POLYMETER - Understanding and Using Complex Rhythms

After the WEIRD INTRO this video goes through the basics of polymeter, where you can hear it, and how you can write with it. Deeply complicated rhythmic layers can easily develop when you write polymetrically, and open up whole new universes of songwriting and composition. Later, I will be making a video about the 3:4 polyrhythm. Polymeter and polyrhythm are closely related, and hopefully this video demonstrates the basics of polymeter for anyone to understand and start using! 


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!

This will be a lesson on Polly meter. This will be a lesson playing with time in new ways language in this video. I want to explain to you what is poly meter. And then I also want to show you. Different examples of where we hear this in actual music and also talk about how we can write our own poly metric sections.

So to begin what is poly meter Polly beaters when we're working with two time signatures at the exact same time between different instruments or different voices. So a three to four Polly meter is a simple as one of our voicings or instruments playing something that's four beats long and another instrument or voicing that's playing something just three beats long a very easy example of this is imagine if I count to the number 4 1 2 3 4 and at the exact same time somebody else is only counting to the number three one, two, three, one, two, three, you can see that our counts would line up. A little while one two and three would line up but when I'm saying for then all of a sudden this other voicing is counting the number one and when I'm counting the number one, this other voicing is counting the number two. So this overlapping structure of poly meter is which really gives us our poly metric feel. It's the identifying flavor of poly meter is that these things overlap and eventually they do sink back up. You can see after 12 beats this entire thing will sink back up in our Ones Will synchronize together because 12 is just 3 times 4 so we can hear what this sounds like by me. Counting four beats steadily at the same time as me counting three beat steadily.

One two three, one, two, three one four one three one two, three one. So that's the basis of a three to four poly meter, but it really doesn't become musical until we put it onto an instrument. So imagine if we took our for beat and we just played it on a drum set instead the foundation of your drum set BackBeat is just for notes one-two-three-four one-two-three-four one-two-three-four one-two-three-four and imagine if I had my drums doing that and on top of that I had some strings doing something that was only three beats long like 1 & 2 3 1 & 2 3 1 2 3 1 & 2 3 1 & 2 3.

Well, then I've got Kashmir by Led Zeppelin.

We can take this concept further than just three and four we can do any two numbers that don't divide into one another so something like 5 to 4. For example, I've got a five beat phrase happening at the exact same time as a four beat phrase and you can hear something like this at the beginning of touch and go buy the cars. The drum beat is doing a steady 5B phrase of 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 & 5 & 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 & 5 n and the keyboards just play.

Quarter notes outlining an A Minor add nine and then a measure for syncopated coordinates just outlining at a minor.

So it's just one two, three four on the keys, but that overlaps in a very strange and confusing fashion with our five beats on the drums.

And in the first few seconds of that song, you just get this disorienting really jarring, but still grooving effect that I absolutely love.

Now you don't have to just write entire sections with polydor. You can use poly meters sparingly as just a device to add interest to maybe a melodic line or even some improvisation.

One of the things I like to do is a guitar player is I like to take like five beat phrases or 7B phrases and just kind of hang out on those even if I'm in 4/4 or if I'm in six eight or something common like them so like a Ben B phrase would be one two one two, one, two, three. One two, one two, one two three, so something like that if I'm in a pentatonic minor 1/2, 1/2 du dum dum humble one, two, one two, one, two, three, one two, one two, one, two, three a simple phrase like that in 4/4 can be very interesting hearing the way it overlaps over the beads and creates different Cycles.

Also is a lead player you can do some really weird things. If you start phrasing things Polly metrically instead, for example, 16th note triplets are six notes for be so guitar players, especially and even piano players will have a tendency to do six note phrases that take up a full beat something like one two, three four. That's six notes for be 1 2 3 4 5 6 1 2 3 4 5 6 But what if you played something that took up six notes of beat but it was only phrased as five notes. So imagine something like this simple five-note phrase one, two, three, four five if I'm treating that as a sextuplet, I'd have to count 1 2 3 4 5 6 1 2 3 4 5 6 1 2 3 4 5 6 1 2 3 4 5 6 1 2 kind of confusing right? So I did this exact same thing in my last single that I released Generations.

I wanted something at the speed of 16th note triplets. But I wanted something in the phrasing of five and it gave me this really disjointed uncomfortable phrase that lasted over two measures to help me Resolve back on the one and it really helped me achieve the effect. I was looking for of some kind of awkward disconnected little feeling.

One of my favorite things to do with Polly meters to write metal with it. There's a band called Meshuggah who writes like exclusively Polly metric and polyrhythmic metal.

So accessing that Meshuggah feel is very simple. If you kind of know how to manipulate this poly meter in a metal sense. What I did is I wrote a riff and 7/8 my first measure is widened a Note 2 and a 3 and a 1 and since it's only a measure 7 8 I can only count one E and A two e and a three e and a four e takes me back to my one beat and then my second measure is nearly the same thing I start off once. With one. Yeah, not to e and but I let it ring out for an extra eighth of this time. So it's a full quarter note there as I slowly bend it up and that leaves me with enough time for me and for so once again some weird chromatic notes in there, but this time I threw in the be and it's just that over and over again very very consistent seven eight pattern, but what's happening underneath that is I have drums that are playing the steady coordinates one E and A two e and a three e and a four e and and that's only happening between the hi. Hat and the snare so my drums are outlining a clear for beat or an eight beat if you want to think of it that way as having these high hats in the snares consistent, but the kick drum on the drum set will be outlining the exact rhythmic pattern. You're hearing Here Wanting a nut E3 e and-a four e 1 and E and a four e 1 and u and v and that's what's happening on the drums. All right. So we've got a lot of reinforcement for my weird seven eight pattern, but you're going to have the Des ambiguity of the of the for for on the drums.

Then later on I threw in a very simple like five quarter note keypad on top of it just to make things weird. So more a total diminished minor 3rd harmonies and I got something pretty brutal issues by mixing it all together.

So this is really fun stuff to me and you can see it goes in a lot of different ways. You can use a little tiny bits as a lead player. You can write entire sections like this and I want you to really hear what other people have done with this. There's some bands that right with a lot of poly meter that I didn't mention here Genesis for example has lots of poly meter sections in The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway album.

Also King Crimson might be the the kings of Polly meter. I've heard more Polly meter sections and King Crimson music than anything else and Tool as well. I would be remiss to not mention the tool exclusively uses Polly meter throughout their songs.

Now, I do need to talk about what is the difference between Polly beater and polyrhythm. You probably hear that word polyrhythm thrown around a lot and these two concepts go closely together. I will do a whole video on polyrhythm. It's beyond the scope of this video, but you do need to know this you can make polyrhythms through poly meters. For example, let's take a look at our five to four poly meter 1 2 3 4 5 I've happening at the same time as 1 2 3 4 if we only accent the very first note of every one of those Polly metric Cycles. So if I only count the one of every one of those then what I'll get is a five-to-four polyrhythm between both voicings the way I like to think of it as a polyrhythm is literally two independent voices that are dividing one period of time to with two ways. So in our five to four polyrhythm, we have an even five beats and in that same amount of time we have an even Four B's whereas Polly meter were thinking about All the Beats just happening at the same time and there's different lengths of phrases.

So I hope that clears up some of the confusion you might run into later on down the line when it comes to polyrhythms, but really my video on polyrhythm should clear up most of those confusions. So hope this video gets you thinking about Rhythm a little bit more to me rhythm is such an easy way to write with because you don't have to worry about music theory as much you don't have to worry about what key. Are you in or how does it resolved or you know, what is the clarinet player going to play? It's just when you're only focusing on when and the tapestries of complexity that you you can create just through playing with time and numbers and saying oh, I've got a seven to four poly meter. That means that's Twenty Eight beats total while 28 beats. I could treat that as 10 plus 10 plus 8. So now I've got two measures of 5/4 plus a measure of for for now you're talking like crazy time signatures with some underlying complexity and structure underneath it. I think that's really fun to write with it might not Groove that well and it might not be easy to dance to but that doesn't take away the fact that it's fun and it can be really engaging to listen to I hope you enjoyed this video. I hope you learned something from it and I hope it gets you thinking about Rhythm a little bit more. If you like videos like this, please like subscribe favorite and you can check out my patreon where you can support lessons like this going forward.

Thanks for watching.

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