In Western music, you’ll most often see music written in simple or common time (4/4 time). This is especially prevalent in genres such as blues, rock, pop, folk, and country.

All these styles are typically built on common rhythms that are made up of quarter notes, 8th notes, 16th notes, and so on.

Things get more interesting as you look at the rhythms of music from other parts of the world, such as Africa and India. This music often has rhythms that are much more complex, incorporating polyrhythms and syncopation for more complex (and very danceable!) drum beats.

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What is a Polyrhythm?

Simply put, a polyrhythm consists of combinations of common rhythms. More than one rhythm is played at the same time, causing conflict; for example, a triplet being played at the same time as two eighth notes.

Below is an example of a simple polyrhythm:

Triplets and Duplets

However, if in the same rhythm the 8th notes are replaced with quarter notes, it ceases to be a polyrhythm. This is because there are no longer co