Meshuggah does this a lot, where they will have say a 5 note sequence in 4/4. It will look like this if each note is given a number:


  • 1
    So, is the accent on beat 1 of each bar, or is it on note 1? Big difference.
    – Tim
    Jul 3 at 7:38

If you want a hyper-fancy academic term, this falls under the umbrella of what Harald Krebs calls "metrical dissonance."

Specifically, this is what is called a "grouping dissonance," because there are different "groups" of different metrical levels: one is a 4-level (the 4/4 meter, however implicit or explicit) and the other is a 5-level. Krebs would thus call this a G 5/4 dissonance, meaning "a grouping dissonance with two levels occurring simultaneously: one a 5-level, the other a 4-level."

If you're curious, the other type of dissonance is a "displacement dissonance." This is where two metrical levels of the same cardinality (like two 4-levels) are not aligned. Imagine, for instance, that one 4-level begins on count 1, but the other 4-level begins on the "and" of count 2.

(And if you're curious, there are other aspects to his theory, like subliminal dissonances, direct vs. indirect dissonances, etc. But without knowing more specifics of the piece, I can't address whether the terms apply here.)

  • Krebs is new to me. Is there a publication that gives an overview of his ideas?
    – Aaron
    Jul 2 at 21:38
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    @Aaron His book is titled Fantasy Pieces, but I'm sure you can find a review of it on JSTOR that explains the main points.
    – Richard
    Jul 2 at 21:39

This is an example of 5:4 polyrhythm. The melodic phrase creates a dynamic accent every five beats, and the primary pulse has a metric accent every four beats. The composite of the two accent patterns gives the impression of 5 against four.

Three views of 5/4 against 4/4 as a 5:4 polyrhythm

  • Only polyrhythm if someone else is doing the normal meter against it, surely. Jul 2 at 20:30
  • @LaurencePayne OP implies that the melody is 5/4 against a 4/4 accompaniment.
    – Aaron
    Jul 2 at 20:31
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    By the way, what Meshuggah does is polyrhythms, but the mere fact of repeating the phrase at different parts of the measure is not necessarily a polyrhythm (e.g. what if only a single instrument is playing?) Jul 2 at 20:52
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    @user1079505 If you consistently align every five beats, you're playing in 5/4. Without a second impulse to contradict that, any sense of 4/4 will be lost.
    – Aaron
    Jul 2 at 21:17
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    No, sense of 4/4 won't be lost if you emphasize the metric accents. Jul 2 at 21:19

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