8. What is Polyrhythm?

Polyrhythm, also known as Cross-rhythm, is, simply put, playing two or more different rhythms simultaneously. The most common of such rhythms is triplets against duplets. Let us look at the example below:

Polyrhythm-b copy

You play and count it as:

Polyrhythm 2 b

Practise at a slow and steady pace for a start, best with a metronome. Accent the notes as stated, and count out loud. DO NOT play the tied notes but hold them for their full value. Once you are more familiar with the rhythm, play and count it like this:

Polyrhythm 1 c

As you get the hang of it, start counting in big beats, like this:

Polyrhythm-b copy

A good example of this polyrhythm is found in Debussy’s First Arabesque,

Debussy II

and the first movement of Mozart’s Sonata in F KV 332:

Mozart b

Below is a simple exercise for you to practise. So long as you have mastered this rhythm, you will be able to play it accurately always. Happy practising!

Polyrhythm exercise