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Polyrhythms (no seriously you guys)


Joe Muscara

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After watching Mr. McBride attempt to explain polyrhythms, can anyone give a good example of the real thing? I get it conceptually, but I'd like to listen to some examples. Bonus points if you explain the polyrhythm being performed.

 

Thx!

"I'm so crazy, I don't know this is impossible! Hoo hoo!" - Daffy Duck

 

"The good news is that once you start piano you never have to worry about getting laid again. More time to practice!" - MOI

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Technically, a 3-against-2 is a simple polyrhythm. Or a 5-against-2 or a 3-against-4.

 

I guess the phrasing that that expert village guy does while demonstrating 5/4 time signatures can be considered some kind of polyrhythmic phrasing:

1234

5123

4512

3451

2345

1. Technically his hands are playing in 4/4 and he is counting in 5/4. If what he was counting was rhythmically transcribed into some vocal line, with 5/4 phrasing, doing it over a 4/4 backing would be considered a polyrhythm.

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One of my favorite examples has always been the instrumental break in "Come Sail Away" by Styx. It appears to start out 4/4 when it's just the chords and echoey things. Then when the bass and synth kick in with the rhythm, they do two different rhythms:

 

Bass Does a 5/4 Pattern:

Ab(1)-Db-Ab(2)-Db-Ab(2)-Db-Ab(1)-Db-Ab(2)-Db-(Repeat)

NOTE: Ab(2) is the octave above Ab(1) - wasn't sure best shorthand way to show this.

 

Over that, the high synth part is doing 4/4 pattern:

Ab-Db-Bb-C-Db-C-Ab-Db-Repeat

 

All of the above are 8th notes.

Dan

 

Acoustic/Electric stringed instruments ranging from 4 to 230 strings, hammered, picked, fingered, slapped, and plucked. Analog and Digital Electronic instruments, reeds, and throat/mouth.

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Joe,

I believe the fast part of Yes' "Long Distance Runaround" is an example. Not sure of the exact counts, but Bruford plays in 5 and Squire & the rest play in 4. I think there are 20 beats, so it is 4 bars of 5 over 5 bars of 4 or something like that.

Regards,

Joe

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After watching Mr. McBride attempt to explain polyrhythms, can anyone give a good example of the real thing? I get it conceptually, but I'd like to listen to some examples. Bonus points if you explain the polyrhythm being performed.

 

Thx!

 

Here's an example - the title track to Jean Luc-Ponty's album "Tchokola":

 

http://www.rhapsody.com/jean-luc-ponty/tchokola

 

It starts with a fairly straight 6/8 feel, then the bass comes in, with a different rhythm superimposed on the original.

 

Ponty said it was one of his toughest projects, dealing with all those polyrhythms going at once.

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Could you please the timing in the song where that happens? I know the verse is pretty weird rhythmically, but not polyrhythmic, as far as I can tell. What fast part?

 

Mr. Justice,

The part I am talking about is under the main guitar melody. It's like a double time part. It occurs near the beginning of the song, and in the middle of the song.

Regards,

Joe

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Isn't feel of the melody of Straight No Chaser an example of this? As is Frame by Frame (drum vs. repeating guitar figure) off of King Crimson's Discipline? In fact, most of Discipline presents layers of Bruford playing in one meter and Fripp's arpeggiation in another, IIRC.
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Indiscipline - Bruford demonstrating from one of his clinics:

 

 

 

While that's pretty mind-boggling, I think there are easier examples to get your head around if you want to explain polyrythms to somebody who doesnt get them. King Crimson has endless examples of Polyrythms, but there are certainly more "pop" examples, like Beatles "Happiness is a Warm Gun", or if you aren't that old, NIN "La Mer", or the Styx example I gave for those of you in between.

 

Anybody else able to come up with some more "pop" examples?

Dan

 

Acoustic/Electric stringed instruments ranging from 4 to 230 strings, hammered, picked, fingered, slapped, and plucked. Analog and Digital Electronic instruments, reeds, and throat/mouth.

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Wasn't trying to be arch or mind-boggling. I just thought this particular clip of Bruford built from a relatively easy-to-follow approach of playing over the pre-recorded drone rhythm, even going bog straight (where he smiles for a moment) before he starts offering various rhythmic motifs over the drone of increasing complexity. Joe wanted to listen to some examples, so I figured the shortest path was to go to the master.
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Wasn't trying to be arch or mind-boggling. I just thought this particular clip of Bruford built from a relatively easy-to-follow approach of playing over the pre-recorded drone rhythm, even going bog straight (where he smiles for a moment) before he starts offering various rhythmic motifs over the drone of increasing complexity. Joe wanted to listen to some examples, so I figured the shortest path was to go to the master.

 

Yeah, the audio example was definitely good - though you're going to provoke the wrath of TonySounds with the lack of actual keyboard playing. "Hitting Play Does Not...."

 

:snax:

Dan

 

Acoustic/Electric stringed instruments ranging from 4 to 230 strings, hammered, picked, fingered, slapped, and plucked. Analog and Digital Electronic instruments, reeds, and throat/mouth.

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Joe, the easiest way to really grasp it is to do the following in your DAW:

 

choose 4/4 and set a moderate tempo (+- 100 bpm), with the click on every 1/4 beat

 

cycle 3 bars

 

now program a kick on the following 1/16 beats:

 

1--1 --1- -1-- 1--1 / --1- -1-- 1--1 --1- / -1-- 1--1 --1- -1--

 

 

You'll hear that the strong sound of the kick now implies a different tempo than the click. To emphasize this you could replace every other kick by a snare drum like this:

 

1--2 --1- -2-- 1--2 / --1- -2-- 1--2 --1- / -2-- 1--2 --1- -2--

 

This is actually one of the most common superimposed crossrhythms in Jazz and Fusion. Miles' 60's quintet with Hancock and Williams used to do this a lot, but nowadays it is almost mundane. Of course, there's much more to it and this is an oversimplification, but it should get you started.

 

Another one, same meter, tempo and click, but a 5 bar cycle

 

 

1--- -2-- --1- ---2 / ---- 1--- -2-- --1- / ---2 ---- 1--- -2-- / --1- ---2 ---- 1--- / -2-- --1- ---2 ----

 

 

 

Have fun! :wave:

 

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The Entertainer does not have polyrhythms.

 

I think Ave Maria is the classic exmple. Piano plays arpeggio in triplets, and the melody is straight quarters or eights, I think. It's been a while since I've looked at the score.

Stage: MOX6, V-machine, and Roland AX7

Rolls PM351 for IEMs.

Home/recording: Roland FP4, a few guitars

 

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The Entertainer does not have polyrhythms.

That's not a poly-rhythm, just syncopation.

 

I hate to be the polyrhythm pedant, but it's 3 against 4, the same as this example:

 

1--1 --1- -1-- 1--1 / --1- -1-- 1--1 --1- / -1-- 1--1 --1- -1--

 

If you substitute an E for the 1, a C for the first dash in any pair, and leave the second dash as a rest, you get:

 

||: EC-E C-EC | -EC- EC-E | C-EC -EC- :||

 

(I've changed it from 16th notes to 8th notes, but it's the same idea.)

 

Granted, the actual tune only gets as far as the end of the first measure, not through the complete cycle:

 

| EC-E C-EC |

 

But that's enough to establish a definite 3 against 4 pattern (even if it then gets broken as soon as it's been established).

 

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and THAT, my friend, is called syncopation.

 

Then either I'm misunderstanding how you're using the terms, or I'm misunderstanding where you're drawing the line between one and the other. Maybe this question will clarify it:

 

Would you say that this...

 

1--1 --1- -1-- 1--1 / --1- -1-- 1--1 --1- / -1-- 1--1 --1- -1--

 

... is polyrhythm, and this...

 

||: EC-E C-EC | -EC- EC-E | C-EC -EC- :||

 

... is syncopation?

 

Or, would you say that both of these...

 

1--1 --1- -1-- 1--1 / --1- -1-- 1--1 --1- / -1-- 1--1 --1- -1--

 

||: EC-E C-EC | -EC- EC-E | C-EC -EC- :||

 

... are polyrhythm, and this...

 

| EC-E C-EC |

 

... is syncopation?

 

(Or alternately, would you say neither case is correct?)

 

If your answer to either question is yes, then for whichever one you answered yes to, my next question is: What's the distinguishing feature between the polyrhythm example and the non-polyrhythm example? What is it that makes one polyrhythmic, and the other not?

 

I should point out that I'm not trying to pick a fight here, but simply trying to understand where this discrepancy in perceptions is coming from. I too hate it when people use the term polyrhythm to describe something that isn't. In college I had a humanities class ("Intro to Black Studies") that dealt briefly with the influence of African music on Western music. Polyrhythms were listed as one of the "typical" characteristics of African music. But the teacher (a non-musician, self-described "aging hippie sociologist") had no concept of what that word meant, and simply thought it meant "many different rhythms happening at the same time." In other words, any time the entire band wasn't playing a unison figure, he'd say "Hear all the different rhythms? That's polyrhythm. That's African." And despite my best efforts, he taught that misconception to a room full of about 25 other students that semester. Rrrrr.

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Above, I think I see two very different kinds of things being called polyrhythms.

 

In both kinds, we have a pattern with (say) 3 beats coexisting with a pattern with (say) 4 beats.

 

In one kind, the beats have the same length, so the repetition of the pattern takes longer. For example, the 3-beat pattern takes 4 bars, while the 4-beat pattern takes 3 bars.

 

In the other kind, the measures are the same length (in time), so the 3-beat pattern's beats are slower than the 4-beat pattern's.

 

The second kind is the one I learned as being called polyrhythmic. Does the term also apply to the first kind?

 

As I understand it, the roots of polyrhythms go back (among other things, no doubt) to African tribal music, where everyone in the village plays their own personal beat, merging into a cohesive whole (or not) as they respond to the others. I suppose this would lead to both kinds of polyrhythms and probably others that don't fit into neat categories.

 

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@FunkKeysStuff: Have you tried to input the stuff I posted above in your DAW?

If you have done so correctly, than you should immediately recognize what a true polyrhythm is.

 

I really cannot make it any clearer that, certainly not with words. Try the patterns with the snare drum.

 

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Disclaimer - I'm just stating my opinion (=what I was tought) below.

 

 

polyrhythm - is when there are two or more simultaneous rhythms which don't 'lock on' to each other. Simplest example - 4 against 3, or 7 against 13 or whatever.

 

Syncopation is moving the accent away from the beat.

 

 

Are we talking about the same Entertainer?

The Entertainer is straight eights/16ths all the way - your left hand is always banging 8th notes and right hand is doing 8ths or 16ths - so both hands 'lock on' each other easily.

 

I had to play it to double-check, but I'm pretty sure there no syncopations either in this tune. Everything's on beat.

Stage: MOX6, V-machine, and Roland AX7

Rolls PM351 for IEMs.

Home/recording: Roland FP4, a few guitars

 

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The second kind is the one I learned as being called polyrhythmic. Does the term also apply to the first kind?

 

Yes, I've heard both types referred to as polyrhythms, both the ones that flow over the bar line and those that "honor" the bar line. As I understand it, juxtaposition of multiple motifs, each of which suggests a different time sig, is what makes it a polyrhythm. This distiguishes it from syncopation or jazz swing, which can juxtapose two motifs but each suggests the same time sig.

 

At least that's been my understanding and admittedly I may be sky-wrong out to lunch.

 

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FunKeyStuff, I would agree with those who say that The Entertainer is syncopation, simply because it doesn't last long enough to establish a repeptitive pattern. Also, the syncopated part doesn't even complete the measure as a polyrhythm, so it wouldn't fit either of my definitions above.

 

3 + 3 + 2 versus 2 + 2 + 2 + 2 (in a measure) is what I'd call syncopation, not polyrhythmic.

 

3 + 3 + 3 + 3 vs 4 + 4 + 4 (in a measure), I'd call that polyrhythmic, albeit a fairly trivial one (pretty much the most I'm up to). And even then, only if the subdivisions of the 3 and 4 are generally omitted. (Otherwise, it's just 12.)

 

I had a friend who was a serious percussionist nearly all her life, up to the time I met her. She talked about countless hours spent in a booth, practicing 2 against 3, 2 against 4, 2 against 5, etc, up into the 20's, then 3 against each, then 4 against each, etc. My mind boggles at things like 19 against 21, but she could do it. And man what a Marimba player!

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Zephonic, yes, I meant Schubert's Ave Maria, and pretty shure it's polyrhithmic (piano vs. vocal line). Try playing the piano arpeggio and the vocal line at the same time.

Stage: MOX6, V-machine, and Roland AX7

Rolls PM351 for IEMs.

Home/recording: Roland FP4, a few guitars

 

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