These 5 polyrhythm examples are written for two different guitars.
If you need help understanding polyrhythms in greater detail, please take a look at these previous polyrhythm/polymeter lessons:
The polyrhythms demonstrated in this lesson are:
You will see the tablature for the polyrhythm example followed by a video demonstration. This will be for all five examples.
The following is the full video lesson. You gotta watch it at least for the intro!
If you have any questions about this material please leave them in the comments section. DO IT!!!
For even MORE info on polyrhythms for guitar, check out the lesson posted by Musical U
This is the 3rd lesson in the Polyrhythm series.
Lesson One: An Introduction to Polyrhythms
Lesson Two: How to Play Polymeters
In this lesson we will look at a simple way of spacing out polyrhythms and how to count them.
There are multiple ways to figure out how to play, understand, and count a polyrhythm, but my goal is to show you how to do this in a simple and effective manner.
Let's begin with a 3:2 polyrhythm.
How do you evenly space the notes, or beats, on top of 2 different evenly spaced notes, or beats?
One way I've seen this done, is to write out groups of numbers in rows. For the 3:2 polyrhythm you can write out two rows of numbers that go 1 2 3.
Then, you circle the first number for every group of two numbers.
Each row represents one full beat. There are two beats shown in this example. Each beat is divided into 3 even parts. The circled numbers represent the parts of the beat where you play 3 evenly spaced notes. The 1 in both beats represent where you play 2 evenly spaced notes.
How this sounds, and other examples in this lesson will be demonstrated in the video found at the end of this entry.
This same method can be applied to any polyrhythm. The 2nd number in the polyrhythm is how many rows of numbers you will write out. The 1st number in the polyrhythm is how many numbers you will write in each row. The 2nd number also tells you how many groups of numbers there need to be so you know which numbers to circle.
A 4:3 polyrhythm will get 3 rows, and each row will have 1 2 3 4. You will circle the first number for each grouping of 3 numbers.
A 5:4 polyrhythm will get 4 rows, and each row will have 1 2 3 4 5. You will circle the first number for each grouping of 4 numbers.
Now, here's the problem I have with that method. Typically, you do not count out the parts of a measure, or beats with just numbers. For example, a piece of music playing straight 16th notes for four beats is typically counted out as 1ena2ena3ena4ena. Not 1234123412341234.
Counting out 1ena2ena3ena4ena helps you keep track of what beat you are on. Counting 1234123412341234 does not.
Let's talk about how I prefer to figure out and count polyrhythms.
Let's take a look at the 3:2 polyrhythm again. The number 2, in the 3:2 polyrhythm, is our main number. We are working with 2 beats. The number 3, in the 3:2 polyrhythm, is our secondary number. The goal here is to space 3 notes over 2 notes.
So, what has to happen in order to use a more typical method of counting music is the beat must be divided into 3 parts. And what happens when you divide a beat into 3 even parts? You get a triplet!
Now we can view the beats like this:
Just like before, the number 2 in our 3:2 polyrhythm tells us where in the beat we play the 3 evenly spaced notes. If you underline the first part of every two parts in the beats, you will know how to space the 3 notes over the 2 beats while using a more common method of counting rhythm.
How about 4:3? 4:3 tells you we have 3 beats as our base. Each beat is divided into 4 parts. Counting 16th notes will get the job done here.
Now, underline the first part of every 3 parts in the beat.
What about the 5:4 polyrhythm? This one gets a little tricky. You need to divide each of the 4 beats into 5 equal parts. Dividing a beat into 5 parts is not a common thing to do. However, that does not mean it is impossible. My recommendation for counting out 5 equal parts per beat, with 4 beats total, is this:
This allows us to keep track of what beat we are on, and I feel it's fairly simple to say.
Just like the previous two examples, portions of this rhythm, or parts of the beat, need to be underlined so we can see where in the beat we are going to play. Remember, the 2nd number in the polyrhythm ratio tells you how to group the parts of the beat. Because we are working with a 5:4 polyrhythm we will underline the first part of every 4 parts. It will look like this:
Developing the ability to comfortably count these rhythms can take a while. Like anything else in music, taking small steps in learning something difficult can and will help you help you learn difficult things in the shortest amount of time possible.
Watch the following video on how to approach adding small pieces to learn a complex rhythm.
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This lesson is the follow up to the Introduction To Polyrhythms lesson.
This lesson is going to go more in depth with polymeters before moving on to polyrhythms.
To sum up the difference between a polyrhythm and a polymeter: A polyrhythm is smooshing at least two different rhythms into the same space. A polymeter uses at least two different time signatures that follow the same tempo which results in several repetitions of the piece of music before each section lines back up again.
The polymeter HAS to cover multiple bars.
The polyrhythm happens in the same bar.
Let's take a look at some visual examples to help explain this better.
A 4:3 polyrhythm, where you are playing 4 notes evenly spaced over 3 beats, can look something like this:
This represents two bars, or two measures.
Notice how there are 4 notes on top, and 3 notes on the bottom? Both bars look the same. The polyrhythm takes place in just one bar.
A polymeter that has a 4/4 time signature and 3/4 time signature looks something like this:
The red notes represent the starting point for each time signature.
The top notes represent the 4/4 time signature.
The bottom notes represent the 3/4 time signature.
Notice how all of the notes line up with the same spacing? That's how a polymeter works. Two different time signatures with the exact same tempo, or beats per minute.
It takes 3 full bars until the these two different time signatures line back up. Bar number 4 is where the pattern begins again.
A 4:3 polyrhythm is not a 4/4 time signature being playing against, or over, a 3/4 time signature. Polyrhythms are within the same time signature. A 4:3 polyrhythm has you playing 4 beats in the same time span 3 beats are played.
Polymeters use two different time signatures, and both have the same tempo.
Now it's time for some polymeter examples!
All of these examples are written for TWO SEPARATE guitars.
***There is a video at the end of this post that demonstrates all of the examples shown in this lesson***
This first example demonstrates a combination of a 4/4 time signature and a 3/4 time signature.
The 4/4 time signature will divide up the bars/measures and be played in the 2nd stave.
Here is the same thing with the 3/4 time signature being used to divide up the bars/measures:
Now, let's do the same two time signatures but, this time, there will be a lot more movements in the notes.
The 4/4 time signature will divide up the bars/measures and be played in the 2nd stave.
Just like before, here's the same thing with the 3/4 time signature dividing up the bars/measures:
For the remaining examples, you will have one time signature being used to divide up the bars/measures, then the same piece of music will be shown again with the other time signature being used to divide up the bars/measures.
This next example will use a 9/8 time signature and a 5/8 time signature.
Let's take a look at another example using the same two time signatures, but with more complexity in the notes.
One more example in this lesson.
This one uses a 7/4 time signature and a 3/4 time signature. So far, everything has been using the same rhythm value for every note. In other words, the first and second examples used nothing but quarter notes for both time signatures.
The third and fourth examples both used 8th notes the entire time.
This final example will have all 16th notes for the 3/4 time signature, but the 7/4 time signature will have a more complex rhythm being used.
And that's it! No more examples for this lesson.
The next lesson in this series is going to explain to how figure out spacing polyrhythms correctly, how to count the polyrhythms, and start showing more in depth examples.
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This is the first lesson in a SERIES of lessons to cover POLYRHYTHMS. Polyrhythms are an advanced style of rhythm. If you do not have a basic understanding of rhythm already, this instructional series may be a bit over your head, and too difficult to understand. Even if you DO have a basic understanding of rhythm, polyrhythms are challenging to play and understand.
Several music examples will be used to demonstrate how to play and understand polyrhythms.
But, first! What IS a polyrhythm?
The word POLY means MANY. So, in simple terms, a polyrhythm means many rhythms. Steve Vai, in his paper called "Tempo Mental", says, "A polyrhythm is just what it says. Two rhythms, or “feels”, happening at the same time." However, it IS a bit more complicated than that.
Why? Because if it were simply the case of having different "rhythms" being played at once, I would argue that most music is using polyrhythms. The drums, guitars, vocals, etc. are not all playing the exact same rhythm pattern all the time. However, this does not make a polyrhythm. A polyrhythm is used to create tension in a song. By placing at least two different rhythms together that sound somewhat "off" you can create something that really stands out to the listener's ear.
When you see something like a triplet, or quintuplet, sextuplet, nonuplet, etc., you're probably dealing with a polyrhythm. Notes grouped in this fashion will have some indication that they are not naturally found within the given time signature you are playing in.
The circled numbers are indicating a deviation from what's normally found in this time signature. The numbers are telling you how to space these notes that would not occur, naturally, in the given time signature. You could also notate the same thing like this:
You would wind up hearing the same thing either way. There will be more information to explain what something like 5:2 means in a later lesson.
Now, beats are always evenly divided when dealing with note values that DO occur naturally in a given time signature. Most music you hear is in a 4/4 time signature. This means you have 4 beats that fill up the bar, or measure. Bar and measure are interchangeable, they mean the same thing.
Now, the number up top in the time signature fraction is telling you how many beats fill up the bar. The number on the bottom is telling you the value of the beat. 4 equals a quarter note. You can have ANY number, ANY NUMBER on top. Doesn't matter. Go nuts!
The only numbers you can have on the bottom are 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, and 64, but good luck ever finding something with 64 on the bottom. Or even a 1.
1 = Whole note
2 = Half note
4 = Quarter note
8 = 8th note
16 = 16th note
32 = 32nd note
64 = 64th note
So, why the hell am I telling you all this? Good question!
This is to further explain dividing the beat(s) evenly.
A whole note can be divided in half and give you a half note.
A half note can be divided in half and give you a quarter note.
Half of a quarter is an 8th note.
Half of an 8th note is a 16th note.
Half of a 16th note is a 32nd note.
Half of a 32nd note is a 64th note.
Another way to look at all that is this:
A whole note = 2 half notes, or 4 quarter notes, or 8 8th notes, or 16 16th notes, etc.
A half note = 2 quarter notes, or 4 8th notes, 8 16th notes, etc.
A quarter note = 2 8th notes, or 4 16th notes, 8 32nd notes, etc.
An 8th note = 2 16th notes, or 4 32nd notes, etc. etc.
I hope that gets point across.
None of this notation of rhythmic value will tell you to space 3 notes evenly over anything, unless you tweak things in order to make it happen. A triplet, the most common one being an 8th note triplet, is playing 3 evenly spaced notes over the time it takes to play 2 evenly spaced 8th notes.
You could also notate the triplet like this and wind up with the same sound:
The ratio 3:1 is telling you that 3 notes are being evenly spaced over the time it takes for the one quarter note to be played. I don't think I've ever seen a ratio like this being used in a professional transcription. Usually, you'd see something more like 7:3. That means you are evenly spacing 7 notes over the time it takes to play 3 evenly spaced notes.
Now, you might be thinking, "but, John! I've heard and played plenty of music using triplets that doesn't sound like any tension is being made. You said a polyrhythm creates tension! Are you fucking stupid or something?!"
Excellent point! Let's check out an example that uses 8th note triplets over just one beat.
Now, TO ME, throwing in one beat of triplets after playing 3 beats of straight 8th notes sounds a little jarring. It stands out. Tension was made. Now, let's do something similar with tripleted quarter notes.
I feel that playing quarter note triplets is more challenging than 8th note triplets. They feel and sound weird. You are playing 3 evenly spaced notes over 2 evenly spaced quarter notes when playing quarter note triplets. Technically, it's the same thing as playing 3 evenly spaced notes over 2 evenly spaced 8th notes. It's a 3:2 polyrhythm. 3 notes being played in the same time it takes to play 2 notes.
Now, for the sake of understanding all this, let's use a piece of music using only 8th note triplets.
When you listen to that in the video posted at the end of this blog entry, you'll hear how this example doesn't really sound like a polyrhythm. I would argue it's not a polyrhythm because both the guitar and drums are following a cohesive rhythm. The two instruments don't clash. No tension is present.
"Yeah, so what's your point?"
My point is that something like this is normally notated differently.
You could take the same piece of music and put it in a 3/4 time signature and get this:
When you listen to both versions of this example you'll hear that they sound the same. The cool thing about music is you can notate things differently to create the same outcome. It's all a big math equation.
Playing a straight 8th note pattern in a 4/4 time signature at 120 bpm will be the same thing if you play the same notes at 180 bpm in a 3/4 time signature using straight 8th notes. A 3/4 time signature is telling you that 3 beats fill up the bar, and a quarter note gets the value of one beat. Using this time signature there is no longer a need to use triplet notation. There is no polyrhythm. And, it looks cleaner this way.
Let's look at one last example of a polyrhythm before we start getting more in depth with everything.
A commonly used polyrhythm is 4:3. This means you have 4 notes being played in the same time span 3 notes are played. Some choose to use this polyrhythm at the beginning of a bar to create tension, and then release that tension by playing something more in line with the given time signature. For example:
So far, polyrhythms have been demonstrated in just a part of the bar. Can you keep a polyrhythm going for multiple bars? Of course! That will be covered and demonstrated later on in this series.
Now, some people argue that a 4:3 polyrhythm, or 3:4 polyrhythm are polymeters. I believe they think, in the case of the 4:3 polyrhythm, a 4/4 time signature is being played over a 3/4 time signature. This same person may also say that in a 3:4 polyrhythm you have a 3/4 time signature being played over a 4/4 time signature. This isn't really the case.
Polymeters indeed have two different time signatures being played simultaneously, but they have their own unique sound and parameters.
The next video will be covering polymeters in depth.
I feel it's best to get a good understanding of polymeters before moving on to in depth discussion and examples of polyrhythms.
This is because I feel you'll have a much better chance of fully understanding what polyrhythms are, and how you can play them.
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photo credit: EJP Photo http://www.flickr.com/photos/29498428@N00/31609721381
One for the road
photo credit: misterbisson
John Taylor - guitar and bass instructor for Mile High Shred.