The Power Of Polyrhythms

Often, when the topic of “lead guitar” trickery is raised, what follows is a discussion on how to add exotic jazzy licks into a solo or how to play blindingly fast licks with the minimum of effort. But one aspect of playing a great solo is usually overlooked – that of timing. What I’m going to show you today is a great little method of making an otherwise mundane repetitive lick sound a little more interesting, and all you have to be able to do is count… no scary technique!

Let’s begin by defining what a polyrhythm is. It’s easiest to describe it by looking at a lick with just three notes. Something like this for example:

groups-of-3

You could play this repetitively, once per beat which would sound like this:

 

Whilst this sounds OK, it does get a little bit boring after a few repeats. Simply by messing with the timing, it can sound that little bit more interesting. How you could do this would be by grouping this repeating cycle of three notes into groups of four. Instead of going:

EDB EDB EDB EDB

It would now go:

EDBE DBED BEDB

You can see that it’s still the same notes in the same order, but we’re now playing four notes per beat rather than three.

And here is the TAB:

3against4

And this is how it would sound:

 

You can do the same thing, in reverse, if you start with a four note lick… like this, for example:

groups-of-4

Played with four notes per beat, it sounds like this:

 

But, once again,we can rearrange the timing so that instead of going:

EDBA# EDBA# EDBA# EDBA#

It would be grouped into bunches of three notes per beat, like this:

EDB A#ED BA#E DBA#

Once again, here is the TAB:

4against3

And here is how it would sound:

 

These are examples of the kind of polyrhythms found everywhere in popular music. With a little bit of practice you can make use of them too. Here’s a couple of handy hints for counting groups of notes:

  • If you want to know what four notes per beat sounds like, just say “PepsiCola” on each beat & that will give you the correct rhythm to fit your notes into.
  • If you want to hear three notes per beat, say the word “Evenly” on each metronome click or beat, and that will give you the sound of three notes per beat (or a “triplet” as it is known).

I hope you found this useful & until next time…

 

Have fun!

John Robson Guitar Tuition

John Robson… Guitarist

 

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Lick of the Week – Number 2: An Ascending Polyrhythm Pattern

This week’s lick takes the form of a polyrhythm idea. So, what exactly IS a polyrhythm, then? Well, it’s what you get when you repeat a group of notes in a rhythm which is different to the number of notes in the lick, essentially. For this lick we’ll be playing four notes per beat (known as semiquavers or sixteenth notes), but the lick being played has five notes in it. As you’ll see when you look at the TAB, the first bar contains the notes A G F# E & D which are then repeated. Playing this group of notes across a four-note-per-beat rhythm results in this distribution of notes (in this lick the final segment of Beat 4 has no note played on it):

Beat 1

Beat 2

Beat 3

Beat 4

A

G

F#

E

D

A

G

F#

E

D

A

G

F#

E

D

Because each beat begins on a different note in the group of five, it has the effect of placing the accent, or emphasis, at different points within the repeating lick each time.

The lick then ascends the neck by moving each note up to the next one in the scale (in this case, the G major scale), so the next bar consists of the same idea but based around the notes of B A G F# & E. Then the 3rd bar does the same thing again, but moving each note up another scale degree to C B A G & F#, before finally ending up on D C B A & G. I end the lick on an A note which kind of gives the whole thing an A Dorian mode feel (the A Dorian mode is simply a G major scale with it’s emphasis placed on the 2nd note – A). However, you could easily make the lick work with any of the modes by simply changing the note on which it ends. If modes aren’t your strong suit, then you can get a little help by looking at one of my previous posts HERE.

And here is this week’s lick being demonstrated:

As ever, don’t just learn the lick – see what you can learn FROM it by understanding the principles involved and putting them to work yourself. Many great licks use this, or similar, polyrhythm ideas – check out the arpeggio section from the end of The Eagles “Hotel California” or Gary Moore’s “Walking By Myself” solo, both of which use polyrhythms to great effect.

Until next time… Have Fun!

John.

John Robson Guitar Tuition

John Robson… Guitarist