For example, a riff/pattern that's three beats long played over 4/4 so that a different part of the phrase is emphasized on each repetition.

This happens briefly in The Killers "Somebody told me", with the phrase "bring it back down" in the prechorus, where the first time "bring" falls on beat 2 but the second time it falls on 1.

I seem to remember there being a specific name for this, but I can't find it anywhere. Anyone know?

  • I usually hear these phrases referred to as hemiolas, although I don't think that's the correct usage of the term.
    – Peter
    Commented Mar 18, 2019 at 21:11
  • Polyrhythm perhaps? Commented Mar 18, 2019 at 21:19
  • @Peter does hemiola refer to a 3:2 relationship specifically? Maybe we're looking for a more general term that refers to a similar concept but for any X:Y relationship... Commented Mar 18, 2019 at 22:13
  • 1
    It's the hemi- component that makes it specific to x+x/2:x, so we could generalize it with a new term "n-ola". :) Or, perhaps they could be described with more words, like rational polyrhythm. Commented Mar 19, 2019 at 23:03
  • 1
    look what you made me do
    – Some_Guy
    Commented May 1, 2019 at 14:57

2 Answers 2


This is an example of beat displacement. If it occurs repeatedly, it is a form of cross-rhythm (or cross-beat).


The usual term (from European Medieval and some Indian music) is "isorhythm."

  • 4
    An isorhythm is a repeated rhythm, but it doesn't have the connotation of going across the bar line, so it doesn't fully answer the OPs question.
    – Peter
    Commented Mar 18, 2019 at 22:10

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