Expanding Your Ear With Polyrhythms


Play Along MP3 and rhythmic notation.


The goal of this exercise is to familiarize the listener/student with the mental challenges and rhythmic demands of polyrhythms. In this exercise the goals are simple to understand, but harder to master. You do not need to be a drummer or percussionist to get value out of this. Additionally you do not even need an instrument, you can literally tap on any available surface.

Polyrhythms are defined as "A rhythm that makes up two or more rhythms simultaneously." The popular song "Carol of the Bells" is a good example of a simple 2 vs 3 polyrhythm. Like anything musically, polyrhythms can be very complex and challenging. They are great tools to expand the ear and listening skills of musicians. 


1. Be able to play the main rhythmic exercise using your hands. 

2. Be able to comfortably count the two competing rhythms (while listening to the included play along)

3. Be able to play the main rhythm and simultaneously count the exercise "both ways" 

Description of play along track

The play along starts with a loop of the main rhythm. You will hear two different sound sources that make up a specific rhythm (see notation included with this lesson).

Section two on the play along is only the shaker part. The shaker part can be counted several ways, most people will gravitate towards what comes naturally, which is 1EN, 2EN, 3EN, 4EN. (Rest on the A's -- do not count them.)

The next part is the accompanying rhythm (bottom note in the notation exercise). 

Notation With Count

Notation Without Count

Typically people will count (or hear this) as 1 2 3 4. 

The next and last section of the play along is both parts on the notation sheet and a voiceover demonstrating both counting cycles. You will hear me count what I often refer to as "both sides." The most challenging part is changing your count "on the fly" (starting with the 1EN 2EN 3EN part then transitioning to the competing 1 2 3 4 part). Going back and forth between counts while tapping the rhythm is the ultimate goal.

Larry Salzman is a global percussion teacher with over 20 years of experience. Larry plays over 20 different percussion instruments. In addition, he has over 350 TV and film credits as well as 35 CD credits. Book a lesson with Larry today!


This is part 2 of 3 in Larry Salzman's tutorial series on polyrhythms. Go to:

Hand Drums
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