In partnership with BandLab
Although there’s little that can rival a four-to-the-floor dance beat, thousands of years of composition have gifted us many more experimental rhythmic combinations. Now en vogue again in part thanks to the many YouTubers who make it their mission to unpack them, the polyrhythm is a popular compositional tool that’s as compelling as it is confounding.
What defines a polyrhythm? In simple terms, a polyrhythm is created when you combine two or more basic rhythms with different beat subdivisions. This results in rhythmic motifs that can sound lopsided, jazzy, and certainly more interesting than straight-laced 1-2-3-4 beats. In fact, polyrhythms are common in jazz, along with some genres of metal and many types of non-Western musics, especially those of African and Indian origin.
Don’t get polyrhythms confused with unusual time signatures. Tracks that aren’t in 4/4 do not necessarily feature polyrhythms. For a beat to be a true polyrhythm, it must contain simultaneously played beat subdivisions, not just an uncommon number of beats to the bar.
Let’s dive in and see how you can spice up your own percussion parts by creating polyrhythms in BandLab, using loops and instruments as your guide.
1. Begin with the basics
To get a handle on how to program polyrhythms, begin by building a basic rhythmic foundation. Nothing could be more obvious than a kick on beats 1, 2, 3 and 4, so browse the BandLab Sounds loops collection using ‘kick loop’ as a search term and find Prowler Kick Loop. Loop it for eight bars.
We’ve also got a few MusicTech sample packs available for free download – check them out here.
2. Finding your groove
Small percussion instruments tend to be played as ‘filler’ rhythm, so hunt down one of these types of loops. Search the loop browser by ‘bongo’ and audition a few sounds. We selected Conga & Bongo Arrangement 10, which has a slightly swung feel but is still a solid loop with four beats to the bar.
3. Time for triplets
To contrast the kick and bongo, look for a percussion loop with a triplet feel. Indian music uses lots of these types of rhythms, so search the Bollywood Percussion BandLab pack for Bollywood Shaker Fill. Even though this loop was originally recorded at 110bpm, BandLab will automatically stretch it to fit your 128bpm track.
4. Adjusting the loops
Having the Bollywood shaker riff repeat every four beats is stale and predictable, so adjust the length to just three beats. Now, because this shaker part repeats at an odd number of beats compared to the bongos’ even spread, the rhythm feels more interesting. When all three tracks are played together, you’ll have a clear polyrhythmic feel.
5. Piano roll polyrhythms
Using BandLab’s bundled instruments, you can continue to build on the loop. Pick Dry Drum Kit and program tom hits and ride cymbals on the piano roll. Quantising them to 1/8th note triplets using BandLab’s 1/8T Quantise button will give them an off-kilter feel.
6. Multiply the madness
As a final flourish, set the tom and ride parts to repeat every seven beats (rather than the usual four or eight) to push your polyrhythm into even more complex territory. Now even your ears will have trouble detecting the loops. Don’t get lost.
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