Billy Martin: Rhythmic Harmony 101

Rhythmic Harmony 101

We can apply the basic Western idea of harmony to drumming. If we identify with certain polyrhythms as a musical “feeling,” then we can achieve “rhythmic harmony.” I like to describe this as two or more rhythms together that create a certain “feeling” (just like two or more musical notes vibrating together create a chord). When you change one of the rhythms (or add another), the feeling changes. If we have one key pattern that defines a certain rhythmic phrase, we can change the way it feels when we change the underlying pulse. Play each of these simple polyrhythmic ideas and notice how the top pattern changes in feel with Exs. 1—4. Your perception of the bell pattern may change, but it actually sounds exactly the same in each example. The bass drum pulse changes like the fundamental note in a chord. Later, you can add hi-hat foot and accompanying hand patterns to increase the complexity and musical expression.

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