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Let's discuss polyrhythms in songwriting
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Sotsirc
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30th January 2012
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Let's discuss polyrhythms in songwriting

How do you use them? Any favourite ones (I'm quite into 3 against 4 at the moment)?

Would be cool to hear some examples of brilliant use of polyrhythms, anyone care to analyze some tunes?
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30th January 2012
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The verses of Radiohead's "Let Down" feature a guitar figure in 5/4 over a 4/4 drum pattern. Very unsettling, and it creates a wonderful tension-and-release with the chorus.
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5th February 2012
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It's subtle and I didn't even hear it until a friend pointed it out, but Josh Ritter's "Lantern" features two repeating guitar patterns left and right which continue throughout the song. One is 6/8, one is 7/8. The song itself is in 4/4.
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The album version of "Lantern", that is.
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Chuck Berry ..the king of polyrythms
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Oh...King Crimson - "Frame By Frame"

During the verse Belew plays a figure in 7/8 while Fripp plays in 4/4 (I think...I know they're both playing a figure offset by an eighth note).
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Carol of the Bells is 3 over 2. Pretty nifty!
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5th February 2012
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Quote:
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Hmmmmmm...
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9th February 2012
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sotsirc View Post
How do you use them? Any favourite ones (I'm quite into 3 against 4 at the moment)?

Would be cool to hear some examples of brilliant use of polyrhythms, anyone care to analyze some tunes?
I been trying to do this too. I have a band and I want the guitarist to have a solo just having 16 notes grouped in 6 (sixtuplets) while the bass plays another rhythm just using regular 16 notes. Would sound interesting but melodically, kind of hard to pull off
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9th February 2012
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So I have been thinking about this for the last few days. A really interesting subject and I have to admit that not something I was ever aware of before. Of course I am a Radiohead fan and thus have listened to Let Down this week, probably about a hundred times, to try and get a feel for this idea.

So what is the best approach for writing and recording something like this? Let us imagine you were in your home studio now and recording Let Down. Would you record the bulk of a song in 4/4, then record the guitar separate over a 5/4 drum track, and then pasting the track into the main song? I am keen to try something like this just to see how it goes.
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9th February 2012
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When I do it I don't change the drum pattern, but just try to 'hear' the alternate rhythm somehow.
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9th February 2012
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Murphster View Post
So I have been thinking about this for the last few days. A really interesting subject and I have to admit that not something I was ever aware of before. Of course I am a Radiohead fan and thus have listened to Let Down this week, probably about a hundred times, to try and get a feel for this idea.

So what is the best approach for writing and recording something like this? Let us imagine you were in your home studio now and recording Let Down. Would you record the bulk of a song in 4/4, then record the guitar separate over a 5/4 drum track, and then pasting the track into the main song? I am keen to try something like this just to see how it goes.
Learning to tap both rhythms simultaneously with your hands is a good start.
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10th February 2012
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deadmau5 "FML" - YouTube

On this song, Deadmau5 makes good use of 4 over 3 on some of his fills. there's also a 7/4 passage in there.

Also I know that Wynton Marsalis played some extended 13-touplet (however the hell you say that) phrases on Live at the House of Tribes for some further investigation.

-Grayson
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10th February 2012
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the deadmau5 thing and the wynton thing are actually cross-rhythms though.

cross-rhythms = when you put in a phrase of a different time signature that takes up the same amount of time as the original phrase.

i.e. if you made a 3/4 phrase fit into 4/4 time (triplets)
or for a more complex fit - subdivide 7/4 into 16th notes and group them by 5 you would get a 4/4 over 7/4 cross-rhythm.

polyrhythms = when you have phrases of the two different time signatures happening at the same time but they don't take up the same amount of time.

i.e. if you had a 5/4 over 4/4 polyrhythm, the 5/4 phrase would end on the 1st beat of the next 4/4 bar phrase. If it were to repeat, the next 5/4 phrase would end on the 2nd beat of the following 4/4 bar phrase.
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10th February 2012
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Banger View Post
the deadmau5 thing and the wynton thing are actually cross-rhythms though.

cross-rhythms = when you put in a phrase of a different time signature that takes up the same amount of time as the original phrase.

i.e. if you made a 3/4 phrase fit into 4/4 time (triplets)
or for a more complex fit - subdivide 7/4 into 16th notes and group them by 5 you would get a 4/4 over 7/4 cross-rhythm.

polyrhythms = when you have phrases of the two different time signatures happening at the same time but they don't take up the same amount of time.

i.e. if you had a 5/4 over 4/4 polyrhythm, the 5/4 phrase would end on the 1st beat of the next 4/4 bar phrase. If it were to repeat, the next 5/4 phrase would end on the 2nd beat of the following 4/4 bar phrase.
Well a cross-rhythm is a polyrhythm (at least according to all the definitions I've read). The examples of polyrhythm I've seen (few examples below) all take up the same time. Could you post an example of what you define as polyrhythms?

3/4 over 2/4 polyrhythm metronome - YouTube
"POLYRHYTHMS"... an Introduction ( for all musicians ) - YouTube
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10th February 2012
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14th February 2012
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Have parts/melodies/percussion/chords playing in 1, 1/2, 1/4, 1/8, 16th and triplets or syncopated on the off beat. Polyrythms and syncopation are VERY INTErESTING!
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14th February 2012
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I think the Beatles used even odder rhythm on "Happiness Is A Warm Gun" called a Balkan rhythm besides using a polyrhythm.
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15th February 2012
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I believe there is a difference between polyrythmn (two different rythmns played together, but in the same time signature) and polymeter (two different time signatures being used by different instruments). Led Zep Kashmir is a polymeter. I think Status Quo 'Rockin all over the world' is a polyrythmn - mixing straight and shuffle time. This is what Sound on Sound said about it:

Quote:
Originally Posted by soundonsound
"If you analyse that recording very carefully, it's got something that the old Chuck Berry tracks used to have: ostensibly, a straight eight quaver rhythm to which the drummer plays a shuffle. What happens is that it lollops along with a bass line that is quite free, and together with the guitars this creates a really great feel.
I can't recall The Beatles using a polyrythmn or polymeter as I understand it, but they certainly mixed up time signatures, which creates a similar unsettling effect. They would insert a 3/4 section into a 4/4 song, or just cut out a beat or insert one as needed. Thinking of "She said she said" and "We can work it out" as examples.

Check out "Good Morning Good Morning" for a most unusual rythmn ... here is what wikipedia says about it:

Quote:
Originally Posted by wiki
The song has an unusual rhythmical feel and does not use the same time signature throughout. Beats are heard in groups of 2, 3 and 4, giving the impression that the time signature changes frequently. The song has been transcribed as a mixture of 4/4, 3/4 and 5/4.[7] Most of the song uses simple time, where the beats are divided into two, but the middle eight sections use compound time, where the beats are divided into triplets.
And yet the song flows and feels right.

I love unusual time, regardless of how it's created. I think it's a key ingredient for avoiding boredom in a song - along with unusual chord changes or modulation, and unusual lyrics. The elephant of surprise.

One of my favorites for this is Manfred Mann - 'Ha Ha Said the Clown' - that did my head in for days until I got it ... addictive.
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15th February 2012
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Kiwi View Post
I believe there is a difference between polyrythmn (two different rythmns played together, but in the same time signature) and polymeter (two different time signatures being used by different instruments).
huh?
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16th February 2012
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huh?
Polyrhythm ... Polyrhythm - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Polymeter ... Meter (music) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

As somebody mentioned above - Chuck Berry was a king of Polyrhythm ... a lot of those old r&b or r&r songs had a strange mix of straight and shuffle timing that always used to throw me ... part of the voodoo ...

Poly simply means "many". So you can put more than one rhythmn together, and both can be 4/4. Polyrhythmn should not be confused with Polymeter, such as Led Zeps Kashmir where the drums stay in 4/4 but guitars and orchestra play a 6/4 part that only coincides on the One every 12 bars ... fun stuff to play and compelling to listen to.

And simply cutting out or inserting the odd beat here and there to make songs cooler is something else and best done by feel. I'm sure Burt Bacharach and Lennon, McCartney & Harrison never really thought to much about what time signature they were in when they wrote. Burt would have had to think about it when he notated it, and George Martin would have figured something out for The Beatles.

Some of the timing effects were created with tape editing. For example in McCartneys's Let Me Roll It, there is a cool timing bit where a bar gets repeated and that was a tape edit mistake that sounded so cool they kept it.

If writing a song and it starts to get a bit boring, consider chopping a beat out to make it cooler. Or adding some beats as required. Force dancers to change their leading foot ...

I always find the timing of that song from Babe (the pig movie) ... to be very compelling (If I had words to make a day for you) ... and even 'How Great Thou Art' has an interesting timing that throws most people. Imo it's all part of why those songs were massive hits in their day. I actually think it's a feature of some older church music that influenced Western music.
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16th February 2012
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Or maybe Chuck Berry stuff is Cross Rhythm ... I don't know, I just play it by ear ...
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Kiwi View Post
Polyrhythm ... Polyrhythm - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Polymeter ... Meter (music) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Poly simply means "many". So you can put more than one rhythmn together, and both can be 4/4.
That's weird, I've never heard anybody use the term polyrhythm that way before and I'm not sure why that distinction would even be necessary. If you put two rhythms together and both are 4/4 that just seems like "rhythm". Wouldn't that include basically all rhythms ever? Like straight 8th note hi hats over kick on the 1 & 3 and snare on the 2 & 4 would be a "polyrhythm" under that definition wouldn't it?

I guess semantically it sort of makes sense but then musically I don't see any reason for the term polyrhythm if you define it that way. But in popular usage I don't think anyone ever means that when they say polyrhythm do they? If you look at the wiki entry on polyrhythm it's all about rhythms in different meters that are overlaid on top of each other.
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After some more reading the best I can come up with is that apparently some people make the distinction that polyrhythm refers only to rhythms where two meters are overlaid but end on the same downbeat at the beginning of each bar? While polymeter would be combinations that take multiple bars to phase back onto the downbeat together? This thread sort of helped clarify but also seems equally confused and unresolved
Meters, polymeters, polyrhythms, compound meters. What are the differences? - TalkBass Forums

I'm still not really sure why the distinction is useful in any practical sense.
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I was aware that there was a difference, but agree, I am not sure how much it matters - what's in a name after all?

But what I do know is that this thread has developed into the most interesting one on here so far.

Thanks everyone, I am learning lots from this.
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18th February 2012
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Chuck Berry ..the king of polyrythms
I have never heard that Chuck Berry used polyrhythms as he used basically 4/4 times signatures.
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I guess he just means triplets? Technically a polyrhythm but so common that it doesn't really seem like they qualify.
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To get back to the original subject, I know this is obvious (and maybe a tad trite to some members), but Sting is a master of Polyrhythmic-yet-SIMPLE pop writing. He has this incredible knack for writing in complex meters that don't sound particularly sophisticated or tricky until you try to play them. Some of them were pretty big hits in their time.

Some notable examples:

"I Hung My Head", where 9/8 was chosen because it reminded him of a horse's gallop (which reflects in the lyrics):
I Hung My Head - Sting - YouTube

"Seven Days" (which is in 5/4):
Sting - Seven Days (Fields of Japan) {HD} - YouTube

"I Was Brought To My Senses" (which is gorgeous, and is in 7/4. Rhythm starts at 1:41): Sting- I Was Brought To My Senses with Lyrics - YouTube


Those are just some of my favorites. I learned a ton while exploring them; can't recommend it enough.
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