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Learn Polyrhythms On Your Lunch Break

Jake Lizzio (985) · [archive]
Style: Theory/Reference · Level: Intermediate · Tempo: 120
Pages: 1 2 3 4 5

Lets quickly go over what a polyrhythm really is (other than wierd)

If you have a unit of time (a measure for example) that is divided by two different beats at the same time, then you have a polyrhythms. Rhythms that are multiples of two really don't count, because 4 against 8 really is just 8th notes against quarter notes

So a polyrhythm will involve numbers that don't divide into each other. For example, imagine our meausure was 12 seconds long. We divide this 12 seconds into 4 beats for our first rhythm. That means every 3 seconds we will play a note, giving us four total.

Now we will also divide that SAME 12 second measure into 3 beats, by playing a note every 4 seconds, giving us 3 beats in the measure. Since you can distinctively hear 4 beats and 3 beats stretched across the same measure, this is a 4:3 polyrhythm

Now 12 seconds is a long measure, but I chose that for mathematic ease. Its not hard to discover and train yourself to play complex polyrhythms, As long as you can count! You should definately know how to count 8th notes, 16th notes, and triplets with ease before tackling some of the harder polyrhythms.

Examples of other basic polyrhythms:

5:3

7:4

5:8

5:7

In order to play these, you must either spend years trying to intuitively learn them, OR you can get out a pen and paper and learn them in a few minutes.

To learn a polyrhythm, just take the 2 beats you want to use (5:3) and multiply them together. 5 times 3 is 15. So we have 15 beats altogether we need to subdivide (kinda like our 12 second measure).

What is an easy way to count 15 beats? You can't count 8th notes or 16th notes conveniently over 15 beats, but you can count triplets nicely. 1-trip-let-2-trip-let-3-trip-let-4-trip-let-5-trip-let. Thats 15 counts. Now all we have to do is play every 3rd note and every 5th note. That divides the whole measure into 5 and 3 (5:3). Well we know that every three notes, you'll be counting 1 2 3 4 5. Thats your 5 beat. But to play every 5 notes, you'll end up with 1------let--------trip------.

So you have to learn to coordinate both hands together, SLOWLY, while counting out loud. Count your measure with the triplets, focus on one hand doing the 1 2 3 4 5, focus on your other hand playing 1 (trip-let 2-trip)-let (3 trip-let 4)-trip(let 5-trip-let).

This is the idea of a polyrhythm. The next page explains in detail how to conquer the most basic of such hilarious rhythms.