Polyrhythm 4:3 or 3:4

A photo of Jeff Queen.

In the March/April 2019 issue, I discussed the polyrhythm 3 over 2, or 2 over 3. Now let’s take a look at the 4 over 3 (4:3), or 3 over 4 (3:4) polyrhythm.

To refresh your memory, polyrhythm is defined by “The New Harvard Dictionary of Music” as “the simultaneous use of two or more conflicting rhythms that are not readily perceived as deriving from one another or as simple manifestations of the same meter.”

What is “over” depends on the meter. If we are in 4/4 and dealing with a half-note triplet over the quarter notes, it is 3:4. If we are in 3/4 and dealing with dotted 8ths over quarters, we can think of that as 4:3. See the examples below:

Polyrhythm 4:3 or 3:4

You can say the phrase, “Pass-the-bread-and-butter” to help you learn this one. In the 3/4 or 4:3 example, it creates the composite rhythm of “1 ah 2 & 3 e.” We can play this one as notated with both hands on the downbeat, the right hand playing the quarters, and the left playing what are dotted 8ths.

In the 3:4 version, I have notated it in 12/8, so it is easier to see where the “3” falls in relation to the downbeats. We can also learn the spacing of the “3” in this example by saying “TRIP-pul-let, trip-PUL-let, tri-pul-LET, trip-pul-let” and emphasizing the portions of the beat that the notes fall on.

Next time, we will dig into the 5 over 2.

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