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Pre-Web MIDI Polyrhythms Project

Long before the Web, I studied Music and MIDI in college while working for an electronic drum company. A good combination for a 21-year-old old drummer who likes toys.

When I look back on those college years, one of the most fascinating subjects I remember studying was polyrhythms. As I delved deeper into the subject, I came across a music book entitled “POLYRHYTHMS: The Musicians Guide” by Peter Magadini. This book is a method designed to teach the creative musician and music student the art of playing polyrhythms.

Literally, the word “polyrhythm” means “many rhythms”. In common use the term means two or more rhythms played simultaneously, or against each other. Polyrhythms can also be thought of as two different meters (time signatures) played against (or more accurately, with) each other. Note that the word “against” is often used by musicians to describe very basic polyrhythmic functions (i.e. 3 against 2). However, to be more precise and accurate, the word “against” is better defined when thought of as meaning a rhythm that goes “over”, “under” or “with” another rhythm which is played at the same time.

In my effort to grasp Magadini’s method back in 1993, I used my trusty Mac Classic (maxed out with a whopping 4 megs of RAM) along with a rhythmic sequencer to program all the different patterns, exercises, and solos presented in the book. Once I translated all this charted music into MIDI files, I found them to be an invaluable supplement to the reading material. Rhythmic dictation on paper is one thing; hearing and feeling the distinct mathematical relationships between the notes in real time is the only true way to internalize the different polyrhythmic patterns and truly comprehend the groove. There really is no other way, unless you are some sort of Rhythm God.

I recently was digging through a box of college stuff and came across some dusty floppy disks of these MIDI files I created so long ago. It was quite entertaining to fire these up again…I really had a lot of time on my hands back then.

There are two major polyrhythm MIDI projects. The first project was for my own personal use…a complete collection of virtually every rhythmic pattern presented over an ostinato of 4/4. Using Magadini’s choice of orchestration, I created an ostinato of kick and hat: four on the floor with the kick drum, hat closed on 2 and 4, i.e., boom-chick-boom-chick, etc. The different polyrhythms were then performed on a snare drum on top of the ostinato. Once I created these MIDI files, I could then play each pattern over and over in order to internalize the rhythm. The second project was created as a supplement to the book itself. The book contains several exercises and solos, but unfortunately the book has no speakers! So by programming these patterns as MIDI files, I was able to realize the patterns in real time on the computer.

Ok the first project. Here are the individual patterns for nearly every possible mathematical breakdown of 3, 4, 5, 7, 9, 11, and 13 over a bar of 4, played on snare drum over the 4/4 ostinato at a tempo of 120bpm. I looped each for 16 bars:

1 over 4 (whole note)
2 over 4 (half note)
3 over 4 (half note triplet)
Quarter Notes
5 over 4
6 over 4 (quarter note triplets)
7 over 4
Eighth Notes
9 over 4 (triplets of 3)
10 over 4 (eighths of 5)
11 over 4
12 over 4 (phrased as 12/8)
12 over 4 (phrased as eighth notes of 6)
13 over 4
14 over 4 (eighths of 7)
15 over 4 (triplets of 5)
Sixteenth Notes
18 over 4 (triplets of 6)
20 over 4 (sixteenths of 5)
21 over 4 (triplets of 7)
22 over 4 (eighths of 11)
24 over 4 (thirty-secondths of 3, or sixteenths of 6)
28 over 4 (sixteenths of 7)
33 over 4 (triplets of 11)
44 over 4 (sixteenths of 11)

Now, for those of you who have the book, here’s the stuff in MIDI format. Enjoy:


P.6 Exercises
P.7 Exercises
P.8 Combination I
P.8 Combination II
P.8 Combination III
P.8 Combination VI
P.9 Mixed Combos


P.11 Exercise I
P.11 Exercise II
P.12 Exercise I
P.12 Exercise II
P.13 Exercise I
P.13 Exercise II
P.14 Exercise I
P.15 Exercise II
P.16 Combinations
P.16 Mixed Combos
P.18 Solo
P.18 VMixd Comb.
P.19 Solo


P.20 Exercise I
P.20 Exercise II
P.21 Exercise I
P.21 Exercise II
P.22 Exercise I
P.22 Exercise II
P.23 Exercise I
P.23 Exercise II
P.24 Short Combos
P.24 Mixed I
P.24-25 Mixed II
P.25 Solo I

SECTION VI: Solos (Comb. Sects 1, 2, 3)

P.27 Solo I
P.27 Solo II
P.27 Solo III
P.28 Solo IV
P.28 Solo V
P.29 Solo VI
P.29 Solo VII
P.29 Solo VIII Memo

For more information on this stuff, see the Polyrhythms entry.

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