Rock Perspectives

A New Perspective

Part 2: Three-Over-Two Linear Polyrhythms

by Aaron Edgar

The three-over-two polyrhythm is made up of two contrasting rhythms (three equally spaced notes over two equally spaced notes) that are played simultaneously. We can build this polyrhythm by choosing one subdivision to act as a common denominator between the two rhythms. In this lesson, we’ll use 8th-note triplets in 2/4. The quarter-note pulse comprises the “two” side, and every other triplet partial comprises the “three” side.

Within that 8th-note framework, we can displace either side (or both sides) of the polyrhythm to start on any part of the beat. The pattern starts to get especially interesting if you double the subdivision from 8th-note triplets to 16th-note triplets. Doing that allows you to displace the rhythm into positions where none of the notes line up at the same time, which results in a linear polyrhythm.

In Exercises 1–4, we’ll displace the three side of the three-over-two polyrhythm to four positions within 16th-note triplets. Be sure to keep time with your left foot.

When you get the hang of the previous examples, it’s time to start displacing the bass drum, which is outlining the two side of the polyrhythm. You can play the bass drum on any of the six partials of the 16th-note triplets. In Exercise 5, we’re using the accents from Exercise 4 while moving the kick to the fourth partial of each 16th-note triplet.

Experiment with the six different kick positions under each of the accent patterns from Exercises 1–4. There’s a total of twenty-four variations, and you can check them out at When you can play the rhythms freely, try experimenting with a paradiddle sticking while moving the accents around the drumset.

One of my favorite ways to practice these rhythms is by using them as snare and bass drum comping figures under a swing ride pattern. Since the swing pattern is played in 8th-note triplets, the rhythm will take twice as long to complete within 4/4.

Let’s use the swing context to explore some of the different bass drum variations. In Exercises 6–8, we’ll keep the three side of the polyrhythm consistent on the snare while displacing the bass drum to different parts of the beat.

Once the three previous examples are comfortable, try the remaining placements as comping patterns. They’re a lot of fun, and they’ll help you internalize the rhythms on each part of the beat.

Next let’s try something a bit heavier and put the 16th-note triplets on double bass. We’ll voice the three side of the polyrhythm on the snare. We’ll outline the two side using doubles within the kick pattern. This is a great workout for your feet. If you can’t play left-foot doubles, simply reverse the patterns in Exercises 9 and 10 so that all of the doubled notes are played with the right foot.

In Exercise 9, the bass drum doubles start on the second partial of each 16th-note triplet while the three side of the polyrhythm starts on the third partial with the snare.

Exercise 10 places the double on the last partial of each beat while the snare starts the three side of the polyrhythm on the fourth partial of beat 1.

The last double bass variation we’re going to try cuts the 8th-note ride pattern down to the “&” of each beat. The bass drum doubles are played on the fifth 16th-note-triplet partial, and the three side of the polyrhythm starts on the second partial with the snare.

The last feel we’ll check out is a 16th-note-triplet shuffle. Play these examples on an auxiliary pair of hi-hats or the ride cymbal, because we’ll be incorporating our hi-hat foot.

Exercise 12 starts both sides of the three-over-two polyrhythm on beat 1. The two side is played with the bass drum while the three side is played with the hi-hat foot. Take this slowly to work out the coordination.

Things start to get a little tricky in Exercise 13. The bass drum plays the two side on the third partial of each 16th-note triplet while also playing the downbeat. The hi-hat foot starts the three side of the polyrhythm on the second partial.

In Exercise 14, the hi-hat foot starts the three side of the polyrhythm on the third partial while the bass drum is placed on the last note of each 16th-note triplet.

The final shuffle example is challenging but fun. Each side of the polyrhythm starts on the second 16th-note-triplet partial. But opening and closing the hi-hat foot within the three side of the polyrhythm poses an interesting coordination challenge because the hi-hat foot splashes and shuts on unique parts of the beat. Learn the pattern without the openings at first, and keep the subdivision solid until you have the coordination down.

The best way to practice these rhythms is to pick one of the feels and work your way through every displacement of the polyrhythm. Then you can try to blend these rhythms into your own grooves.