HEMIOLA: What It Is & Writing Funky Jams With It 

The word hemiola is one of those cool sounding music terms that because it sounds cool. It gets overused and misused a lot. I can't really blame anybody for misunderstanding. What hemiola is because there's more than one definition and some of those definitions are sort of vague, but they all have one thing in common and that is the ratio of 3 to 2 


Please note, this transcription was computer generated and has not been checked for errors. However, I do hope you find it helpful. Be sure to check out The Ultimate Modal Poster!

The word hemiola itself comes from the words heavy and holos for half and whole so the word literally means one and a half which is what you get when you divide 3 by 2 in this video. I want to demonstrate to you the the several types of hemiola that we will see and then at the end of the video I want to demonstrate to you how you can actually compose using this simple concept. So let's get started by taking a look at the vertical hemiola.

If I have a length of time that is evenly divided by two beats and I superimpose an even three beats on top of it. I'll have a vertical hemiola. This is essentially a two to three polyrhythm.

Now doing a two to three polyrhythm is actually a breeze.

It's not difficult.

And I mean that it is not difficult.

Not difficult.

Not difficult.

Not difficult.

That's the phrase you're going to use to play a two to three polyrhythm on the word. Not you put both hands together and then on difficult you just go right left, right?

So not difficult not difficult.

And this is a two to three polyrhythm.

If you look at my right hand, you'll notice it's playing it even Three beats one two, three, one, two, three. One two, three at the same time. My left hand is playing an even two beats.

One two, one two, one two, now if I try switching the count between each hand, so I'll count the right hand once and then I'll count the left hand once here's what I'll get 1 2 3 1 2 1 2 3 1 2 1 2 3 1 2 and that Rhythm that I'm counting 1 2 3 1 1 2 3 Bump bump bump bump bump that is called a horizontal hemiola.

Now, there are two ways to write a horizontal hemiola, but in each case the first half of the measure is evenly divided by 3, while the other half of the measure is evenly divided by 2.

The easiest way to count. This is one two, three. One, two, three, one two, one two, one two, one, two, three. One, two, three, one two, one two, one two, a good example of this Rhythm can be found in Leonard Bernstein's America from West Side Story.

So one of the cool things about this horizontal hemiola is that it takes up 12 notes in total and 12 is easily divisible by 3 or 4.

So if I count it in 12/8 like this one and two and three and four and five and six and one and two and three and four and five and six and then I can just place a kick drum on the half notes and I'll get my even three beat.

That's one two three.

One two, three.

Also, I could divide this by 4 and I'll do that with a cross stick on the snare and you'll notice that on the second half of the measure. I actually get a vertical hemiola between the Bell and The Snare. Check it out 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 & 5 & 6 & 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 1 and of course since this is a 12 note pattern it would only make sense to try to divide it by 3 and by 4 at the same time so that way we have a three to four polyrhythm between the hands and the feet and this horizontal hemiola on top and that would sound like this.

Now the last definition of hemiola that I'm going to give you is much more vague, but it's when you phrase something that is in 3/4 to sound like it's in 6/8 or vice versa. So we really don't need a pure polyrhythm to call it hemiola. We just need that super imposed 3/4 feel over a 6 8 beat a good example of this can be found in the Game of Thrones theme song. We have a strong one, too. 3 & 1 2 3 & 1 2 3 & 1 2 strong 3 pulse but only at one section we have a cello line that comes in playing dotted eighth notes one three one, two, three, one, two, three, one, two, three, one, two, three and one two, three and one so I would describe that as hemiola because we're getting the hemiola feel even though there's no direct to 2:3 polyrhythm or relationship happening do know some things.

Now technically it's worth noting that three to two as a pitch ratio forms a perfect fifth. So by playing a power chord, you're technically playing melodic hemiola.

So if you want to be that person that says, you know, Nirvana really used a lot of hemiola in their work. I mean, I guess technically you'd be right but I don't really know if you want to go around saying stuff like that. So how do we harness the hemiola? Well, here's what I did. I wrote a chord progression in be Dorian. It just went from B minor 7 to E7. I did that three times and then on the fourth I hung out on an F sharp minor 7 so these are literally just chords that came from the be Dorian scale from there. I wrote a baseline that outlined a horizontal hemiola. And here's what that sounds and looks like from there. I did a reverse version of that horizontal hemiola on a melodic bell sound and you can hear these notes are kind of outlining the fifths and thirds of the chord progression.

I actually start the song with that too kind of Disguise what chord were in So at the beginning of the jam, you're going to hear you'll hear the Bell part playing thirds and fifths and then it won't be too later on. The base comes in to actually show you what the cord really is. After that. I programmed in some drums to give us that steady slow 3B underneath and add it in a little bit of high hats.

I also had some keys play the same chords and the keys were outlining that steady for polyrhythm that we talked about earlier, except I left the fourth beat open. So just three of the four notes of the polyrhythm.

I wrote a guitar part that plays the exact same for steady beats, but it's three like light Paul needs and then the fourth note is brighter and louder and it fits in where the keys were silent right there and this is Really funny Groove to play It's so simple for your guitar, but playing the timing on this there's something actually really enjoyable about just playing these four notes in that polyrhythmic Groove to the main beat take a listen now over all of this. I improvise using be pentatonic minor and B Dorian there was one last rhythmic element that I really enjoyed throwing it at the end of this.

So I told you everything adds up to 12, right? The 12 beat pattern our horizontal hemiola, if we do 12 twice that adds up to 24.

So 24 we could just do 5 4 times 5 plus 5 plus 5 plus 5 thats 20 and then we'd have a remainder of 4, so I decided to eventually introduced this weird rhythmic hook and you'll hear that little rhythmic pattern start creeping its way in by the end of the song and that's how I actually ended this entire piece of music.

So without any further Ado here is my version of a funky hemiola in the Dorian.

So I hope you get the picture that this simple idea of a two to three.

Polyrhythm can go very very far with this simple beat. I mean if I start layering in or playing off the three versus the to I start creating new layers of polyrhythm. I start getting hemiola has inside my hemiola has and I mean it gets very morbid very fast. I think it's very fun to play with too. If you're with a live drummer, I do this all on my computer, but I do intend on doing a live jam on this channel with some musician friends of mine and hopefully you can see what a good drummer would do with this many possibilities having access to the 2 and the 3 at the The same time lots of cool stuff we can do so. I hope you enjoyed this video and I hope you learned something. If you do like this video, please like subscribe check out my patreon all that kind of good stuff and I will see you next time.


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