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 🙂
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