Poly-rhythms for the fingerstyle guitar
As a long, long time fingerstyle guitar player, I was always
fascinated by the idea of playing 2 lines at the same time. I
worked on my thumb independance from time to time but without
giving it a definite investment until I ordered the book
Traditions--Future Possibilities" By Matthew Montfort and
discovered the gamelan chapter.
from Bali is normally made by an ensemble of metal gongs played
by several players. The examples of gamelan phrases were given
for C clef instruments, and, with some small adaptation for the
guitar, led me to a huge study of polyrhythms for the guitar and
beautiful musical discoveries thereafter.
Although the Montfort book was the start to what follows, the
music has nothing to do with gamelan whatsoever.
The retrograde/mirrors motives
One great way to work (getting started) on polyrhythms is to
combine 2 motives with their inverted version: tap motifs A-B
on the left hand while you tap B-A on the right hand.
A new right hand finger assignation
Usually when we play the guitar polyphonically the thumb
(p) takes all low voice notes (down stem) and the i m
a take what's left.
But at high speed with repetitive and
highly syncopated rhythms it is very hard and stressful for the
thumb to play at the same pace as an alternating i-m.
solution I found is to play those bass notes rhythms lines with
alternating p-i while m, a and eventually c
play the higher voices.
Which finger plays a note is determined by
the note position in the rhythm and not by the string where the
note lies. p and m play on all beats (8th 1-3-5-7), i and
a play the upbeats (8th 2-4-6-8).
Try to play those examples first without the guitar by tapping
L and R hands on your lap, then slowly (a metronome may help!!)
play it on any open strings.
Here are the same examples with notes and fingerings...to have an
idea where we want to go !
Before trying to play it all, listen to the separate parts.
Below are some more to "really" work on the concept and some of
the things you may do with it:
- Tap with L and R hand on your lap (bongos, djembé,
- Play the two voices on different notes (that you like).
Listen to the 2 rhythms interlocking patterns
- Respect the right hand rhythm-finger assignation
- Compose 1 measure compositions based on the poly-rhythms
- If you have a looper, or other recording means, record a bassline then
improvise the soprano according to the set rhythm