Polyrhythm Nomenclature

qudig

New Member
Was working on flam-taps with a student of mine a few days ago. He's been working on cleaning them up for a passage in his marching show this year. We have recently been introducing the different stroke qualities, and I showed him how a flam-tap utilizes opposing groupings of 3 16th notes (RH is Rrr-Rrr-Rrr-Rrr and Left hand is l-Lll-Lll-Lll-Ll) to which he responded, "oh so THAT'S a polyrhythm".
I said no, told him I'd elaborate later. We finished up the flam-tap thought, and then circled back since we had some time left in the lesson. I showed him a couple of basic polyrhythms and he pretty quickly was able to pick up some basic 3:2 stuff (sharp student). When we wrapped up though, he kind of looked frustrated and lost in thought. I did my usual check in "do you need me to go back and describe something in a different way that works better for you?"
"I understand the idea behind the polyrhythms that you showed me, but it just doesn't make sense that we would call two different meters of the same tempo being played at the same time as "polymeter" but then not call this "poly-division" or something like that. Isn't the word rhythm more referring to patterns and little repeated groupings of different note values and stuff?
I'm heavily paraphrasing what he said, but that was the gist of his question. I responded by describing how sometimes musical lingo pulls from different sources, and it can be confusing because of their homonymic nature. I actually recently had a conversation with my trombone player (who has his Master's in Geology focusing in volcanic seismic waves) about how the word pulse used in music seems to pull more from the medical usage of the word referring "heartbeat" of the music, whereas in science it is the word wave refers to repetitious disturbances/oscillation/cycles while the word pulse is usually used to describe a single disturbance in some medium.
Anyways, do you all define "rhythm" differently? In my mind's eye, I always thought of the pages of the Syncopation book whenever I thought of the term "rhythm". The definiton per a quick google search was, "a strong, regular, repeated pattern of movement or sound," a definition that (in my mind) would apply to both standard polyrhythms as well as the specific flam-tap grouping that acted as a catalyst for the initial question.
Secondly what word would refer to the flam-tap example that my student brought up if it is not a polyrhythm?
 

Huw Owens

Active Member
I teach students for Music Theory graded exams from the ABRSM.

The first thing I tell all my students is that in music almost everything has more than one name, and almost every word has more than one meaning.

The systems, and the language, were not designed - they evolved. Sometimes,as frustrating as it can be, the right answer really is “that’s just the way it is “.
 

Jonathan Curtis

Silver Member
Good question.

First of all, let's address the "polyrhythm" aspect. It isn't two different meters, it's two different emphases within the same meter.

Let's use "meter" to describe the rhythmic landscape, not just the time signature. So "meter" includes the time signature, the basic rhythms used, the subdivision, style etc.

Within 4/4, a polyrhythm can be created by accenting every third 16th note, which is what you described in your example.

1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 etc.

This, as you described, is a 3:2 polyrhythm. What does the 3:2 describe? 3 emphasis points against 2 emphasis points within the same meter. Here, meter is defined as 16th notes in 4/4. The first emphasis point comes from the accents, the second from the beat, which is provided by the meter. So in this context, 3:2 is read as three accents for every two beats. Both of these things occur within the same meter, necessarily so.

Now onto "rhythm". Rhythm describes the relationship of a pattern to the meter. We can't have a rhythm without a subdivision and a beat, which is what constitutes the meter. "Poly-division" would be inaccurate, as the division remains constant, 16th notes in this instance.

I discuss polyrhythms at length here. The video links to lecture notes on my website:

 

C. Dave Run

Gold Member
I understand a polyrhythm is different patterns played together. I understand polymeter is different musical sections played together.

What I dont understand is this:

Is it also considered a polymeter if the song continually switches time signatures? Say the song structure goes 4/4 to 3/4 to 2/4. Is that also a polymeter, or is it only a polymeter if the different meters are being played on top of each other?
 

Jonathan Curtis

Silver Member
I understand a polyrhythm is different patterns played together. I understand polymeter is different musical sections played together.

What I dont understand is this:

Is it also considered a polymeter if the song continually switches time signatures? Say the song structure goes 4/4 to 3/4 to 2/4. Is that also a polymeter, or is it only a polymeter if the different meters are being played on top of each other?

Yes. Polymeter is simply a polyrhythm on a larger scale. Take a bar of 3/4 and a bar of 4/4, both using quarter notes. The first bar of each bar is accented.

1 2 3 1 2 3 1 2 3 1 2 3
1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4

It's just a 4:3 polyrhythm, but created from time signatures.
 

C. Dave Run

Gold Member
Yes. Polymeter is simply a polyrhythm on a larger scale. Take a bar of 3/4 and a bar of 4/4, both using quarter notes. The first bar of each bar is accented.

1 2 3 1 2 3 1 2 3 1 2 3
1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4

It's just a 4:3 polyrhythm, but created from time signatures.
I get that if they are played on top of each other (one plays 3 groups of 4, one plays 4 groups of 3) it's a polymeter.

Play them like this:
1 2 3 1 2 3 1 2 3 1 2 3 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4

So all instruments play in 3, then all instruments shift to 4. They do this together. It's both different rhythm and time. Is that still considered a polymeter?
 

Jonathan Curtis

Silver Member
No, for it to count as "Poly" anything, they have to occur simultaneously. You're describing multimetric music, or multimeter:

a notational invention contrived to produce explicitly additive beat configurations based on a consistent underlying pulse. Simply put, changing the time signature (but not the tempo of the pulse) whenever a new grouping is desired.

- Rudimental Arithmetic, Bob Becker
 

toddbishop

Platinum Member
You asked this exact question over at Drum Forum several weeks ago-- and it was answered very well by several people. Didn't you think so?

Updating the answer I gave over there:
"I understand the idea behind the polyrhythms that you showed me, but it just doesn't make sense that we would call two different meters of the same tempo being played at the same time as "polymeter" but then not call this "poly-division" or something like that. Isn't the word rhythm more referring to patterns and little repeated groupings of different note values and stuff?

I can't say why something is not called something else. It's just the way it goes, language is an imperfect instrument.

do you all define "rhythm" differently? In my mind's eye, I always thought of the pages of the Syncopation book whenever I thought of the term "rhythm". The definiton per a quick google search was, "a strong, regular, repeated pattern of movement or sound," a definition that (in my mind) would apply to both standard polyrhythms as well as the specific flam-tap grouping that acted as a catalyst for the initial question.

Rhythm = the spacing of musical sounds in time. You could also say it's the system for spacing musical sounds in time. A rhythm would be one particular spacing of musical sounds.

Secondly what word would refer to the flam-tap example that my student brought up if it is not a polyrhythm?

It's called “a rhythm.” You're playing one rhythm on one drum— 16th notes with a flam articulation. You're just using two hands to do it. If you moved one hand to a cymbal, you'd have two distinct rhythms sounding, it's still just called rhythm. Drummers usually would call them independent rhythms. Maybe a theory person would describe it as polyphony-- as opposed to monophony, when one drum is sounding. I associate those words with music history conversations, not this.

Played either way, it would still be one rhythm to the person playing it. For that matter, any actual polyrhythm played by one person is still one rhythm for the purpose of performing it. Which is the important concept here, to me.
 

Odd-Arne Oseberg

Platinum Member
Well. the accents are polyrhythms in relation to the pulse and it's how you'd generally teach to understand them. He probably saw something somewhere else, observed a basic lesson and recognized it or something. He probably didn't want whole novel just a simple explanation or recognition. You find these lessons all over youtube, so..

Philosophy? Nah., Just use them for whatever.

A meter change is just a meter change, but just as with harmony you have a few ways to do that. Sometimes there will a be a metric modulation that prepares for what's coming.

I only play boring music , so I simply superimpose if I feel like finding a new gig.
 

Xstr8edgtnrdrmrX

Diamond Member
Was working on flam-taps with a student of mine a few days ago. He's been working on cleaning them up for a passage in his marching show this year. We have recently been introducing the different stroke qualities, and I showed him how a flam-tap utilizes opposing groupings of 3 16th notes (RH is Rrr-Rrr-Rrr-Rrr and Left hand is l-Lll-Lll-Lll-Ll) to which he responded, "oh so THAT'S a polyrhythm".
I said no, told him I'd elaborate later. We finished up the flam-tap thought, and then circled back since we had some time left in the lesson. I showed him a couple of basic polyrhythms and he pretty quickly was able to pick up some basic 3:2 stuff (sharp student). When we wrapped up though, he kind of looked frustrated and lost in thought. I did my usual check in "do you need me to go back and describe something in a different way that works better for you?"
"I understand the idea behind the polyrhythms that you showed me, but it just doesn't make sense that we would call two different meters of the same tempo being played at the same time as "polymeter" but then not call this "poly-division" or something like that. Isn't the word rhythm more referring to patterns and little repeated groupings of different note values and stuff?
I'm heavily paraphrasing what he said, but that was the gist of his question. I responded by describing how sometimes musical lingo pulls from different sources, and it can be confusing because of their homonymic nature. I actually recently had a conversation with my trombone player (who has his Master's in Geology focusing in volcanic seismic waves) about how the word pulse used in music seems to pull more from the medical usage of the word referring "heartbeat" of the music, whereas in science it is the word wave refers to repetitious disturbances/oscillation/cycles while the word pulse is usually used to describe a single disturbance in some medium.
Anyways, do you all define "rhythm" differently? In my mind's eye, I always thought of the pages of the Syncopation book whenever I thought of the term "rhythm". The definiton per a quick google search was, "a strong, regular, repeated pattern of movement or sound," a definition that (in my mind) would apply to both standard polyrhythms as well as the specific flam-tap grouping that acted as a catalyst for the initial question.
Secondly what word would refer to the flam-tap example that my student brought up if it is not a polyrhythm?

you guys were just doing what I call "hand-to-hand breakdowns", which have separate rhythms that mmix together to form the rudiment, but not poly rhythms per se. Some hand-to-hand breakdowns can sound polyrhythmic - Swiss Army Triplets feel like that to me.
 

pgm554

Platinum Member
I teach students for Music Theory graded exams from the ABRSM.

The first thing I tell all my students is that in music almost everything has more than one name, and almost every word has more than one meaning.

The systems, and the language, were not designed - they evolved. Sometimes,as frustrating as it can be, the right answer really is “that’s just the way it is “.
I remember the first time I saw a trill notated.(1776)
I went WTF is that?
Just turned out the writer didn't now how to notate a roll.
 

SmoothOperator

Gold Member
I teach students for Music Theory graded exams from the ABRSM.

The first thing I tell all my students is that in music almost everything has more than one name, and almost every word has more than one meaning.

The systems, and the language, were not designed - they evolved. Sometimes,as frustrating as it can be, the right answer really is “that’s just the way it is “.

That is interesting. I had a bit of an epiphany. I bought "The Book", a book on song writing, while reading it I had trouble understanding why he didn't name some sections of songs I was familiar with, then I realized that depending on the context a build, a pre chorus, second verse before the chorus might all be the same thing.
 

flamateurhour

Active Member
Dude what a weird thing to come across. I am the OP of the original thread on Drumforum. Idk who this OP is.

I'm actually suuper pleased that this got more responses (and also reminded me about that post - I got busy and forgot to follow up) but what a strange move lol.
 

Jonathan Curtis

Silver Member
Dude what a weird thing to come across. I am the OP of the original thread on Drumforum. Idk who this OP is.

I'm actually suuper pleased that this got more responses (and also reminded me about that post - I got busy and forgot to follow up) but what a strange move lol.

Am I wrong in thinking that this is another instance of a brand new user showing up on the forum, asking a solid question, triggering a big discussion, but never showing up again? I can't pinpoint any specific thread, but I can't help feeling this has happened fairly recently.

I KNEW something was dodgy about this. It has happened before - somebody (or a bot) starts a new account, posts an interesting question and launches a discussion, and OP is never heard from again.
 

GetAgrippa

Diamond Member
What purpose do these bots serve in doing this? Is it tied to industry, a govt, or just some nut? Pirating drum forum threads WTH.
 

jda

Silver Member
mm testing maybe; odd to pick on a drum forum
everyone knows there's no money information or inyelligence there ; )
seriously; Look at the members at some of the drum forums. One list's about 500 bots as guests..
 
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