If you want to really start stretching your abilities, here’s a simple but effective exercise for incorporating polyrhythms as fills.

If you use the Polyrhythm app I’ve been talking about, it will help you perform the exercise and be able to clearly conceive it.

What we’re doing is keeping time for 1-3 beats in 4/4 and then playing a polyrhythm over the remaining beats. If you start simple, you can build on this idea and get your foot in the door of advanced rhythmic concepts.

I put a post up about how to “hear” polyrhythms, where we isolate the two groups of notes by their different sounds. This is a very needed skill to be able to improvise with polyrhythms, because it helps us keep track of where we are at all times in the measure. SLOW is the magic word here; embed the divisions the way you did with triplets, and this stuff really will come naturally to you.

Here’s how you do it…

If you have not worked with playing one-note polyrhythms, it’s not a big deal. You can get used to hearing it by playing, say, 5-note groupings and accenting the first note.

Example: 1 2 3 4 5    2 2 3 4 5   3 2 3 4 5   4 2 3 4 5 and then repeat…

Once you get comfortable doing this with 5 and 7 note groupings, you can place them as fills over 1-4 beats. It’s really easier than it sounds…

Just try it with the 5-note groupings for now, and then progress to this:

Take a measure of 4/4… 1 2 3 4… now play very simple rock beat, just sing it as you move your hand, “Boom, bap, boom, bap” or something like that. Get it in your head, hear the sounds… and then on beat 4, play a quintuplet (a 5-note grouping).

Example: 1 2 3 (1-2-3-4-5)     1 2 3 (1-2-3-4-5)   1 2 3 (1-2-3-4-5)   1 2 3 (1-2-3-4-5)…

Now, shift WHERE that 5-note grouping is played, moving it backwards towards beat 1. This is a concept that Tower of Power drummer David Garibaldi has been exploring in similar ways, by grouping evenly divided 16th notes. What we are doing is dividing a beat into an odd number of parts and playing them exactly in the space of a quarter note.

So how does the Polyrhythm app helps us explore this further? Once you get comfortable playing odd groupings over one beat, listen to the 5:2, 5:3 and 5:4 examples at slow tempos to become VERY familiar with their rhythmic shape.

Example: 1 2 (1-2-3-4-5)  would be 1 2 5:2, with time kept for two beats and then 5 notes played over the remaining two beats (quarter notes).

1 (1-2-3-4-5) would be 1 5:3, with one beat of time and then 5 notes played over the remaining  three beats (quarter notes).

Yes, this does sound complicated, but if you take it very, very slowly, I promise you, this is doable… and it feels and sounds amazing. It makes your mind and body experience time in an entirely different way, and it opens your rhythmic world up to things you never thought you could do… but give it a slow try… I guarantee you, Gary Chaffee did, and so did Vinnie, Steve Smith, Gavin Harrison….

Go for it.