African Polyrhythms

African Djembe

Ancient Traditions Book Cover

Further study on this subject: Ancient Traditions–Future Possibilities:
Rhythmic Training Through the Traditions of Africa, Bali and India.

By Matthew Montfort. Ancient Future Music (1985).
ISBN 0-937879-00-2. Book/CD Set: 69.95. SALE! $52.95:

In West Africa, societies such as the Yoruba, the Eve, the Akan and the Ibo possess a music rich in rhythmic vitality. It is a music of multiple layers of rhythms. While European classical music has developed complex harmonies of tones, West African music has developed a complex interweaving of contrasting rhythmic patterns. The African musician strives for the occurrence of at least two different rhythms at once, and it is precisely this juxtaposition of opposing rhythms that creates the vital spark of African music.

The book Ancient Traditions–Future Possibilities, by Matthew Montfort, contains exercises that teach these rhythms. Some of these exercises are presented here.

African Rhythm Exercises

Two Against Three

How to Play Two Against Three includes complete instructions, notation, and a MIDI file. A beginning level example from Chapter 1, Exercise III A, pages 18-20.

Eve Bell Pattern

Eve Bell Pattern with Clap includes complete instructions, notation, and a MIDI file. An intermediate level example from Chapter 1, Exercise V B-2, page 33. This rhythm was used as the basis for the fast section of the title track from the Ancient Future album Quiet Fire.

Takada Drumming

Drum IconAudio MIDI

This is an advanced level example of the rhythms of takada, a dance and drumming club developed by the women the Eve people of the island town of Anyako off the coast of Southeastern Ghana. From Chapter 1, Exercise VII B, page 39.


Takada Drumming Notation Example
(20K GIF of Takada Drumming Notation)

Further Resources

Using MIDI

GM Standard MIDI files of West African rhythm exercises from the book are presented here, arranged for General MIDI instruments such as conga and bongo. Use these to practice, or as rhythm tracks for an original composition. To set up playback on a MIDI synthesizer or sampler, see the MIDI map of the drums in the Eve orchestra.

Ancient Rhythms–Future Grooves

Drum IconAudio (selected tracks from Ancient Rhythms–Future Grooves)

Ancient Rhythms–Future Grooves: Audio and MIDI Percussion Groove Tracks from the Traditions of Africa, Bali, and India. Want more audio and MIDI files? Get this complete collection of groove tracks from the book Ancient Traditions–Future Possibilities. For a limited time, get both the book and the enhanced audio CD set with MIDI files for only $52.95 (SALE! Normally $69.95): Add 1 to Cart. Buy 1 Now.

Skype School

Skype online music lesson guitar pick icon carved in Bali for Matthew Montfort

Further instruction on this material is available through private Skype lessons with the author, Matthew Montfort.