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Encyclopedia > Polyrhythm

Polyrhythm is the simultaneous sounding of two or more independent rhythms. Polyrhythms can be distinguished from irrational rhythms, which can occur within the context of a single part; polyrhythms require at least two rhythms to be played concurrently, at least one of which is typically an irrational rhythm. Rhythm (Greek = flow, or in Modern Greek, style) is the variation of the length and accentuation of a series of sounds or other events. ... In music, an irrational rhythm is any rhythm in which an odd number of beats is superimposed on an even number in the predominating tempo, or vice versa. ... As a noun, a part is a section of a greater whole. ...

A simple example of a polyrhythm is 3 evenly-spaced notes against 2, with the 3-beat pattern being faster than the 2-beat pattern, so that they both take the same amount of time. Other simple polyrhythms are, etc. Where one of the parts involves an irrational rhythm, the resulting rhythm could be said to be an "irrational polyrhythm"

Another form of polyrhythm, which might also be termed polymeter, would be phrasing to suggest a different meter than the one being played by the rest of the ensemble. A common example of this in jazz would be phrasing quarter notes in groupings of 3 to suggest 3/4 time while the ensemble plays in 4/4. Compare with hemiola (not a polyrhythm). Metre is the measurement of a musical line into measures of stressed and unstressed beats, indicated in Western notation by a symbol called a time signature. ... For other uses, see Jazz (disambiguation). ... In modern musical parlance, a hemiola is a metrical pattern in which two bars in triple time (3/2 or 3/4 for example) are articulated as if they were three bars in duple time (2/2 or 2/4). ...


Usage and history

Percussion master Babatunde Olatunji on the cover of his groundbreaking 1959 release Drums of Passion. A digitally remastered version was released in 2000.

Traditional African music, particularly that of West Africa, is known for its highly complex polyrhythms and, unlike the examples given below, the downbeats do not usually coincide. Rhythms and counter rhythms evidence the common African cultural tradition of call and response, with different drum lines, other musical instruments, bodies and voices contributing rhythmic elements that complement and communicate with one another. This element of instrumental, as well as vocalized, call and response is also evident in the polyrhythmic quality of jazz, a musical form with its origins in the African American community. Image File history File links No higher resolution available. ... Image File history File links No higher resolution available. ... Babatunde Olatunji (April 7, 1927 - April 6, 2003) was a Nigerian drummer, educator, social activist and recording artist. ... Africa is a large and diverse continent, consisting of dozens of countries, hundreds of languages and thousands of races, tribes and ethnic groups. ...  Western Africa (UN subregion)  Maghreb[1] West Africa or Western Africa is the westernmost region of the African continent. ... The term Call and response may refer to Call and response -- a type of musical phrasing Call-and-response -- a type of communication Call and Response is a Californian pop band. ... An African American (also Afro-American, Black American, or simply black) is a member of an ethnic group in the United States whose ancestors, usually in predominant part, were indigenous to Africa. ...

Nigerian percussion master Babatunde Olatunji exploded on the American music scene in 1959 with his album Drums of Passion, which was a collection of traditional Nigerian music for percussion and chanting. The album stayed on the charts for two years and had a profound impact on jazz and American popular music. Trained in the Yoruba sakara style of drumming, Olatunji would go on to teach, collaborate and record with numerous jazz and rock artists, including Airto Moreira, Carlos Santana and Mickey Hart of the Grateful Dead. He reached his greatest popularity during the height of the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s and '70s. Babatunde Olatunji (April 7, 1927 - April 6, 2003) was a Nigerian drummer, educator, social activist and recording artist. ... The music of the Yoruba people of Nigeria is best known for an extremely advanced drumming tradition, especially using the dundun hourglass tension drums. ... Airto Moreira (born August 5, 1941) is a Brazilian Jazz percussionist and musician. ... Carlos Augusto Alves Santana (born July 20, 1947), is a Grammy Award-winning Mexican-born American Latin rock musician and guitarist. ... Mickey Hart (born September 11, 1943) is a percussionist and musicologist. ... This article is about the band. ... // The Black Arts Movement is commonly known as the artistic branch of the Black Power movement. ...

Afro-Cuban music makes extensive use of polyrhythms. Cuban Rumba uses 3-based and 2-based rhythms at the same time, for example, the lead drummer (playing the quinto) might play in 6/8, while the rest of the ensemble keeps playing 2/2. Afro-Cuban conguero, or conga player, Mongo Santamaria was another percussionist whose polyrhythmic virtuosity helped transform both jazz and popular music. Santamaria fused Afro-Latin rhythms with R&B and jazz as a bandleader in the 1950s, and was featured in the 1994 album Buena Vista Social Club, which was the inspiration for the like-titled documentary released five years later. The Caribbean island of Cuba has been influential in the development of multiple musical styles in the 19th and 20th centuries. ... In Cuba, Rumba is a generic term covering a variety of musical rhythms and associated dances. ... Quinto is a municipality in the district of Leventina, in the canton of Ticino, Switzerland. ... Cuban boys playing in Trinidad, Cuba The term Afro-Cuban refers to Cubans of African ancestry, and to historical or cultural elements in Cuba thought to emanate from this community. ... For other uses, see Conga (disambiguation). ... Ramón Mongo Santamaría (April 7, 1922 – February 1, 2003) was an Afro-Cuban drummer. ... For other uses, see Rhythm and blues (disambiguation). ... Buena Vista Social Club is an album featuring Cuban music. ... Buena Vista Social Club (1999) is a documentary film by Wim Wenders about the music of Cuba. ...

Common polyrhythms found in jazz are 3:2, which manifests as the quarter-note triplet; 2:3, usually in the form of dotted-quarter notes against quarter notes; 4:3, played as dotted-eight notes against quarter notes (this one demands some technical proficiency to perform accurately, and was not at all common in jazz before Tony Williams used it when playing with Miles Davis); and finally 3/4 time against 4/4, which along with 2:3 was used famously by Elvin Jones and McCoy Tyner playing with John Coltrane. DJ Shadow Mongrel...Meets his Maker features a 3/4 guitar sample over a 4/4 hip-hop drum beat. This last example however, is more of an example of poly-meter, and not traditional polyrhythm, as the measure is not "preserved". Instead, the meter is preserved, so that the cycle takes 12 beats, four measures for the 3/4 guitar sample, and three measures for the 4/4 drums. Tony Williams (December 12, 1945 – February 23, 1997) was an African American jazz drummer. ... Miles Dewey Davis III (May 26, 1926 – September 28, 1991) was an American jazz musician widely considered to be one of the most influential of the 20th century. ... Elvin Ray Jones (September 9, 1927 – May 18, 2004) was a jazz drummer. ... Alfred McCoy Tyner (born December 11, 1938) is a jazz pianist from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, best known for his work with the John Coltrane Quartet. ... “Coltrane” redirects here. ... DJ Shadow (born Josh Davis on January 1, 1973) is an American DJ, turntablist, music producer and songwriter. ...

Frank Zappa, especially towards the end of his career, experimented with complex polyrhythms, such as 11:17, and even nested polyrhythms. The metal band Meshuggah also uses polyrhythms in their music. Contemporary progressive metal bands such as Tool and Portal also incorporate polyrhythms in their music. Much minimalist and totalist music makes extensive use of polyrhythms. Henry Cowell and Conlon Nancarrow created music with yet more complex polytempo and using irrational numbers like pi:e. Frank Vincent Zappa[1] (December 21, 1940 – December 4, 1993) was an American composer, musician, and film director. ... “Heavy metal” redirects here. ... Meshuggah is a Swedish five-piece experimental metal band, known for their use of extended polymetric passages, complex drum patterns, odd time signatures, angular, dissonant guitar riffs, and harsh, monotonal vocals. ... Progressive metal is a subgenre of heavy metal music which blends the powerful, guitar-driven sound of metal with the complex compositional structures, odd time signatures, and intricate instrumental playing of progressive rock. ... Tool is an American rock band, formed in 1990 in Los Angeles, California. ... Portal is an independent progressive metal band from Edmonton, Canada that originally took form in the Summer of 2000 as a studio project of lead singer and frontman Kenton Thomas. ... Minimalism describes movements in various forms of art and design, especially visual art and music, where the work is stripped down to its most fundamental features. ... Totalism In music, Totalism is some peoples term for a style of music that arose in the 1980s and 90s as a developing response to minimalism - parallel to postminimalism, but generally among a slightly younger generation, born in the 1950s. ... Henry Cowell (March 11, 1897 - December 10, 1965) was an American composer, musical theorist, pianist, teacher, publisher, and impresario. ... Conlon Nancarrow (October 27, 1912 - August 10, 1997) was an American composer who took Mexican citizenship in 1955. ... When a circles diameter is 1, its circumference is Ï€. Pi or Ï€ is the ratio of a circles circumference to its diameter in Euclidean geometry, approximately 3. ... e is the unique number such that the value of the derivative of f (x) = ex (blue curve) at the point x = 0 is exactly 1. ...

King Crimson used polyrhythms extensively in their 1983 album Discipline. This article is about the musical group. ... Discipline is an album by the band King Crimson, released in 1981. ...

The band Queen used polyrhythm in their 1974 song The March of the Black Queen with 8/8 and 12/8 time signatures.[1] Queen are an English rock band formed in 1970 in London by guitarist Brian May, singer Freddie Mercury and drummer Roger Taylor, with bassist John Deacon joining the following year. ... The March Of The Black Queen is the fourth track on Side Black (side 2) of the British rock group Queens second album. ...

Polyrhythm is also called "measure preserving polymeter," because there exists more than one meter, but the measure stays constant. "Tactus preserving polymeter" is used to describe what is most commonly referred to as polymeter. These terms are found in the writings of Keith Waters and Steve Larson. Waters' 1996 article "Blurring the Barline: Metric Displacement in the Piano Solos of Herbie Hancock" from the Annual Review of Jazz Studies" and Larson's 2006 "Rhythmic Displacement in the Music of Bill Evans" are two examples. Metre is the measurement of a musical line into measures of stressed and unstressed beats, indicated in Western notation by a symbol called a time signature. ...


The following is an example of a 2 against 3 polyrhythm, given in time unit box system (TUBS) notation; each box represents a fixed unit of time; time progresses from the left of the diagram to the right, although this is irrelevant since the pattern is symmetric. Beats are indicated with an X; rests are indicated with a blank. Time Unit Box System (TUBS) is a simple system for notating events that happen over a period of time. ...

2 against 3 polyrhythm
3-beat rhythm X   X   X   X   X   X   X   X   X   X   X   X  
2-beat rhythm X     X     X     X     X     X     X     X    

A common memory aid to help with the 2 against 3 polyrhythm is that it has the same rhythm as the phrase "not difficult"; the simultaneous beats occur on the word "not"; the second and third of the triple beat land on "dif" and "cult", respectively. The second 2-beat lands on the "fi" in "difficult." Try saying "not difficult" over and over in time with the sound file below. Another phrase with the same rhythm is "cold cup of tea":

Image File history File links Shows 3-2 rhythm mnemonic. ...

Similar phrases for the 3 against 4 polyrhythm are "pass the gold-en but-ter" and "what atrocious weather"; The 3 against 4 polyrhythm is shown below.

3 against 4 polyrhythm
4-beat rhythm X     X     X     X     X     X     X     X    
3-beat rhythm X       X       X       X       X       X      

Image File history File links Shows 4-3 rhythm mnemonic. ...

As can be seen from above, the counting for polyrhythms is determined by the lowest common multiple, so if one wishes to count 2 against 3, one needs to count a total of 6 beats, as lcm(2,3) = 6 (123456 and 123456). However this is only useful for very simple polyrhythms, or for getting a feel for more complex ones, as the total number of beats rises quickly. To count 4 against 5, for example, requires a total of 20 beats, and counting thus slows the tempo considerably. However some players, such as classical Indian musicians, can intuitively play high polyrhythms such as 7 against 8. Polyrhythms are quite common in late Romantic Music and 20th Century Classical Music. Works for keyboard often set odd rhythms against one another in separate hands. A good example is in the soloist's cadenza in Grieg's Concerto in A Minor; the left hand plays arpeggios of seven notes to a beat; the right hand plays an ostinato of eight notes per beat while also playing the melody in octaves, which uses whole notes, dotted eighth notes, and triplets. Other instances occur often in Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2. The piano arpeggios that constitute much of the soloist's material in the first movement often have anywhere from four to eleven notes per beat. In the last movement, the piano's opening run, marked 'quasi glissando', fits 52 notes into the space of one measure, making for a glissando-like effect while keeping the mood of the music. Other instances in this movement include a scale that juxtaposes ten notes in the right hand against four in the left, and one of the main themes in the piano, which imposes an eighth-note melody on a triplet harmony. In arithmetic and number theory, the least common multiple or lowest common multiple (lcm) or smallest common multiple of two integers a and b is the smallest positive integer that is a multiple of both a and b. ... The origins of Indian classical music can be found from the oldest of scriptures, part of the Hindu tradition, the Vedas. ... The era of Romantic music is defined as the period of European classical music that runs roughly from the early 1800s to the first decade of the 20th century, as well as music written according to the norms and styles of that period. ... Edvard Hagerup Grieg (June 15, 1843–September 4, 1907) was a Norwegian composer and pianist. ... The Piano Concerto in A minor by Edvard Grieg was the only concerto Grieg completed. ... This article will be merged with Italian musical terms at some point in the near future. ... Sergei Vasilievich Rachmaninoff, also Sergey Rachmaninov or Serge Rakhmaninov (Серге́й Васи́льевич Рахма́нинов), (April 1, 1873 – March 28, 1943) was a Russian composer, pianist... Piano Concerto No. ... Glissando (plural: glissandi) is a musical term that refers to either a continuous sliding from one pitch to another (a true glissando), or an incidental scale played while moving from one melodic note to another (an effective glissando). ... Measure can mean: To perform a measurement. ...

Below are some example polyrhythms in MIDI format: Musical Instrument Digital Interface, or MIDI, is a system designed to transmit information between electronic musical instruments. ...

  • 2 against 3 polyrhythm in MIDI format
  • 3 against 4 polyrhythm in MIDI format

See also

Ewe music is the music of the Ewe people. ... Multiphonics are an extended technique in instrumental music in which a monophonic instrument (one which generally produces only one note at a time) is made to produce several notes at once. ...

External links

  • C.K. Ladzekpo's Foundation Course in African Dance-Drumming
  • African Music Encyclopedia: Babatunde Olatunji
  • "Africano, the mother of groove," an article on polyrhythms and the African drumming tradition
  • Tempo Mental- Article by Steve Vai on Polyrhythms
  • Drums Database- More Polyrhythms
  • polyPulse An athenaCL netTool for on-line, web-based MIDI polyrhythm generation
  • polymath Another on-line, web-based MIDI polyrhythm generation tool which uses symbolic input
  • Polyrhythm Lessons- Information on applying polyrhyhthms on the guitar
  • How many tuplets- Post on triplets and duplets in West African music

  Results from FactBites:
Polyrhythm - definition of Polyrhythm in Encyclopedia (500 words)
Polyrhythm is the simultaneous sounding of two or more independent rhythms.
Other simple polyrhythms are 3:4, 4:3, 5:4, 7:4, etc. Another form of polyrhythm, which might also be termed polymeter, would be phrasing to suggest a different meter than the one being played by the rest of the ensemble.
A common memory aid to help with the 2 against 3 polyrhythm is that it has the same rhythm as the phrase "not difficult"; the simultaneous beats occur on the word "not"; the second and third of the triple beat land on "dif" and "cult", respectively.
  More results at FactBites »



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