I often hear this rhythm in accompaniments in contemporary music:

|x---x---x---x---| Beat
|--x--x--x--x--x-| Lead

That is, it's a 4:3 polyrhythm but with a single quarter note every five notes to even out to four beats. Variations will shift the beats around, but always have the same 3-3-3-3-4 progression.

Is there a special name for this "polyrhythm"?

For an actual example: this video at 0:34.

4 Answers 4


The pattern you describe is a 2:3 version of the bossa nova pattern (or clave), also called Brazilian clave.
Shift the order of the first and second halves and you have the original 3:2 bossa nova pattern.
See also Bossa Nova

Note: If the link doesn't bring you to the section about the bossa nova pattern on the Wikipesia page on claves, then just search for it or use the table of contents.

  • So the Bossa Nova is the rhythm found in Livin' La Vida Loca by Ricky Martin? (0:53 in this video)
    – Joe Z.
    Commented Jan 17, 2013 at 1:06
  • @JoeZeng: In the rhythm Ricky sings the two last beats come one subdivision earlier than in the bossa nova pattern. So, no but close :-) Commented Jan 17, 2013 at 1:17
  • Well, the Bossa nova pattern seems to be generalizable to any 4-3-3-3-3 pattern. In the case of La Vida Loca, it's 3-3-3-3-4.
    – Joe Z.
    Commented Jan 17, 2013 at 1:33
  • In fact, if you account for slight variations, the original Bossa Nova (with ticks intact) also appears at the beginning on Long Train Runnin'.
    – Joe Z.
    Commented Jan 17, 2013 at 13:13

On first glance, your rhythm appears to be a slightly-modified 2/3 clave. As you can see from the linked article, the clave rhythms (so named because, in some styles, the rhythm is played on the claves) are a subject of some controversy. One way to classify clave rhythms is "2/3" versus "3/2", depending whether the first half of the pattern contains two notes or three, respectively. In this case, the first half of your pattern has two notes, and the second half has three, hence the 2/3 clave designation. As the article states, in standard notation, the clave patterns are often written over a span of two bars of alla breve rather than one bar of 4/4 time. However, that is a matter of notation, not sound. I would hesitate to call a pattern over eight beats (e.g., two bars of 4/4) rather than four a clave rhythm, but you are describing a pattern comprising four beats.

Your rhythm differs slightly from the more "traditional" 2/3 clave in that the second note is a little late, producing the near-symmetry that you describe while containing a repeatable pattern within four beats. To my ear, this pattern still retains the character of the 2/3 clave.

The clave patterns occur in many musical styles, often in one of the percussion instruments associated with a "hand-clap" effect (e.g., the snare drum of a drum kit, perhaps even using rim shots instead of just hitting the drum head normally).


I wouldn't really call it a polyrhythm, since it's not being repeated at a regular interval. If only the first three beats were being repeated and we were in 3/4, you'd be correct.

However, in this case I'd just call it a rhythm, closely related to a 2+3 clave, making use of dotted-eighth-note syncopation. It's a fairly common occurrence in Latin-influenced music like the piece you linked.

That's not to say that practicing polyrhythms won't help to learn this; on the contrary, practicing polyrhythms is a fantastic tool for learning odd syncopations.


I have written a dictionary of over 8700 rhythm families and this rhythm family is called 'Longfu'. The Normal form of Longfu is your pattern 1001001001001000 but you can create other forms by starting the cyclical pattern in other places (the second intermediate form 1001001000100100 is quite fun)

  • Nonstandard nomenclature (and/or notation) are generally not particularly relevant within the scope of Stack Exchange.
    – NReilingh
    Commented May 1, 2013 at 21:20
  • 1
    How will you move forward without 'Nonstandard nomenclature (and/or notation)' or are you only interested in the past? Commented May 2, 2013 at 22:59
  • Music is going to move forward regardless of what we call it--we get to name everything AFTERWARDS in order to facilitate communication. You're trying to go in reverse, and contrary to existing nomenclature that people already know and understand. You can call something longfu or bossa nova clave, but one of those terms only makes sense to people who have read your book.
    – NReilingh
    Commented May 2, 2013 at 23:36
  • 2
    Traditional music has had hundreds of years and not named the rhythms, instead it has created a written form where exactly the same sounding rhythm can be written in many different ways. I accept that my names are not universally accepted and my books not widely distributed but they do address real issues. I do not expect Joe Z to adopt my practice, I was pointing out that rhythms do now have names. Before my work they did not. This rhythm is now called 'Longfu' whether you like it or not. Or perhaps you think someone else should spend 15 years sorting out and renaming them Commented May 3, 2013 at 10:32
  • @ChaparralAndrewHodges I love your answer, but most folks on here are stuffy blowhards who deliberately limit their point-of-view to tonal western music and vehemently down vote all suggestions that there may be other ways to interpret music, so good luck. Commented May 3, 2019 at 22:59

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