So we always have like in dance music 4/4 and like 4 kicks in one bar with two claps or snares on every second beat going and let's say I add some bassline that plays totally different rhythm/pulse (not sure for correct term) and now they are playing against each other, making music sound more interesting but still flow together. What is it called in music? I know that this is not polymeter or polyrhythm. Then I keep adding more instruments like strings and drones playing some even more different rhythms that plays like one note a bar let's say and some arps that plays 1/16 a bar. I'm just looking for definition of this and where I could learn more how to layer these different voices playing against each other in different rhythms/pulses for interesting variation.

I have an example of this first track in the beginning:

There is drums, man's voice saying "mhmm" every 4 beats, some different rhythm bells in the background and some other stuff going on.

3 Answers 3


In a classical sense, it would make sense to use the term "counterpoint" for the distinct melody lines all sounding independent. In a more general and often rhythmic sense, it could also be called polyphony. Also, "layered texture" might be a more contemporary description of the effect.

I advise everyone that it's not extremely important to have classical music terminology in this kind of music; no one's going to know what you're talking about.

  • 2
    These aren't 'classical' terms. Maybe 'technical' or 'scholarly' terms are better words. But the term describe much more than classical style. I figured that when the OP mentioned 'polyrhythm' they were looking for technical terminology. But, I do agree with you that such technical terms might not be the best way to talk about this style of music. Jan 16, 2019 at 17:50
  • @MichaelCurtis So if we have counterpoint as in classical music having two independent melodies playing simultaneously, that means we have a polyrhythm happening too, right?
    – Limpuls
    Jan 16, 2019 at 22:04
  • @Limpuls, not necessarily. The two lines could have different pitch contours, but use the same rhythm. Those two lines would be considered less independent than if they had different rhythms. Also, take care the the term 'polyrhythm' versus 'counterrhythm.' Polyrhythm is a kind of metrical grouping contrast. In Bach's counterpoint polyrhythm would be unusual. In modern dance music polyrhythm would be common. Jan 17, 2019 at 14:13
  • @MichaelCurtis Yes, I just find out that polyrhythm is two or more same bar/metre length loops playing at the same time but having different amount of notes that are not divisions of the time measure. Like 4/4 kick drum playing against 3/4 hi hats triplets or 6/8, etc. Thanks for clearing things out for me.
    – Limpuls
    Jan 17, 2019 at 14:43

Counterpoint or counter-rhythm.

Some feel 'counterpoint' should only be used with the mean 'point against point' meaning pitch against pitch and use the term 'counter-rhythm' to mean the combination of more than one rhythm.

  • NB: punctum contra punctum, from which we get the word "counterpoint," literally means "note against note" in Latin. (The relation is especially clear in the German Kontrapunkt.)
    – Richard
    Jan 16, 2019 at 17:56
  • When I read Piston's Counterpoint the big take away for me was independence of lines will be more pronounced from rhythmic difference than pitch difference. I suppose that was just my personal impression, and I shouldn't use 'counterpoint' instead of 'counter-rhythm.' Jan 16, 2019 at 18:32

If you have two "layers" or tracks with the same loop lengths but a pattern of accenting that is fully or partially offset, perhaps you could say that is an example of syncopation. If you have two layers with similar but offset metres that sustain for a long period of time, I'm not entirely sure why that couldn't be called a polyrhythm.

If the pattern lengths of two repeating layers are different, again, I think you might describe that as a polyrhythm - possibly more specifically as a cross-rhythm. Sustained hemiola is an example of cross-rhythm often found in dance music.

  • Yeah, I read that syncopation is unexpected rhythm changes, like upbeat or downbeat. Regarding polyrhythm, I'm still not sure what it means. What do you mean by offset metres? Like if one layer is playing 4 bars long melody and some other layer is playing some other instrument for 2 bars?
    – Limpuls
    Jan 16, 2019 at 19:01

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