Polyrhythms

polyrhythms

Polyrhythms are at the heart of African, Middle Eastern, Cuban and Brazilian traditional musics. They are not just the roots of phrasing and feel in American popular music but the very seeds from which it grows.

The leaves and branches of a tree do not always resemble the seeds and for that reason, without having these rhythms internalized it can be hard to know what you’re missing.

These exercises will help you physically understand and apply polyrhythms to your drum set playing in the context of modern popular music.

Tresillo

Tresillo is the Spanish word for triplet. The rhythmic interpretation of the three notes is different from that of the European classical triplet. The notes are not evenly spread across the beat but are rhythmically staggered over a duple pulse as you will learn through playing these exercises.

Listening and Understanding Each Exercise

Exercise 1: 104BPM – Tresillo in the simplest form on the snare drum over a duple(two) pulse in the bass drum:

Exercise 2: 104BPM – Tresillo in a common pop beat. The snare drum on beat one is deemphasized or omitted:

Exercise 3: 104BPM – Tresillo in the first measure of Brazilian bossa nova:

Exercise 4: 180BPM – Tresillo in the first measure of Cuban cascara clave:

Exercise 5: 164BPM – Tresillo as accents on the snare drum and bass drum in the basic New Orleans groove:

Exercise 6: 125BPM – Tresillo on the snare drum in the beat from the studio recording of Superbad by James Brown:

Exercise 7: 132BPM – Tresillo on the snare drum in the beat from Clocks by Cold Play:

Recommended Listening

Enrique Iglesias: Bailando (Latin pop)
Astrud Gilberto: Agua de Beber  (Brazilian bossa nova)
Eddie Palmieri: Vamanos Pa’l Monte  (Cuban cascara clave)
Rebirth Brass Band: Do Whatcha Wanna (New Orleans)
James Brown: Super Bad (funk)
Cold Play: Clocks (pop rock)

Three Over Two

Understanding Each Exercise

The interplay between even and odd subdivisions is a central theme in popular music. These exercises place two against three in the context of a standard 12/8 blues drum set rhythm.

In the sound file above, each exercise is played four times at 60BPM. Exercises one and two are combined in the audio track.

  1. Exercise 1: The three over two as commonly notated with eighth note triplets on the hi-hat and eighth notes on the snare drum.
  2. Exercise 2: The same polyrhythm as exercises 1 but notated in more common drum set form so you can see exactly where the second eighth note falls between the second and third beats on the hi-hat.
  3. Exercise 3: The same rhythm as above, but now the eighth notes are on the bass drum instead of the snare drum.
  4. Exercise 4: Alternating four eighth notes on the bass drum and four on the snare drum.
  5. Exercise 5: The polyrhythm is played predominantly in the bass drum with the snare drum playing accents on the back beat (beats two and four). The back beat is the common thread between most styles of American popular music. You will find the snare drum on beats two and four in blues, rock, pop, funk, swing-era jazz, country, R&B, hip-hop, gospel, dance music and most other modern popular styles. If you couldn’t hear the hi-hat, you would think this was an even eighth rock beat. This can create a strong effect of “implied time” or sounding like you are playing in one meter, while you are really playing another.
  6. Exercise 6: The polyrhythm is more subtly implied in the second half of a standard 12/8 blues beat.
  7. Exercise 7: The polyrhythm subtly implied on beats two and three of a standard 12/8 blues beat.
Recommended Listening

James Brown: It’s a Man’s World
Led Zeppelin: Since I Been Loving You
John Scofield: Busted
The Strokes: Heart in a Cage
The Red Hot Chili peppers: Breaking the Girl

Two Over Three

Understanding Each Exercise

These exercises place three against two in the context of the standard 4/4 pop time feel.

  1. Exercise 1: The three over two as commonly notated with eighth notes on the hi-hat and eighth note triplets on the snare drum.
  2. Exercise 2: The same polyrhythm as exercises 1 but notated in more common drum set form so you can see exactly where the second eighth note falls between the second and third beats on the snare drum.
  3. Exercise 3: The same rhythm as above, but now the triplets are on the bass drum instead of the snare drum.
  4. Exercise 4: Alternating six triplets on the bass drum and six on the snare drum.
  5. Exercise 5: The polyrhythm is played predominantly in the bass drum with the snare drum playing accents on the back beat (beats two and four). If you couldn’t hear the hi-hat, you would think this was a 12/8 blues beat. This strongly implies playing in another meter.
  6. Exercise 6: The polyrhythm is more subtly implied on beat three of a standard rock, funk or pop beat. This rhythm may also be interpreted as Tresillo.
  7. Exercise 7: The polyrhythm subtly implied on beat three with swing 16th notes on the “ah” of beats two and four.
Recommended Listening

Steely Dan: Home at Last
Led Zeppelin: Fool in the rain
The Notorious B.I.G.: Mo Money Mo Problems

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