Can anyone explain how exactly poly-rhythms work? My guitar teacher pointed some out to me in a live recording of Davis' "So What" and we didn't go over them in much detail.
Can anyone point me in some direction?
its when one instrument may be playing a odd time while the rest of the band is playing in another signature
not just time signatures though

one instrument may be playing triplets whilst another is playing on the beat creating a weird feel to the time
Last edited by Martindecorum at Nov 8, 2009,
No, Martindecorum is wrong. Polyrhythms are when you say, play triplets over duplets in the same time signature. Polymetre is the playing of two different time signatures (one is usually odd, in order to create a feeling of going in and out of sync with each other) over each other.

The difference here is that with polyrhythm you are playing different groupings of notes in the same amount of space. Thus if playing 8th note triplets over quadruplets in 4/4, you would have something like this: (note this is not a tab or staff, it is just being used to demonstrate the properties of polyrhythms)

4|1--2--3--1--2--3--1--2--3--1--2--3--
4|1----2----3----4----1----2----3----4----

Now of course this is a little off because of spacing, and real triplets aren't perfect 8th notes but you can see how they would meet up on certain beats (which would be accented if being played). This would be a 3:2 polyrhythm.

Now for naming polyrhythms, we take the group of notes being played on top (in our case triplets) and put a colon between it and the group of notes being played under it (duplets). Now there's now set rule as to which groupings should go first, it's really just about listening to it and picking one out as foreground and the other as background. It just happens that odd groupings tend to be picked as foreground more often, so we usually do the same.

If you wanna learn more about polyrhythms and polymetre, here is an article I found that does a pretty good job of explaining them both (and something called Hemiola, which is basically just grouping notes in two's rather than three's and vice versa).

http://www.ultimate-guitar.com/columns/music_theory/polyrhythm_polymeter_and_the_hemiola.html

good luck
Quote by Martindecorum
^^^ thanks for the correction mate, might start experimenting

No problem, there seems to be a ton of confusion when it comes to time sigs, polyrhythms, etc. The main thing to remember is that polyrhythms and polymetres are not interchangeable. Good luck (oh, and might I suggest a 12/8, 4/4 polymetre? Oh and of course a 7:3 poly rhythm {that one's a bit tricky }).
Playing a regular rhythm against an irregular one. For example Quavers against triplet quavers.
Polyrhythms basically features two different rhythms such as duplets over triplets. Of course, it's not just restricted to it. This is just a really basic explanation of what it is. Hope it helps
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Read my original post and you will find that 7/8 over 4/4 is a POLYMETRE. NOT a POLYRHYTHM.

So in lamens terms polyrhythyms are different rhythyms in one main rhythym. Like one person is playing in quarter notes and your playing in 8th???
Quote by Guitarhead06
So in lamens terms polyrhythyms are different rhythyms in one main rhythym. Like one person is playing in quarter notes and your playing in 8th???

No, it has to be an Irregular rhythm ( triplets, 5's, 7's) against a regular rhythm (such as straight quavers/semi quavers).
Quote by Guitarhead06
So in lamens terms polyrhythyms are different rhythyms in one main rhythym. Like one person is playing in quarter notes and your playing in 8th???

Technically, yes. No one would call that polyrhythmic though, since you're just subdividing his rhythm, and it doesn't sound like you're playing really different things.
Oh ok so your listening to 2 guitarists play and it sounds like they are off rhythym BUT they are still on time together.
Quote by Guitarhead06
Oh ok so your listening to 2 guitarists play and it sounds like they are off rhythym BUT they are still on time together.

If they are playing in two different time signatures (ie. a polymetre) then yes. But you van play a polyrhythm by yourself. For example, in 4/4 use your thumb to play four quarter notes of the bass note of a chord. Now with your index and middle fingers play some of the other notes in the chords in triplets OVER the quarter notes you're playing with your thumb. On certain beats the triplets and quarter notes will be on the same beat, on others they won't. Hope that helps, I might post some tabs later to demonstrate if you'd like.
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That article was spot on.
of course that article was spot on... the boy played with Zappa after all... he had to know his shit.

To the TS: Polyrhythms by Peter Magadini would be a good book to peruse... it may contain what you need.
Last edited by evolucian at Nov 17, 2009,