Monday, 12 May 2014

Ticket 29: Use Polyrhythms

There is a lot of crossover and grey areas between what constitutes polyrhythm, polymeter, cross rhythm, hemiola or sesquialtera. For practical purposes I'm using 'polyrhythm' to mean any musical idea where two rhythms work against each other.

In the Beatles music that plays itself out in one of three ways

1) Constantly switching between two meters

e.g. Here Comes The Sun (Sun. sun, sun, here it comes) or America (Bernstein/Sondheim)

2) A pattern that goes against the underlying pulse

e.g. Here Comes The Sun (the guitar melody at the end of the chorus) or Something's Gotta Give (Johnny Mercer)

3) An instrument playing in one time signature while others play in a different time signature

e.g. Happiness Is A Warm Gun (“When I hold you...” – drums in 4/4 band in 3/4) or When The Sun Goes Down – verse riff (Arctic Monkeys)

Rhythm-wise the most popular combination is a 3:2 polyrhythm or cross rhythm, also known as a hemiola. This is a rhythmic figure in sets of 2 placed over (or next to) one grouped in sets of 3 (or vice versa). America is a good example.

I like to / be in A /me / ri / ca = 123 / 123 / 12 / 12 / 12

The hemiola is common in Sub-Saharan African music, ragtime, gamelan and Chuck Berry style 'double stop' licks.

Happiness Is A Warm Gun (Mother Superior... / When I Hold You...)
Here Comes The Sun (end of chorus/bridge)
I've Got A Feeling (guitar fill)
I Will (final percussion)
Mean Mr Mustard (verse 1)
She's Leaving Home (string part)
Something (bridge)
The End (final verse)
Why Don't We Do It In The Road? (melody)


Achilles Last Stand (Led Zeppelin)
America – melody (Bernstein/Sondheim)
Black Dog – E riff 9:8 (Led Zeppelin)
Carol Of The Bells - melody implied (Mykola Leontovych/Wilhousky)
Crags And Clay – piano (Gungor)
Cult Of Personality - riff (Living Colour)
Fascinating Rhythm – melody 7:4 (Gershwin)
Henriette – verse two “and I got/and I got sort of bored besides” (Lake Street Dive)
I Fought the Law – verse two drums (Crickets / Bobby Fuller Four / The Clash)
Kashmir – first two riffs (Led Zeppelin)
Kiss Like Judas – keyboard intro (It Bites)
Quit Hatin – keyboard riff (Aaliyah) 
Something's Coming – melody (Bernstein/Sondheim)
Something's Gotta Give – melody (Johnny Mercer)
The Entertainer – melody (Scott Joplin)
The March of the Black Queen (Queen)
Till The World Ends (Britney Spears)
Walk This Way - riff - 5:4 (Aerosmith)
When The Sun Goes Down – riff (Arctic Monkeys)

See also

Ticket 15: Change Time Signatures Between Sections
Ticket 19: Different Bar Blues
Ticket 20: End With A Couple Of Triplets
Ticket 37: The Lennon Edit
Ticket 39: Don't Start The Melody On The First Beat
Ticket 52: The Lennon Extension
Ticket 57: Use Rhythmic Displacement

See the full list of songwriting tips here - Tickets To Write

Further reading


 Thanks to Nancy Rost & Bo Danerius on the BSA forum for examples

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