Welcome back to Wired Theory. This week we will wrap up rhythms and beats, continued from last week’s lesson. If you haven’t checked out my previous article, as well as Cannon McDonald’s video on Time Signatures and Rhythm, I highly suggest you do so to get the full experience!

Read on to make your compositions more interesting and better understand how to play others’ music!

Modern metal often sounds very exciting because of the musicians using syncopated rhythms. A syncopation refers to having an accent on anything other than a downbeat (e.g., in 4/4 time that would be the 1, 2, 3, 4). In other words, it is a musical accent that contradicts a metrical accent.

Syncopation is what makes bands like Meshuggah, Periphery, Rush, Dream Theater and bands of the sort very appealing to the ear.

Take a listen to Icarus Lives! by Periphery. While the opening riff is in 4/4, the guitar accents on different parts of the beats, rather than just the downbeats. This is a great example of syncopation, since the guitarists are playing and accenting the off beats as well as some downbeats.


Sometimes you have a time signature, but realize the rhythm does not seem to really “fit” the given measure. It might seem like another rhythm or feeling is superimposed.

A hemiola is where duple meter (that is, a meter where subdivisions are primarily multiples of 2) is temporarily superimposed over triple meter.

While very common in later forms of jazz, especially be-bop, modal, and avant-garde, the best rock guitar example is Led Zeppelin’s classic “Kashmir”.

Kashmir - Led Zeppelin

So what exactly is happening above?

Well, the drummer is playing in 4/4, however, the riff played by the guitar/bass/mellotron is in groups of three.

That guitar riff unto itself, is twofold: a quicker 6/8 meter, as it repeats the rhythm every six 8th notes, but also implies a slower 6/4.

The single D note that ends each bar makes us feel the end of a bar; it wordlessly instructs us to feel the 3 note ostinato in groups of two.

It takes 4 full measures for all instruments to join back on a strong beat 1 downbeat.


When you take syncopation and hemiolas together, it can get a little crazy. However, it is good to understand these concepts so we can start understanding and composing songs with advanced rhythmic concepts.

So we get to the polyrhythm. This term is starting to get thrown around more and more with the new wave of progressive metal music coming out, but they have been around since the beginning of music.

A polyrhythm is the simultaneous playing of two or more conflicting rhythms.

They do not appear to be of the same meter, and cause rhythmic disruption. If used for a whole composition, the correct term to identify the piece would be “cross-beat”.

Polyrhythm Example

Looking at the example above, measures 2 and 3 convey a polyrhythm. While the piece is in 6/8, the implied rhythm in measure 3 is implying a regular duple pattern of ¾ under the 6/8.

Try clapping both rhythms in separate hands. You’ll understand the differences best that way, as you try to work two separate rhythms simultaneously.

Now if you can do this correctly, you are allowed to make fun of your drummer who can’t.

By contrast, if you are struggling, maybe you should take it easy on them next rehearsal.

Examples in modern music:

A good excuse to listen to some djent would be now, so check out these examples after this article to really hear it in a full band context.

-The intro of “Insomnia” and the verse of “Light” by Periphery

-“Future Breed Machine” by Meshuggah

-The intro of “Tempting Time” by Animals as Leaders as well as the section from 1:03-2:21 of “CAFO”

Triplets and Duplets:

Our final touch on rhythm and meter is explaining the difference between triplets and duplets.

Triplets are temporary compound beat divisions in a simple meter.

Duplets are temporary simple beat divisions in a compound meter.

When expressing the difference verbally to someone, you would say that you count triplets as

One – trip-let, Two-trip-let, Three-trip-let, and so on. These are of course equal subdivisions of a given note – a triplet eight note is three to a quarter note, a triplet quarter note is 3 to a half note, and so on.

Since you are dividing 2 beats into 3, Duplets would be counted as One-and, Two-and, and so on, because you are grouping 3 notes into 2. This is a little bit trickier to master than triplet eighth notes in 4/4 because it requires a break in the rhythmic feel.

Both passages below will sound the same, but the notation is vastly different. It is up to you to determine the correct one to use, as it will depend on the overall feel and meter of the piece you are composing.

Simple & Compound Meter


I hope you’ve enjoyed the beginnings of Wired Theory! From here on out we explore the vast world of music theory in every form and shape imaginable, as it applies to helping guitarists improve their holistic music knowledge. 

Do you like learning about music? How about guitars? Or other gear? Click here to keep reading more articles and stay up to date!

This article written by community content contributors Zack Seif and David Fuller. Zack is a classically trained professional musician, currently at the helm of his solo project, Regression. David is a guitarist and audio engineer currently attending Berklee. 

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