Fun Advanced Polyrhythm Exercises
Polyrhythms are what happens when 2 or more musicians play completely different time signatures simultaneously.
For example, one person plays a 3/4 rhythm while another person plays a 4/4 rhythm.
This is something you really want to get good at if you love progressive rock or fusion.
It’s a good skill to have. It’s also a great brain exercise.
Here are some pretty cool polyrhythms.
Waltz Rhythm Pattern Over 4/4 Groove
Here are some 3/4 strum patterns
3 bars of 4/4 (3 times 4 beats) have the same duration as 4 bars of 3/4 (4 times 3 beats).
Both are 12 beats long.
In other words: a 3/4 measure is played 4 times for every 3 bars of 4/4 drum groove.
After that, both the guitar and drums hit beat 1 together and the cycle just starts over again from there.
Of course since the above 3/4 strum patterns are 2-bar rhythms, you would have to play that 2-bar rhythm 2 times to get 4 bars.
After you played the 2-bar 3/4 rhythm twice, adding up to 4 bars total, your 4-bar 3/4 cycle and the drum’s 3-bar 4/4 cycle will both finish together and start over again after that both, hitting beat 1 again.
5/4 “Take Five” Rhythm Over 4/4 Groove
“Take Five” is the name of a jazz standard. The song is in 5/4 time signature.
Paul Desmond composed “Take Five”. The song became a hit when Dave Brubeck recorded it.
Here’s the rhythm:
The smallest denominator is 20.
4 bars of 5/4 strum pattern = 5 bars of 4/4 drum groove.
What this means, is that 4 bars of 5/4 (which adds up to 20 beats) has the same duration as 5 bars of 4/4 (adding up to 20 beats as well).
After that, both cycles (the 5/4 and the 4/4 one) just start over again both hitting beat 1 together.
Here’s how this polyrhythm sounds like
4/4 Rhythm Pattern over 5/4 Groove
We can use the most commonly used 4/4 guitar strum pattern:
Refer to everything I discussed earlier about playing a 5/4 strum pattern over a 4/4 drum groove.
Everything discussed there, applies here.
This is basically exactly the same thing, BUT with the two instruments swapping time signatures.
5/4 “Take Five” Rhythm Over Waltz
Another interesting polyrhythm is strumming a 5/4 rhythm over a 3/4 waltz groove.
3 bars of 5/4 – 5 bars of 3/4. (The smallest denominator is 15 beats)
This means that every 15 beats, or in other words every 5 bars (of 3/4), both the guitar strum pattern and the groove will align again with beat 1 falling together in both rhythms.
You can use the above 5/4 rhythm for this.
You can hear this here:
5/8 Rhythm Over 4/4 Groove
5/8 is basically 5/4 twice as fast.
Another way of looking at this: 5/8 takes half the amount of time that 5/4 takes.
Answer: because 1/8th is half of a quarter (1/4)
Hence: 5/8 is half as long as 5/4
Or in other words:
5/8 = 2.5/4
This means that 2 bars of 5/8 = 2 x 2.5/4 = 5/4 (5 beats of a quarter)
The smallest denominator between 5/4 and 4/4 is 20 beats.
Meaning: 4 bars of 5/4 have the same number of beats as 5 bars of 4/4: 20 beats.
In other words: every 5 bars of 4/4 groove = 4 bars of 5/4 guitar strum rhythm
This means that after you played a 5/4 rhythm 4 times, you come back together again with the start of a 4/4 bar (beat 1) when you start the next bar of 5/4
But, since we’re strumming 5/8, which is half the length of 5/4, we would have to double that number of repetitions.
Hence: 8 x 5/8 strum rhythm = 5 bars of 4/4
For this to make sense, again remember that 5/8 has half the length of 5/4.
Hence; when you play a 5/8 rhythm twice, what you played has the same duration as 1 measure of 5/4.
Taken into account that we need 4 measures of 5/4 to come back around on beat 1 with a 4/4 groove and that 5/8 is half of 5/4, that means that we need twice as many measures of 5/8 to fill the same amount of space, which is 8 measures of 5/8.
8 x 5/8 = 40/8 = 20/4 = 5 bars of 4/4
Here’s the above 5/4 pattern, written as 5/8
Here’s how this sounds like:
7/4 Rhythm Pattern over 3/4 Groove
Here are a couple of 7/4 rhythms you can strum
and this one.
I’ll use the first 7/4 strum pattern in the below video.
Every 7 bars of 3/4 groove = 3 bars of 7/4 strum rhythm
Here’s the video where you can hear this:
7/4 Rhythm over 4/4 groove
Let’s use this 7/4 rhythm pattern
Every 7 bars of 4/4 = 4 bars of 7/4 (28 beats is the smallest denominator)
What this means is that your 7/4 rhythm and the 4/4 drum groove are going to hit beat 1 together again after you played the 7/4 strum pattern 4 times.
You can hear this here:
7/8 Rhythm Pattern over 4/4 Groove
If you understood the whole above explanation of how 5/8 is twice the speed of 5/4, and that you need 2 bars of 5/8 to get the same duration as 1 bar of 5/4, then you will understand that the same applies to 7/4 and 7/8
When you play the above 7/4 strum rhythm twice as fast over a groove, then you are playing a 7/8 rhythm
Notice how the following 7/8 rhythm pattern is exactly the same as one of the above 7/4 patterns.
The only difference is that each beat is written as an 8th duration instead of a quarter duration.
Since we need 4 bars of 7/4 to match the same number of beats as 7 bars of 4/4, then we need 8 bars of 7/8, to match the same number of beats as 7 bars of 4/4. (Again 7/8 is half as long in duration as 7/4, so we need twice as many 7/8 bars to fill the same length of time as 7/4 bars)
8 bars x 7/8 = 56/8 (56 beats with value of an 8th)= 28/4 (28 beats with value of a quarter) = 4 x 7/4 (4 bars with 7 beats) = 7 bars x 4/4 (7 bars with 4 beats)
I’m sure these guys use these concepts in their writing 🙂
Hit me up anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions, or if you would like to book a lesson.
The free lessons I offer on my blog are cool, but you will never experience the progress, joy, and results that my students experience in lessons when you’re learning by yourself from blogs and videos.
That is why people take lessons: way better results and progress, much more complete information, exposed to way more creative ideas than you can get from a blog or YouTube video.
There is only so much that self-study can accomplish.
If you want to see amazing results and progress in your guitar playing, buy your first lesson here and get started ASAP.
You’ll impress your friends and loved ones in no time with your guitar playing!
Consider donating any small amount to help me keep this blog going.
Thank you for your support!