Mastering Polyrhythms

Two Against Three (1)


A polyrhythm (sometimes referred to as a cross rhythm) is the effect produced when two conflicting rhythms are played together. The music requires one hand to divide the beat into two, for example, while the other hand has to divide the beat into three simultaneously. There are all sorts of possible ratios that we might have to deal with, and (depending on the context) they can prove very challenging indeed!

In this series of articles, I am going to cover the simplest polyrhythm, two-against-three (2:3) – or three-against-two (3:2), and will deal with more advanced polyrhythms in a separate series.

Let’s begin by clarifying those ratios. A 2:3 polyrhythm means two notes are crossing the prevailing division of three:

And a 3:2 polyrhythm is where three notes cross the prevailing division (or pulse) of two: