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Meter, Phrase Displacement, Accent Displacement, Polyrhythm


Meter: What is it?

The basic recurrent rhythmical pattern of note values, accents, and beats per measure in music.

When you listen to a piece of music, how do you decide what the meter is?

You listen to the piece to hear repetition and count how many pulses before the pattern repeats.

If you have a series of 1/8th notes (or any other type of note duration value as long as they are all equal) all playing the same note, How do you decide what the meter is?
You listen for the accents.

In example 1 every second beat is accented so this is duple meter.


Listen (I used drum sound for these examples, because it gets the accents across better.)


In example 2 every third beat is accented so this is triple meter.


Listen


In example 3 every 4th beat is accented so this is (double) duple.


Listen


In example 4 every fifth beat is accented so this is duple and triple or triple and duple or quintuple. Strictly speaking, it is a (linear) combination of duple and triple. In this case one triple and one duple.


Listen

If you don't have anything else to go on except this line of constant value notes.
How would you know the difference between whole, half, quarter, eighth, sixteenth, triplet, quintuplet?

You wouldn't, becase you have no reference.
If you heard example 2 at 120 bpm and example 5 at 80 bpm you would not be able to tell the difference.

Example 5

Listen

It is the accents that make the meter apparent.
Note values are just a means of dividing up units of time, but meter is determined by how the notes are accented.


Phrase and Accent Displacement

Phrase Displacement

There are some phrases that lend themselves naturally to being in a particular meter.

If you play a sequence like 1,2,3;2,3,4;3,4,5 etc... this is a triple pattern. You would expect the accents to fall on the first note of each group of three ascending tones.

Example 6

Listen

You can move the reference point and change the sound of the line by shifting the sequence.

With this triple pattern you can shift forward or backward by one.


Shifting the sequence forward by one.

Listen


Shifting the sequence backward by one.


Listen


Accent Displacement

You can change the sound of the line by shifting the accents.

Shift the accents forward by one.


Listen

Shift the accents backward by one.


Listen

Another transformation is to play the line using the same note values, but changing the accents to imply a different meter.
In this case double duple as opposed to triple.

Example 11

Listen

Yet another transformation is to play the line as different note values, keeping the accents on the same notes.
As 1/8th notes as opposed to tripets.


Listen

Next, we combine the last two transforms and play the notes as 1/8th notes with accents on the first of every 4 notes.

Example 13

Listen

Polyrhythm and Amb. Metered Phrases

Polyrhythm

When replacing the native accents of a phrase with foreign ones as in example 11 you are really implying or superimposing a different meter on top of your existing one. This is called Polyrhythm.
In this case three against four.

Count 1 2 3 4 5 6 and tap 1 3 5 with your right hand.
Continue this and add the left hand on beats 1 and 4.
This is two against three.
Listen

Count 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 and tap each beat with your right hand.
Continue this and add the left hand on beats 1,4,7 and 10.
This is three against four.
Listen


Ambiguous Metered Phrases

There is one more idea I want to get across.

If you have a phrase of 12 even notes you can execute it as triple or duple. If you have a phrase of 15 even notes you can execute it as triple or quintuple.

I call this Ambiguous Metered Phrases. To see examples of this just look at Example 6 and Example 13. Example 6 is a 12 note triple phrase as triple, Example 13 is the exact same phrase as double duple.

If you are cocky about your Alternating Picking technique try this idea out on a few different favorite AP lines, I am certain that you will be surprised by how just thinking of them as double duple will slow things down a bit!


Conclusion

As you have seen meter is determined by the accenting of phrases.

You have seen how you can create interesting new permutations of lines by displacing the accents or by moving the phrase, or both.

The connection between this and Polyrhythm has been shown, and you have learned the concept of ambiguous metered phrasing.

Time to go woodshed!
Good luck and feel free to post any cool ideas this helped inspire.

This article can be read online at http://www.iBreatheMusic.com/article/101
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