Oftentimes in the career path of an up-and-coming musician, we are faced with certain concepts or music theories that sound impossibly advanced. Harmonic functions, tonal counterpoint, modal interchange—concepts like these are often misconstrued as badges of honor that every musician must earn at some point in time. A concept that is often lumped into this “exclusive” category is polyrhythmic music, or polyrhythm. Yet despite the mathematical sounding title, polyrhythm is not nearly as complex as it sounds.
In the following exercises, we will break down examples of how simple recording and employing polyrhythm in your music can actually be. But first, let’s define the concept.
Polyrhythm is a rhythmic cadence or phrase that comprises two conflicting rhythms that are played simultaneously.
Often found in patterns called 4:3 (four notes against three) or 3:2 (three notes against two), polyrhythms are the basis of many African and Caribbean rhythmic traditions, but are also found in many examples of early western classical compositions from Mozart, Brahms, and Beethoven alike. Polyrhythmic patterns are also found in modern music, from top 40 pop hits like “Raise Your Glass” by P!nk and “We R Who We R” by Ke$ha, enigmatic indie tracks like “Fake Empire” by The National and “A Tooth For An Eye” by The Knife, and heavy metal bangers like “Bleed” and “Eulogy” by Meshuggah and Tool respectively.
In this example, we will be using Spire Studio’s metronome feature to create a 3:2 polyrhythmic cadence using two rhythms, one in 4/4 and one in 6/8 time. Our first rhythm will be in 4/4. Let’s start here:
1. Create a new project
2. Select “Tempo” and set it to 120 bpm in 4/4
3. Record a quarter note pattern in your first track for eight bars