In a previous post, I mentioned discovering an iPhone app called Polyrhythm. It’s the best .99 cents I’ve ever spent.

The other day, I was driving out of Los Angeles along Pacific Coast Highway, looking at a brutal 100-mile trip inland and then back down to Long Beach. To ease the pain, I fired up Polyrhythm in my iPhone and listened to 5:4 at about 60 beats per minute (bpm).

I wanted to become familiar with the sound of 5 beats against 4, and in doing so, I heard some very interesting things. It brought back a memory from a 3rd grade listening exercise that has stuck with me for years, and it applies directly to what we want to do with hearing and processing polyrhythms…

We were played two different conversations and were told to isolate and just listen to one voice and remember what they said. It was cool, because we were really learning HOW to listen, how to force and work our minds to work for us. I’ll never forget what I got from that exercise. Next, we listened to two other conversations at once, and again, we isolated a voice and what it had to say.

The Polyrhythm app lets you apply that idea with the same application: load the program, and then set it up with 5:4 at around 60 bpm. You will hear two distinct sounds; one for the 5 notes and one for the 4 notes.

It’s easier to focus on the 5-note group, so try that one first. Just let both sounds fill your mind, and then isolate the 5-note tone… just HEAR it…

What you’ll notice is that your mind feels a little knocked off balance at first. It’s okay, just let it happen… but don’t stop focusing on the 5-note click tone…

Then, tune it out and isolate the 4-note click tone. This will be a little harder, but work on it for 60 seconds. It’s a strange feeling, but it will become normal after a while.

Vary the tempos, see what happens… you will be absolutely amazed at how strong your concentration and ears become.

If I can figure out how to import some simple Finale Allegro writing clips, I can tell you more about some relationships that exists in simple polyrhythms that help you visualize them as you are playing.

Try playing 5:2 and 7:2, and 5:3 and 7:3, using the same listening techniques. It’s amazing how fast the stuff comes together in your mind, and you are definitely transforming your ears by doing so.