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  "Ancient Traditions--Future Possibilities" By Matthew Montfort and discovered the gamelan chapter.

Gamelan music 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.
The 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:

polyrhythm p2

All texts
and music