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Rhythmic Accent and Polymeters

     In this post I will be mentioning two ways you can influence the listener in how a given rhythmic part or groove is perceived. In some cases you can even use the same rhythmic cell that you have been using for that effect and that can be achieved when you displace the notes accents.

     An accent in music is the emphasis placed on a particular note or set of notes. This generally translates into a dynamic increase placed on those notes, making them sound more pronounced. As said, accents can be used to articulate a given musical phrase in such a way that it can imbue a different musical fluidity that otherwise that phrase wouldn’t have:

Different accents over the same melodic ostinato


     The other way you can reinvigorate your rhythmic ideas is to add or suggest a different meter on top of the rhythm you already have. Meters have their own naturally occurring accents that contribute to the feel of the general rhythmic flow and pulse of the music. However, when polymeters are used the feel provided by the natural accent of meters is blurred.

     It is easy to understand why because a polymeter is a superimposition of different meters on top of each other played at the same time and distinguishable from each other. In other words, it is the metrical equivalent of polytonality. With polymeter the bar sizes differ and eventually meet after an ‘x’ number of bars. For instance, four bars of a 7/4 meter meet after seven bars of a 4/4 meter – mind you that the tempo remains constant to all the instruments playing in that section:

Same melodic bass phrase used in the first example with a 4/4 meter. Over this phrase, the drums are playing in reference to a 7/4 meter

     As with polyrhythms, listeners will tend to extract a composite meter pattern from the polymeter and fit it into a general metric division.

     These two suggestions can already take you far in what concerns to explore and coming up with rhythmic variations for your existing beats or rhythms so now, it’s time to start experimenting and bring your rhythms back to life!

Happy composing!

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