Polyrhythm

Polyrhythm is when we have two or more rhythms existing simultaneously. The most commonly used polyrhythms are the “two on three” and “three on two”. Shown below are two examples of  polyrhythms.

poly1

Figure 1

poly2

Figure 2

In figure 1, the left hand is clearly playing the basic pulse of a 3/4 time. The right hand however is playing the pulse of a 6/8 time.

In figure 2, the left hand is again playing the basic pulse of a 3/4 time, also sounding much like a 6/4 time. Whereas the right hand is playing the pulse of a 3/2 time.

Almost every accomplished jazz musician has mastered this technique, and is capable of calling it out anywhere in his or her solo.

A motif may be developed, and repeated as polyrhythms to create an interesting effect. Here is an example.

poly3

Figure 3

Notice in figure 3, the original time signature is a 4/4. However the motif has a length of a dotted minim each, giving it a rhythmic structure as shown below in figure 4.

poly4

Figure 4

The result is a polyrhythm between a basic 4/4 time and a 3/4 time.

Here is the great youtube jazz pianist Lot2learn demonstrating some use of the “two on three” polyrhythm.

5 Comments

  • KCLau

    Reply Reply June 9, 2009

    Hitting a series of notes at the right time produce the rhythmic pattern.
    When left and right hand has a different set of rhythmic pattern like this, asking the pianist to have different set of rhythm counting for separate hands, it is really very difficult to play.

    I guess the drummers can handle this pretty well.

  • 7notemode

    Reply Reply June 11, 2009

    Great article and great example by Lot2Learn.

  • Lot2learn

    Reply Reply June 11, 2009

    Thanks for the article and using my example Pianologist. I studued drums when I was young and that helped with my grasp of advanced rhythmic techniques.

    • KCLau

      Reply Reply August 12, 2009

      Lot2learn, you are the man!! Great skill.

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