07 PM
One of the best DLC packs on Rocksmith by far. I still need more work on the verse (I think it's the verse) to make it cleaner. Definitely a good exercise in string skipping while playing double stops. I also love me some YYZ. So close to 100% Just missing 1 or 2 notes.