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Disclosure and Henrik Schwarz

Although Aphex’s pioneering IDM and Zomby’s unique twist on grime, hardcore and dubstep both lend themselves well to complex rhythmic elements, polyrhythms can be employed just as effectively in house and techno. Let’s take a quick listen to two more examples to hear how well this can work.

In Disclosure’s track ‘Tenderly’, we can hear how the timing of the claps and percussion layers contrasts with the keys, kick, bass and additional percussion hit which come in at 1:01, giving the piece a strong ‘shuffle’ feel for the first two bars of each phrase:

Similarly, Henrik Schwarz’s remix of Mari Boine’s ‘Vuoi Vuoi Me’ employs a polyrhythm throughout, sucking the listener into the complex timing of the synth bass loop in the intro before laying a 4/4 kick drum on top at the 1:05 mark:

Polyrhythm Dub

Finally, let’s create an example from scratch. The short loop below uses a kick and snare pattern, bassline and keys all in 4/4, but hi-hats and a harmonised marimba fills in 6/8, landing on the 12ths as opposed to the 16ths.

Here’s a piano roll of the kick and snare in 4/4, with the hi-hats in 6/8:

And the 4/4 bassline in yellow, underneath the 6/8 marimba in green:

The result sounds like this:

We can hear how the feel of the beat, bass and keys is instantly changed by the addition of the contrasting rhythm on the hi-hats. When the bassline drops out at the end, the hi-hats switch to a pattern on the 16ths rather than the 12ths of the beats, making it clear how the polyrhythm affected the beat.

The easiest way to experiment with polyrhythms in your own tracks is to start with relatively simple time signatures. Try playing or programming one element in 4/4 and one in 6/8, then mixing them together. As you get to grips with the concept you’ll realise there are no limits. Bassline in 15/8 and drums in 5/4? If you can make it work, there’s nothing to stop you. Polyrhythms really do prove the old music production adage that if it sounds right it is right.

If you enjoyed this tutorial you might find our book ‘The Secrets of Dance Music Production’ a helpful resource for similar tutorials.

Author Oliver Curry
5th October, 2012

Passing Notes is sponsored by

Spitfire Audio

Spitfire Audio is a British company founded by two film composers looking to revolutionise sampling.

They set about recording the world’s finest players in the best locations in order to capture samples of unrivalled quality. Used across the music, gaming and film industry, Spitfire has become the go-to for producers and composers looking to add truly authentic sounds to their works.

With offices in Central London and a growing workforce of experienced music, film and recording professionals, their revolution continues.

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