I'm new to the "music scene". Well, at least the more technical parts of it.

In ninth grade, our music teacher taught us how to do a tapping/drumming thing where we tap 3 times on one leg and 4 times on the other in 4 beats.

What is this called? How to do it?

  • 7
    More fun with 7:11 :) – Andrew T. Oct 28 '19 at 2:49
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    A pretty great extreme example of Polyrhythms is basically anything by Meshuggah, if you're able to endure extreme metal :P e.g. Perpetual Black Second starts with 7/8 over 4/4, then 9/8 over 4/4 and at a point goes 13/8, 14/8, 13/8, 10/8 all over 4/4. There are much better songs but that was a fun one to analyze. – Agustín Lado Oct 28 '19 at 14:09
  • While we are at it, here's the mother of all polyrhythms, Dance of Eternity by Dream Theater, beatboxed by a kid with the rhythms on flash cards. – Ian Oct 29 '19 at 7:01
  • @Ian I love that tune! But the polyrhythms in that tune aren't that prevalent; the extreme amount of time signature changes is what makes it unique. Well, that and the unusual harmonies in it and the awesomeness with which it was composed. Go DT! – Agustín Lado Oct 29 '19 at 13:46
  • An easy way to do this is to listen to it played - my go-to reference for a 3:4 polyrhythm is the christmas song Carol of the Bells. Almost everyone has heard it, and if you keep it in your head it's easy to tap out the 3s on one hand and the 4s on the other. – J... Oct 29 '19 at 15:13

Polyrhythm. It's good thing to learn to do. 4 against 3 is nice, before that you should normally try 3 against 2.

Normally it's hard to do at the start. I had to break it down, splitting the beats. For 3 against 2 you need to split the pattern into 6, for 4 against 3 into 12. I made two grids to show how:

polyrhythms as a time grid

It takes a bit of practice but it is very good for your time feel as a musician to learn to tap these. Normally you use two hands, one doing each line, or a hand and a foot. It helps if you use two "instruments" (whatever comes to hand) that have quite different tones. (And soon you'll have people around you saying "will you stop that tapping" ...)

  • Or polymeter? It depends. – Memke Oct 29 '19 at 15:43

There is a common mnemonic for learning the 3:4 poly-rhythm. Apologies for the minor profanity, but it goes like so:

Get two people, call them "3" and "4" and give them the following instructions:

  • 3: You're watching a baseball game and your team is in the field, and you're hoping the outfielder can throw the ball to the first-baseman, so you repeat the following phrase over and over: "Pass! God! Catch!"
  • 4: Someone has offered to sell you the Hoover Dam, but you think he's probably a scam artist, so what do you do? "Pass the dam up" - repeat this phrase over and over again, try to take the same amount of time as the other person.

Both phrases include the word "Pass", so they should say that at the same time. If you get the timing right, you'll get the following somewhat impolite request at the dinner table:

  • "Pass the goddamn ketchup".

The natural way of saying of that phrase is basically a perfect 3:4 poly-rhythm.

  • 3
    I've always heard the mnemonic "pass the bread and butter" but this one makes more sense as a combination of two separate rhythms. – Viktor Mellgren Oct 29 '19 at 12:43
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    "The natural way of saying of that phrase is basically a perfect 3:4 poly-rhythm." I'm not a native English speaker, so I don't know, but I have a hard time believing this. Could you record it? – JiK Oct 30 '19 at 14:19
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    @JiK Not easily, as I'm at work and don't have any recording equipment, nor am I sure how one would go about uploading a sound clip to SE. I'll admit that this mnemonic is a bit America-centric, what with the baseball and the Hoover Dam and the ketchup, but I feel like even in most foreign accents it could still fit the 3:4 rhythm. (I did not invent this, by the way, this is just the way I learned it years ago.) – Darrel Hoffman Oct 30 '19 at 14:31
  • The natural way of saying this is not even particularly close to a 3:4 polyrhythm, and I find some of these verbal mnemonics a little dangerous because of this sort of misconception. These mnemonics work because speaking them over the polyrhythms aids memory recall. It is relatively easy to speak them over the polyrhythm because of the stress patterns, but if you hear someone speak those stress patterns in the middle of natural speech, the rhythm they speak it with will vary wildly depending on many factors. They are not a substitute for first precisely counting the rhythm out. – Peter Smith Apr 27 '20 at 3:41

Overlaying two different evenly-spaced subdivisions with no immediate common factor, is called polyrhythm:


Polyrhythm is the simultaneous use of two or more rhythms that are not readily perceived as deriving from one another, or as simple manifestations of the same meter.

When starting out for the most common polyrhythms involving 2/3/4, if you subdivide down to eighth notes or triplet eighths as the common factor you can find where each larger beat will land.

You can conceptualize 3-over-4 as a case of 3-over-2 with the 2's subdivided once more (which only requires a divisor of 6-per-bar to map them together), and this older question addresses the 3-over-4 case specifically with notation:

How to count polyrhythm 3 against 4 in common time?

(When you get into wackier polyrhythms involving 5s and 7s over base-2's, this mathematical fractions method becomes useless and you start going by feel and true limb independence. But that takes a while of practice internalizing how the basic 3-vs-2 polyrhythms feel, and playing stuff in odd meters with 5's or 7's instead of just 3/4 and 4/4)

  • Does your first definition take cross-rhythms into account? en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polyrhythm#Cross-rhythm I think you can find a common denominator for cross-rhythms, and that's the basic pulse. In the grid example pictured on the Wikipedia page the grid cell is a common denominator, yet it's a polyrhythm, according to Wikipedia's classification. – piiperi Reinstate Monica Oct 27 '19 at 17:37
  • True, more accurate would be the major beat pulse, not necessarily a full bar (since hemiolas are by far the most common polyrhythm and they're often crammed into smaller time units than a full measure). Edited. – user63785 Oct 27 '19 at 18:08

The late drum teacher Charles Dowd called this the Rhythm of Life. [I assumed this was in reference to a song utilizing this rhythm.] He taught it in the context of an Afro-Cuban-style pattern on drum set:

enter image description here

The two top-line patterns are equivalent, but it is the bass drum (lower line) that names the underlying pulse. If one instead plays the 2nd pattern with dotted eighth notes on the bass drum, it becomes the 1st pattern, but now thought of in 3/4 time. The perceived change between time signatures comes from changing from 3 to 4 on the bass drum.

Eventually, this is most rewarding when one plays, say, the 2nd pattern with hi-hat on quarters and changes bass drum to dotted eighths. [This makes the 4 over 3 happen between both feet.] Then continue to play the top-line pattern on bell of cymbal and finally include a clave-style rhythm with left hand.

  • No idea how true this is, but I have heard that this kind of polyrythm is specially common in African music. – hmijail mourns resignees Nov 4 '19 at 0:44

Splitting up a 4 against 3 pattern into 12 equal parts doesn't really work except at a very slow tempo. You just need to get train your brain (and hands) to do different things at the same time.

A good way to learn to do this is set a metronome to a slow tempo corresponding to one "beat" per bar. Start by tapping with each hand separately for several bars. Then alternate one bar with each hand, and finally put both hands together.

Three against two or three against four is fairly simple. Here's a snippet of organ music where you have 3 against 2 both with your left hand, simultaneously with 5 in your right hand, and 4, 6, 5 and 7 with your feet, on successive beats.

Trying to count out "7 against 5 against 3" by splitting up to beat into 105 tiny parts isn't a practical idea!

Drummers ought to be able to keep four different rhythms going at the same time - one with each hand and one with each foot.

enter image description here


A small contribution to your "What is it called?" question:

I have heard this type of rhythm described as the "dog-gone" rhythm in a lesson from Bob Brozman, the guitar player, here:



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