Rock Perspectives

Polyrhythms

Part 4: Two-Limb Four-Against-Three Patterns

by Rod Morgenstein

In the third part of this series (November ’09), we applied a four-against-three polyrhythm to either the ride cymbal or the bass drum, while the snare drum played the backbeats on 2 and 4. Now let’s take things a step further and incorporate a second limb into the mix.

In Example 1, the polyrhythm is played on the ride, with the snare doubling every other note. In order to feel the polyrhythm being played with both hands, count out loud. First count every 16th note: “1 e & a, 2 e & a, 3 e & a, 4 e & a.” Then count just the quarter notes: “1, 2, 3, 4.” Start at a relatively slow tempo so you can fully grasp the concept.
Two-Limb Four-Against-Three Patterns 1

Now add a quarter-note bass drum pattern.

Two-Limb Four-Against-Three Patterns 2

Example 3 incorporates three limbs (on kick, snare, and ride) into the polyrhythm. The bass drum and snare drum alternate on every other ride note.

Two-Limb Four-Against-Three Patterns 3

To become comfortable with playing polyrhythms, it’s important to practice moving back and forth between a basic 4/4 pattern and the polyrhythmic groove. Example 4 begins with a two-measure four-on-the-floor quarter-note pattern and is followed by the polyrhythmic groove from Example 2.

Two-Limb Four-Against-Three Patterns 4

Example 5 features a two-measure quarter-note beat, followed by the polyrhythmic groove from Example 3. Examples 4 and 5 should be practiced back to back to help you further internalize the polyrhythm.

Two-Limb Four-Against-Three Patterns 5

It takes three measures to make one complete pass through our 16th-note-based four-against-three polyrhythm. Most music, however, consists of phrases of even numbers of measures. So it’s also important to practice these patterns in two- or four-measure groups. Example 6 consists of two-measure versions of the polyrhythms in Examples 2 and 3, played back to back. Make sure to count out loud when practicing this exercise.

Two-Limb Four-Against-Three Patterns 6

In Example 7, the polyrhythm is played with one limb (on the ride) for two measures, then two limbs (ride and snare) for two measures, then three limbs (kick, ride, and snare) for two measures.

Two-Limb Four-Against-Three Patterns 7

Example 8 has the ride/snare polyrhythm playing over constant 16th notes on the bass drums.

Two-Limb Four-Against-Three Patterns 8

Example 9 starts with two measures of a standard backbeat groove. This is followed by just the ride playing the four-against-three pattern, and then the ride and snare alternate the polyrhythm.Two-Limb Four-Against-Three Patterns 9

Next time we’ll explore half-time feels and shuffles.

Rod Morgenstein is a founding member of the groundbreaking fusion band Dixie Dregs. He was also a member of the progressive Steve Morse Band, as well as the pop/metal band Winger. In addition, Rod has performed with the Rudess/Morgenstein Project, Jazz Is Dead, Platypus, and the Jelly Jam. Morgenstein is currently a professor of percussion at Berklee College Of Music.