Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Unpacking Polyrhythms Part 1: The Basics

According to the Harvard Dictionary of Music, a polyrhythm occurs whenever two contrasting rhythms happen at the same time. That doesn't nail things down for us very well, especially given that there are a number of terms used to describe polyrhythms. What adds to the confusion is that the book uses the same bit of notation to illustrate several of these terms. So what gives?

Terminology is helpful when it clarifies concepts, and a pain in the butt when it serves only to confuse. So I'd like to offer a few suggestions for interpreting the rather imprecise terms available to describe concurrent rhythms.

Polyrhythm (sometimes called a counter-rhythm)
I want to reserve this word for dissimilar groupings played against a regular pulse. One we're all familiar with is quarter note triplets against a 4/4 rhythm. Nine against 4 would also qualify.

Basic Polyrhythms: 3 over 2, 9:2

Systemic Polyrhythm
A systemic polyrhythm is one that forms the core rhythm of the music. This is a very common practice in, for example, African music, where a rhythm in 6/8 is often played in groupings of both 2 beats and 3 beats throughout the tune. So: 123 - 123 is played at the same time as 12 - 12 - 12.
This is a classical term that refers to a specific pattern of two against three. Originally the time signature was 3/4 and the hemiola rhythm was two dotted quarter notes (2:3; 2 over 3; 2 against 3). Regardless of the underlying time signature, two notes in the space of three is a hemiola, and this figure can be found in every style of music. Memorable examples of hemiolas can be found in the Latin clave rhythm and Dave Brubeck’s Take Five. You'll also see them a lot in pop tunes.

Hemiola in 3/4
Hemiola in 4/4
Cross Rhythm (also known as Poly-meter or Meter Within Meter)
In a polyrhythm as described above, a new contrasting pulse is played alongside the basic pulse. In a cross rhythm, the pulse remains constant and the notes are grouped differently, alluding to an intermingling of time signatures. For example, in 3/4 time, one can merrily play in 2/4 and the modification will hardly be noticed. Similarly, you can play a 3/4 or 5/4 pattern in 4/4 time or 5/4 in 3/4 time -- and as long as you keep track of where you are, you can keep it up for awhile ( though it can be somewhat tricky).

Cross Rhythm: 3/4 over 4/4 

Harvard Dictionary of Music:

Friday, December 9, 2016

New Resources for Your Ongoing Education

Musician First ... 

Mark Kelso is a bit of an emerging star, even though he's been around for a while and has an extensive resume. Mark took over the Percussion Director position at Humber College in 2005, which appears to have helped make him something of a household name among GTA drummers. When he's not teaching or playing with A-list musicians, Mark leads his own 5-piece jazz fusion group, the Jazz Exiles. And in his spare time he managed to put together a very nice educational DVD.

The title really says it all: Musician First, Drummer Second. Mark plays other instruments and is also a composer, which no doubt has an influence on his drumming. You need only listen to some of his work to appreciate the result. Rather than non-stop drums and drumming, Mark has liberally sprinkled the program with original music crossing a number of musical styles and interviews with non-drummer musicians.

There's a lot to be gleaned here, but the main notion that I'd like to offer is that Mark is absolutely correct. Every suggestion, every piece of advice has been thoroughly road tested by Mark (and by me, incidentally). The quality of the musicians coming out of Humber College are testimony to Mark’s understanding of what’s needed from today’s professional drummer.

And the guy is quite funny!

Mark Kelso -
Jazz Exiles -
Humber College -

The Jazz Drum Book(s)

What if your family spoke ‘jazz’ while you were growing up? It’s a question fellow Canadian Leonard Patterson poses in his new book, The Jazz Drum Book First Edition. If music is indeed a language, then jazz must one of the more complicated to learn, and learn the language we must.

Patterson’s book looks at the styles and techniques of some of drumming's greatest early practitioners, focusing on the history and language of jazz drumming. Each chapter gives a quick summary of the player's background and importance. Then comes an analysis of playing style. This is reinforced by exercises derived from some of the player's recorded performances, and helpful transcriptions. Because the exercises come from recordings, the student can visit those recordings to see how and why it works, the key point being that the student of jazz needs to listen.

Nineteen drummers are profiled, covering the recorded years 1918 through 1954 (hence the First Edition subtitle). This book is a great introduction to some of the art's greatest influencers and it presents a wealth of useful and approachable study material. BTW, the Second Edition is now available as well.

The Jazz Drum Book, First Edition, by Leonard Patterson
Self published Leonard Patterson