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Thread: Polymeter & Polytempo - The Differences (And Did Hack Music Theory Get It Wrong?)

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    Senior Member Whitey's Avatar
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    Default Polymeter & Polytempo - The Differences (And Did Hack Music Theory Get It Wrong?)

    I saw a video by Hack Music Theory in which they tried to address the topic polymeter, but I was unconvinced by the example they made (I don't think that it is a polymeter at all - at least, I certainly don't experience it as such) and decided to delve a little bit further into the topic in a video of my own (using examples of 'true' polymeter from Zappa and Beefheart).

    I tried to broadly address the nuts and bolts of why/how the two devices are different, although my video is still quite cursory, so I'm trying to use it as a starting point for more discussion about the matter. If anyone knows of any pieces/texts which explore the topic, it would be very interesting to hear from you.

    Samuel Andreyev mentioned Elliott Carter's large-scale polyrhythms in relation to this topic, and I wish this is something I had delved into, although that might perhaps be more pertinent in a discussion about global form (which is something I planned on covering anyway).

    For anyone who might be interested in my coverage of the topic, this is the video (hope you can forgive the rather crass thumbnail - I have to try and make sure I have some presence on people's homepage though!):

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    Senior Member millionrainbows's Avatar
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    A good, and thoroughly logical explanation.
    "The way out is through the door. Why is it that no one will use this method?"
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    Senior Member Whitey's Avatar
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    Thanks, I'm glad it was clear - I hope that there'll be more discussion of polymeter in online music theory conversations, because there does seem to be some confusion surrounding the issue in some circles (which Hack Music Theory's example typified, for me).

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    Senior Member millionrainbows's Avatar
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    Thanks also for using the Frank Zappa example.
    "The way out is through the door. Why is it that no one will use this method?"
    -Confucious

    "In Spring! In the creation of art it must be as it is in Spring!" -Arnold Schoenberg

    "We only become what we are by the radical and deep-seated refusal of that which others have made us." -Jean-Paul Sartre

    "I don't mind dying, as long as I can still breathe." ---Me

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    Senior Member EdwardBast's Avatar
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    Nicely done, clearly explained, and well played! Love the Zappa and Beefheart examples.

    One criticism: Your example of a simple polymeter, where you have quarter notes in 3/4 against quarter notes in 4/4, just comes across as undifferentiated quarter notes.

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    Senior Member Whitey's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by EdwardBast View Post
    One criticism: Your example of a simple polymeter, where you have quarter notes in 3/4 against quarter notes in 4/4, just comes across as undifferentiated quarter notes.
    Maybe it does, and I just found that this is especially true if listened to through laptop or phone speaker without headphones. Oh well! Will just have to find a better way in future.

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    Senior Member Torkelburger's Avatar
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    I like your videos. I especially enjoyed the Zappa melody video. Keep them coming!

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but another Zappa example for polyrhythms would be the following:



    From the very beginning 0:00 to 0:14 the time signature has 11 beats per bar. The bass is playing a rhythm subdivided 4 + 4 + 3 every 1-bar cycle. The drums are playing on 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11 in bar 1 and then 2, 4, 6, 8, 10 in bar 2 for a 2-bar cycle (it’s playing every other beat as if in duple meter) and the whole pattern “lines up” every 2 bars.

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    Senior Member Whitey's Avatar
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    Thanks, and fret not, there's more on the way! Interesting find, I've never noticed this about that tune (though I think I've only heard that album twice, so there's probably a lot more for me to discover on it). A lot of the stuff from that era is probably very eventful in that sense, you can't really go wrong with Vinnie on the kit. One tune I am looking forward to analysing is Mo 'n Herb's Vacation - that focuses more on polyrhythms in particular, and the melodies seem to expand and contract so freely. It's a beautiful piece.

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    Senior Member tdc's Avatar
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    Interesting video, one thing I'm not clear on, your video describes the differences between polyrhythm, polymeter and accent displacement, but you occasionally also reference the concept of polytempo, (the title of this thread is "polymeter and polytempo the differences"), but you don't seem to explain polytempo or give any examples of it, (unless I missed it).
    Last edited by tdc; Jun-12-2019 at 11:38.

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    Senior Member millionrainbows's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by tdc View Post
    Interesting video, one thing I'm not clear on, your video describes the differences between polyrhythm, polymeter and accent displacement, but you occasionally also reference the concept of polytempo, (the title of this thread is "polymeter and polytempo the differences"), but you don't seem to explain polytempo or give any examples of it, (unless I missed it).
    Yes, I see that also. Fortunately, that's only the thread title, not the video title.
    "The way out is through the door. Why is it that no one will use this method?"
    -Confucious

    "In Spring! In the creation of art it must be as it is in Spring!" -Arnold Schoenberg

    "We only become what we are by the radical and deep-seated refusal of that which others have made us." -Jean-Paul Sartre

    "I don't mind dying, as long as I can still breathe." ---Me

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    Senior Member Whitey's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by tdc View Post
    Interesting video, one thing I'm not clear on, your video describes the differences between polyrhythm, polymeter and accent displacement, but you occasionally also reference the concept of polytempo, (the title of this thread is "polymeter and polytempo the differences"), but you don't seem to explain polytempo or give any examples of it, (unless I missed it).
    The thread title was a mistake, that was meant to say "polyrhythm"! I also noticed I accidentally said 'polytempo' at some point in the video, unfortunately after I uploaded...

    Didn't really want to cover polytempo (It was briefly referenced in the video because it was mentioned in the MA thesis I cited), because I was trying to focus more on the relationship and differences between polyrhythm and polymeter (mainly because I feel this is what the other channel's video didn't demonstrate as clearly as I would personally have liked). I've typed "poly" so many times, whichever suffix my fingers reach for seems to just be pot luck...

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    Senior Member Torkelburger's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Whitey View Post
    Thanks, and fret not, there's more on the way! Interesting find, I've never noticed this about that tune (though I think I've only heard that album twice, so there's probably a lot more for me to discover on it). A lot of the stuff from that era is probably very eventful in that sense, you can't really go wrong with Vinnie on the kit. One tune I am looking forward to analysing is Mo 'n Herb's Vacation - that focuses more on polyrhythms in particular, and the melodies seem to expand and contract so freely. It's a beautiful piece.
    I look forward to it. Great track and example! I’ve subscribed to your channel.

    As far as modern classical music, have you seen the score to Stravinsky’s Petrushka? There is an extensive passage in the opening of the ballet that utilizes polymeter, although it is not the beat-preserving kind as in your video. He has 5/8 at the same time as 2/4 and then in at another time he has 7/8 at the same time as ¾, etc. This goes on for quite some time and is kind of a momentum-building device that builds to a tutti climax. Very effective.

    Here's a scrolling score with audio. Polymeter technically starts at 0:37 after rehearsal #3. 5/8 and 2/4 is at 0:44, and so on….climax at rehearsal #5 at 0:57.


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    Senior Member Whitey's Avatar
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    This is a brilliant example - I love Stravinsky for this kind of stuff, there's a real flexibility to his handling of rhythm, which extends to other facets of his writing (particularly the way he patches together different textures and suspends them over one another - and this doesn't seem only characteristic of the ballets and such, Symphonies of Wind Instruments is also great in this regard). One of the first pieces of his I heard was Airs By a Stream from L'Histoire du Soldat, where phrases spill over into the next bar where another phrase picks up, fitting together a bit like a puzzle. I knew the record before I saw the score, and when I saw it, there were parts of that where the downbeat was nowhere near where I thought it was.

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