“Poly” means many. The use of two or more metric frameworks played simultaneously-–what we define as a polyrhythm-–is the rhythmic foundation underlying African-influenced music worldwide. Organized musical sound is a phenomenon adapted from nature. Melody, harmony, and rhythm are all one thing-–pulsating waves of sound, simply moving at different rates of speed.

Hemiola is a rhythmic form of counterpoint that introduces a new type of meter on top of a previously existing one, creating a polyrhythm. Hemiola is to rhythm what a leading tone is to melody, and a suspended chord is to harmony-–each engages the listener by creating an unexpected tension if not quickly resolved.

Chapter 5 - Basic Polyrhythms & Hemiola

Practice Tips & Applications

Get Into the Groove

In many African languages the idea of a song, a rhythm, a dance, or even a drum, are not defined as separate entities but rather parts-of-the-whole of a single concept. This philosophy is useful for embracing the importance and inseparable relationship of drumming to dancing, to create a foundation for playing polyrhythms that allows any voice in a coordinated rhythm to lead or accompany in a clear, singing, and hard-grooving, danceable manner.

Video Demonstration 1, Applying Polyrhythms to Contemporary Backbeat Ostinatos, spotlights the Polyrhythms of 3:2 and 4:3, in 4/4 time, as presented on pg. 62 of Combinations & Coordination Studies, and then are incorporated into a groove ostinato context from Chapter 6 of the book.

Video Demonstration 2, Progressive Hemiola Combo in 4/4, spotlights a sequential overlapping of 3:2 and 2:3 Polyrhythms in 4/4 time, as presented on pg. 63 of Combinations & Coordination Studies, interpreted over a “Steppers Reggae” groove ostinato voicing.