POLYRHYTHM : The art of multi-tasking.
Polyrhythm, like the word suggest means playing multiple (poly) rhythms at once, commonly in different time signatures or at least in multiple divisions of one given time signature. For instance 4 bars of 3 beats equals 3 bars of 4 beats.
Playing polyrhythmic music can be a challenging thing to start with, basically because the two individual parts can seem to have no evident relationship at first. In my experience for this reason many players choose to just stubbornly play the amount of repetitions they sensibly know they need play and hope for the best. The key however is "to know where you are" during a complex polyrhythmic part, and my approach to this is being able to count along with the other part while playing my own part. This implies you must have automated your own part fully, which is in itself the purpose of practice, and that you must have a certain level of independence to keep track of everything that's going on.
The following examples aim to help develop a certain level of independence and will allow you navigate in complex rhythmical music.
The first exercise is a clapping exercise, which probably will prove to be the most difficult example to learn, but also the one the most clearly shows what it is we're aiming for.
Clapping 3 & 4 simultaneously.
In this exercise we'll be attempting to clap a 3/4 and 4/4 beat simultaneously. One beat for the left hand, the other for the right, and once your able to do this try to shift hands each time both rhythms meet on the first beat.
Practicing two different time signatures on one guitar?
In the next exercises we'll be playing one part and counting the other. So for instance of you're playing a 5/8 line you're counting the 4/8 in top of it, and to know where you are I would suggest counting the amount of bars as well like this :
1,2,3,4 / 2,2,3,4, / 3,2,3,4 / 4,2,3,4 etc.
Be sure to play these exercises using alternate picking consistently playing down,up,down,up etc. This means that when you play a run with an uneven set of notes (like 5 or 7) the first run starts on a downstroke and the second run starts on an upstroke. If you haven't integrated this technique to the extend that you are able to do this, best to stick with downstroke for now, but be sure to review my two part lessons on crosspicking too :
And now for some shameless self-promotion..
Here's a composition I wrote for three electric guitars, which uses polyrhythm almost throughout the whole piece. If you are interested to see what's going on you can view the original score here :