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PD: Polyrhythms or not?10 Sep 2009 06:05
It was long time ago that I examined the polyrhythms in Queen songs: "Black Queen" and "Bohemian Rhapsody".

Let me explain the polyrhythm in Black Queen (2:45) in a more visual way with beat maps.

The backing track is clearly triplet based, the drums keep hitting the 4/4 beat:

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *
1  2  3  4  1  2  3  4  1

The "taaa-da-taaa-da" vocals clearly follow the good old 3+3+3+3+4 pattern:

* ** ** ** *****: rhythm of vocal tune (first subphrase)
*  *  *  *  *   : the 3+3+3+3+4 accents
* * * * * * * * : the 4/4 beat since the 3+3+3+3+4 pattern is working in 4/4.

The trick is that while the vocals divide the beats to 1/8, the backing track is dividing the beat to triplets.
A similar case (even in the opposite direction) is when the backing track is in shuffle beat (12/8) while the lead vocal is straigtened out to 8/8 beat as we see in "In The Lap Of The Gods... Revisited" for one phrase. This is something we can find elsehwere, mostly for momentary usage (example?).
To make things more tricky in "...Black Queen" this trick is combined with the 3+3+3+3+4 pattern.

And now check "Bohemian Rhapsody", the rock riff (and the whole rock section). Is it really polyrhythm?
Let's see! The backing track is in 4/4 time with non-shuffle beat, but adds the triplet-beat as well:

* *** * *** *
* * * * * * * : the triplets are played by the kickdrum.
*  *  *  *  *

The common denominator is 12/8, which is introduced with fast triplets just before the riff starts.
The way how the drums combine 4/4 with 6/4 (the latter played on the bassdrum) is a basic lesson in the world of polyrhythms.

The riff is driven by triplets. If we take the tune of the riff out of 4/4 context we get
a non-syncopated 6/6 tune:

1 2 3 4 5 6 1 2 3 4 5 6 1
* * * * *** * * * ***   *...

Also check the first vocal phrase:

1   2   3   4   5   6   1   2   3   4   5   6   1
    *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   **  *   *  **

This figure adds dotted rhythms in context of the triplets.

The dotted rhythms and the subdivided "triplet-fourths" (in 6/4), are reinforcing the approach that what we have here is no simple triplets, but a case of triplet based meter.
Just look around in the world of music and you will find triplets all around. But probably you wont (easily) find any other song featuring subdivided triplet beats, or dotted triplet rhythms. Except of course the triplet based meters, like the shuffle beat.

Post was edited on 14 Sep 2009 05:58
1.PD 14 Sep 2009 06:04
The Wikipedia article also mentions "Black Queen", but does not mention "Bohemian Rhapsody":

"The band en.wikipedia.org title="Queen (band)">Queen used polyrhythm in their 1974 song "en.wikipedia.org title="The March of the Black Queen" class="mw-redirect">The March of the Black Queen" with 8/8 and 12/8 time signatures"

The article also mentions Beatles and Jimy Hendrix:

The Beatles used polyrhythm in their 1968 song "en.wikipedia.org title="Happiness Is a Warm Gun">Happiness Is a Warm Gun"[ (from the en.wikipedia.org title="The Beatles (album)">White Album). The song also changes time-signature frequently
"During Lennon's spoken-word interlude, the song switches into 12/8 for three measures, with Ringo playing a 6/4 beat under it."

en.wikipedia.org title="Jimi Hendrix">Jimi Hendrix had the distinct ability to play polyrhythmic melodies on his guitar during live concerts and jam sessions. This ability was facilitated by the impressive length and size of his hands, and his unorthodox fretting method, in which he would maintain rhythm and lead melodies while use his thumb to fret underlying basslines. Testimonies to this are live concerts from 1968 to 1970, in particular a performance of "Killing Floor" live at Winterland 1968, an Improvisation during Woodstock 1969, a solo guitar jam for his song titled "Valleys of Neptune", among several other recordings.

Next time I'm going to check these examples too.

Post was edited on 14 Sep 2009 06:04
2.Sebastian 14 Sep 2009 16:44
About Hendrix, I think it was more about him being rhythm-deaf and people interpreting that as complex polyrhythms.

About Bo Rhap, it's a delicate matter: have you analysed it using the multi-tracks to support your thoughts?
3.PD 17 Sep 2009 06:03
For Bohrhap I  listened to some of the multitracks: for example the one with the kickdrum.

I listened to "Warm Gun" but for first listen I cannot hear the 12/8 meter behind those spoke phrases. Those are flexible rubato rhythms following the natural rhythm of the lyrics.
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