A really neat feature of Ableton Live is the clip loop length. In session mode this can easily facilitate simple polyrhythm generation which can lead to some great results.

Polyrhythms are two or more multiples or divisions of a meter, for example 1/4 and 1/3, or 3/16 and 5/16. Sometimes these can sound cacophonous, but used tastefully can generate some great patterns.

Here’s a quick video demonstrating how polyrhythms can be used in Live to generate both melodic and rhythmic ideas:

How it’s Done

While this works best in session view it’s entirely possible in arrange too, but I’ll stick to session. For the purpose of this I am also going to be assuming we’re working on a 4/4 time signature (4 quarter notes to each bar).

Creating new clips usually defaults to a 1 bar duration, which is 16 x 16th subdivisons in length. However we can shorten that to loop different numbers of subdivisions. Some, such as 1/4, 1/2 or 3/4 might be quite familiar to you. Others such as 1/3 or 2/3 less so, but what I’m interested in is 5/16, 7/16, 11/16 etc. Broadly speaking odd numbers will produce some more intricate patterns.

Let’s start off with a simple 1/4. This will outline our meter and give us an anchor to layer other subdivisions over. I’m using C1 note triggering Analog, with a short pluck sound. Here’s two bars:

Screen Shot 2016-09-07 at 14.32.07

Let’s add a 5/16 rhythm over that. This is 5 x 16th notes. I’ll use a different note to more clearly demonstrate how they overlap:

Here’s what that 5/16 loop looks like:

Screen Shot 2016-09-07 at 14.43.15

Let’s mute that 5/16 quickly and audition a 9/16 loop on top of our 1/4. Again I’ve selected another note to use:

Screen Shot 2016-09-07 at 14.50.15

By now you should be getting the idea. Let’s test out 3/16 and 3/8 (again these are isolated with the 1/4 division):

3/16:

3/8:

And here they are all together:

…and with some added ping-pong delay:

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