World Rhythm Library - Handpan Edition

The handpan World Rhythm Library was created by David Kuckhermann in 2023.
This is a living and growing project and new rhythms will be added regularly.
If you are missing a rhythm, you can send us an email and we will add it in the future.
If you find the project helpful, please consider supporting it.

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About this project

Explanatory Note

The geography/musical heritage of rhythm is very different to the physical geography of the world (for example, North African countries have rhythmic patterns and instrumentation that are part of the Middle Eastern family).
We have tried to categorise them in a way that makes them easiest for you to find, but remaining true to their musical families.

For a breakdown of traditions, time signatures, notation, subdivisions and the more complex aspects of rhythm, see Explanatory Notes at the end.

Support Us

The World Rhythm Library is completely free and we want to keep it like that. However, countless hours of work go into a project like this.
If you want to support the project and our other free offers, like the free weekly Grooves of the Week, consider to become a Handpan Dojo Hero.
For a monthly subscription fee of 10$ you get access to the premium version of this library including play along tracks to practice and a printable booklet of all these rhythms
You also get access to a premium collection of all our past and future Grooves of the week. These also come with premium material not included in the free version, like practice tracks and notation booklets.
Finally, you receive a 10% discount on anything you purchase on Handpan Dojo and support the continuation of our free projects.

Arabic & Turkish

These two Middle Eastern music traditions are closely related. Both use the Maqam system and they share many of the same rhythms, so are included together here. Performed on instruments such as the Darbuka, Riq, Bendir and Davul, the clear structure of low accents (Doum) and high accents (Tak) make these rhythms are extremely versatile. From dance rhythms, such as Maqsoum, Malfuf and Belledi, to classical rhythms, such as the spacious 10-beat Samai, the grooves transfer beautifully to the handpan and can be a never-ending source of inspiration.


Time Signature: 2/4

The Malfuf (and the next rhythm, the Khaligi) has the 3-3-2 subdivision that you will find all over the world.
This pattern appears in many styles of music in various traditions, from classical to world to electronic dance music.
The Malfuf is usually played mid-to-uptempo and is often played for dance and popular music. Malfuf is the Arabic word for ‘wrap’.


Time Signature: 2/4

The Khaligi has the same 3-3-2 subdivision as the Malfuf, but it has 2 bass accents instead of 1.
These bass sounds make it a little heavier than the Malfuf.
It is one of our all-time favourite grooves at Handpan Dojo and works beautifully on the handpan.

If you want to learn more about the Khaligi, with many variations and a handpan composition, you can check out our Level 2 course.


Time Signature: 2 / 4

The Ayoub is another popular Middle Eastern rhythm in 2/4. It is closely related to the Malfuf, adding an additional bass stroke on the 2nd beat.
It is traditionally played in Sufi music, some folk music and for dance.

If you want to explore the countless variations of Ayoub, check out the lessons on Independence in our
Level 2 course.


Time Signature: 4 / 4

The Maqsoum is one the most common rhythms to accompany Middle Eastern/belly dancing.
You have probably heard it before. It shares the same subdivision with Belledi and Saiidi (the next two rhythms) and is usually played mid-to-uptempo.

For more variations and a Maqsoum composition, check out the Maqsoum lesson in our Level 1 course.

Belledi / Masmoudi Saghir

Time Signature: 4 / 4

The Belledi, or ‘small Masmoudi’ is the second rhythm in the trio of popular Middle Eastern dance rhythms that share the same structure. The two bass sounds at the beginning of the pattern make it feel heavier and it is often played a little slower than the Maqsoum.


Time Signature: 4 / 4

Completing the trio of popular Middle Eastern dance rhythms sharing the same rhythmical structure is the Saiidi.
This Egyptian rhythm originates in the Saiidi region.
While the Belledi has the 2 heavy bass accents at the beginning of the bar, the Saiidi has them in the middle. There are some very funky variations of this rhythm which leave out the 1st beat.

Masmoudi Kebira

Time Signature: 8 / 4

A popular rhythm in the Tarab repertoire of the 20th century.
The ‘big Masmoudi’ is a half-time version of the 4/4 Masmoudi, going over 2 bars of 4/4 or one bar of 8/4. It creates a lot of space for dancers or musicians to play with and there are lots of beautiful variations of this rhythm.
Sometimes, a 3rd bass stroke is added between the two characteristic bass accents that start the pattern.


Time Signature: 2 / 4

The Felahi has a similar accent pattern to the Maqsoum, but it is played in doubletime. It is a very uptempo, energetic rhythm and the accents are less pronounced than with the Maqsoum and flow into each other.
Felahi loosely translates as ‘from the farmers/peasants’.


Time Signature: 2 / 4

The Bayou is a closely related, but less popular sibling to the  popular Ayoub and Khaligi rhythms.

Wahda 4/4

Time Signature: 4 / 4

Wahda can be played like a halftime Malfuf.
Wahda means ‘one’ in Arabic, referring to the fact that this rhythm has only one bass accent (Doum) on the 1st beat. How you fill the rest of the bar can be very flexible, the single Doum in the beginning being its defining characteristic. The rhythm creates a lot of space and works beautifully on the handpan.

Halftime Khaligi

Time Signature: 4 / 4

Not strictly a traditional rhythm, this groove is very much inspired by Middle Eastern music and rhythms. It is basically a halftime Khaliigi.
One of my personal favourites on the handpan.


Time Signature: 8 / 4

This spacious but groovy Turkish/Greek rhythm became popular in the Arab world as well. It is traditionally played at weddings, but is also often played to accompany vocal or instrumental improvisations.
With the first half of the pattern syncopated and the second half straight, it creates a nice balanced pattern that feels very conclusive.
There is also a faster version of this rhythm, see below.

If you want to learn a handpan composition based on this rhythm, check out our Level 1 course.


Time Signature: 4 / 4

Faster version of the more traditional 8/4 version of this pattern - see above.

If you want to learn a handpan composition based on this rhythm, check out our Level 1 course.

Nawari / Debke

Time Signature: 4 / 4

Closely related to Belledi, Saiidi and Maqsoum. The first accent is a Tak, which is unusual for rhythms from this region.
Used in Levantine folk music and Debke dances.
Debke is a folkloric dance performed in Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, Syria, Palestine, Israel and Iraq.

Samai Thaqil

Time Signature: 10/8 or 10 / 4

A classical rhythm of 10 beats, the Samai is performed in Muwashah vocal music and to accompany the classical Middle Eastern composition form of the same name. It is often played slowly with a 10/4 feel and leaves a lot of space for the instrumentalists. The long cycle lends itself beautifully to all kinds of melodic explorations.


Iran’s classical and folk music is performed on traditional instruments such as the tar, setar, ney, santoor and voice.
Traditional Iranian drums are the tonbak/tombak/zarb (goblet drum) and daf (frame drum).
The tonbak being the main drum used in classical and folk music and the day is the main drum for spiritual/sufi music.
Persian drumming uses a variety of unique finger techniques such as the riz-e-por (9-finger roll) and pelang (finger snapping) that add to the characteristic sound of Persian rhythms.

Slow Persian 6 - tonbak style

Time Signature: 6 / 4

In this beautiful and spacious groove, the riz-e-por (9-finger roll) is traditionally used on the tonbak to fill some of the long gaps between accents. On the handpan, we can use the nail roll to emulate this sound.

Mid-tempo Persian 6 - tonbak style

Time Signature: 6 / 8

A double-time version of the previous rhythm (slow Persian 6). You will recognise this theme with the following rhythms as well.
Again, we use the nail roll technique to emulate the sound of the riz-e-por 9-finger tonbak roll.

Mid-tempo Persian 6 - simple

Time Signature: 6/8

A simple version of the Mid-tempo Persian 6 without the roll.


Time Signature: 6/8

Played to accompany the Persian dance of the same name.
The reng is an up-tempo versions of the Iranian 6.
Utilises an approach that is common in Iranian drumming.
You repeat the pattern and exchange the bass stroke on the downbeat for a high accent. This creates a longer cycle with an interesting question/answer effect.


Time Signature: 4/4

Traditionally played on the Daf (Persian frame drum), Sama translates to ‘listening’ and is a spiritual practice performed by Persian sufis.
This daf rhythm is performed in Sufi ceremonies to accompany dance and prayer.

North African

There are many popular folk music styles in North Africa, such as the Moroccan Chaabi, Algerian Rai and the Berber and Bedouin music of Tunisia.
North African rhythms are traditionally performed on bendir (frame drum, often with snare strings), tar (tambourine) and sometimes goblet drums.
Some of the most important musical influences in the region are Andalusian music, Muslim music from Baghdad, Istanbul and Egypt, and music from other parts of the African continent.


Time Signature: 6/8

Chaabi means ‘of the people’ and is a term for a music genre and a family of North African rhythm in 6/8.
A unique aspect of this groove is that it can be started at different spots in the cycle. This first version starts with a bass (heavy accent).
Curious fact: there is a Bavarian Waltz variant called the "Zwiefacher" which basically uses the same rhythm.

If you want to learn how to turn this groove into a handpan composition, check out our Level 2 course.

M'rabaa Bedwi

Time Signature: 4 / 4

The name translates to ‘descending from the bedouins’.The pattern resembles the Arabic Nawari rhythm.
Like few other rhythms, this pattern starts with a high (Tak) accent on the 1st beat.


Time Signature: 4 / 4

This syncopated rhythm comes from Tunisian Sufi tradition.
The Btaihi is often played slowly and spaciously. Its pattern is similar to the Middle Eastern Chiftetelli, except that the second bass stroke is played after the 3rd beat. A very beautiful and interesting groove.


Time Signature: 2 / 4

This 2/4 rhythm has an unusual structure. It has the same 3 accents as the popular Arabic Malfuf - one Doum and two Taks.
However, the subdivision is 2-3-3 instead of the much more common 3-3-2.
This has a bit of a disorienting effect and the first upbeat can feel like the downbeat.


Time Signature: 4 / 4 with triplet feel

While the accents of this rhythm look similar to the Arabic Maqsoum, the Fazzani is played with a triplet feel, which makes it even more groovy.

Al Ghita

Time Signature: 6/8

This Tunisian 6/8 rhythm is played with a slightly uneven feel.


Greece has a rich folk music and dance tradition and many of the Greek rhythms such as Zeybek, Tsamiko and Kalamantiano are named after, and performed for, specific folk dances.
Many of the traditional percussion instruments of Greece such as the daouli, toubeleki, zilia, tympanum and tambourien, have closely related counterparts in Turkey and the Arabic world (darbuka, zills, bendir, riq). Part of the rhythm repertoire is also shared with those  musical traditions.


Time Signature: 8/4

This spacious but groovy rhythm is traditionally played at weddings, but is also used as the base for a lot of instrumental improvisations. It has become popular all over the Middle East.

If you want to learn a handpan composition based on this rhythm, check out our Level 1 course.

Tsiftetelli - faster version in 4/4

Time Signature: 4 / 4

Tsiftetelli can be the Greek name for a 4/4 Belledi or Maqsoum rhythm, or it can refer to a doubletime version of the previous 8/4 Tsiftetelli, which you see in the video. This groove is also popular in Turkey, and in Egypt, where it is referred to as Sombati.
Its accent pattern is quite similar to the Afro-Cuban ‘son clave’, but with the accent on the 3rd downbeat instead of the 3rd upbeat.

For a handpan composition based on this pattern, check out our Level 1 course.

Zeybek 9/4 (traditional version)

Time Signature: 9 / 4

The Zeybek is a Greek rhythm in 9 beats with a slow and heavy character. It is played to accompany the Zembekiko, a traditional dance performed by Greek men - a dance about loss and sorrow and the hardships of life, often performed with a drink and a cigarette in hand.


Time Signature: 3 / 4

Tsamiko is a simple rhythm of 3 beats used in Arabic and Greek music.
It is played to accompany the Greek folk dance of the same name.


Time Signature: 7/8

7/8 grooves with the subdivision 3-2-2 are often referred to as Kalamatiano in Greece and Turkey.
It is named after the Greek traditional folk dance which got its name from Kalamata, a port in the Peloponnese, in southern Greece.


Originally, hand claps were the only percussive element used in Spanish flamenco music.
But when Paco de Lucia’s percussionist Rubem Dantas was handed a cajon while touring in Peru, it didn’t take long until the wooden box was slightly modified with some guitar strings to add a snare effect.
Since then it has become a staple in modern Flamenco music.
Buleria, Tango, Rumba Flamenco and Fandango rhythms serve as accompaniment for virtuoso guitar performances and these rhythms translate beautifully to the handpan.


Time Signature: 12/8

The Buleria is the most popular flamenco rhythm, famously starting on the 12th beat.
The first half is divided into 3s and the end half into 2s, which creates an interesting, asymmetrical structure with a lot of tension.
Like all flamenco grooves, it is usually accompanied by an intricate pattern of hand claps.


Time Signature: 2 / 4

Using the popular 3-3-2 Tresillo accent pattern, the Tango is the most straightforward of the flamenco rhythms.
Other rhythms with the same structure include the Middle Eastern Malfuf and Khaliigi, and the Brazilian Baião.

Rumba Flamenca

Time Signature: 2/4

The Rumba Flamenca is quite an unusual and very syncopated groove.
The downbeat is empty and the following 2 subdivisions are marked by bass accents.


Time Signature: 6/8

This style of flamenco is accompanied by fast 6-beat patterns.

North Indian (Hindustani)

Like South Indian (Carnatic) music, North Indian (Hindustani) music is based on a system of ragas (melodic frameworks for improvisation and composition) and talas (cyclic metric patterns of sometimes great complexity, which are measured by a clap, beat or strike).
Hindustani music is mostly improvised and the rhythmic accompaniment is traditionally played on the tabla (North Indian classical drum), an instrument of great technical complexity.
The first beat of the tala, and usually the most accentuated, is called sam and marked by a clap.
Talas are structured by accentuated segments/beat cycles called taali, which are also marked by claps, and non-accentuated, ‘empty’ segments called khaali, which are marked by a wave.


Time Signature: 16 beats - 4-4-4-4

The most common tala (beat cycle) in North Indian music based on a long cycle of 16 beats, which are subdivided into regular segments of 4 beats (thali, thali, khaki, thali). Characteristic are the regular strokes of the right hand played on every beat. Teental can be played in any tempo from quite slow (vilambit), medium tempo (madhya) to very fast (drut).


Time Signature: 12 beats - 2-2-2-2-2-2

Ektal is a popular North Indian tala. Often used to accompany khyaal genre music.It is subdivided into regular segments of 2 beats with the accent structure thali, khali, thali, khali, thali, thali.

Dadra tala

Time Signature: 6 beats - 3-3

Dadra, along with Kaherwa, is one of the most common talas in popular and film music. It is usually played in medium tempo.

Kaherwa tala

Time Signature: 8 beats - 4-4

A common taal in popular and film music. Often played to accompany songs. Rarely played in classical music or in tabla solos.

West African

Percussion plays a big role in West African culture, music and dance.
The djembe is the most popular drum of this region. According to the Bambara people in Mali, the name “Djembe” comes from the saying "Anke djé, anke bé" which translates to "everyone gather together in peace".
The Djembe is a goblet drum, can produce a wide variety of sounds and is often played as part of large percussion ensembles.
A characteristic aspect of African percussion are the heavily polyrhythmic grooves played by several djembes, bass drums and bells.


Time Signature: 4/4

The Kuku originates in S. Guinea, is played for celebrations and popular throughout Guinea and the Ivory coast. Originally it was played when women came back to the village after fishing.
Notation at the end of the video.

(source: Monette Marino)


Time Signature: 9/8

The Malinke word "Konko" means forest and the word "Ba" means big. This 9 beat rhythm is played to accompany agricultural workers and is sometimes played to honour a very succesful farmer.
Notation at the end of the video.

(source: Monette Marino)


Time Signature: 6/8

From the family of Dunumba rhythms, also known as the dance of the strong men. This particular rhythm is considered the mother of all dununba rhythms. In the old days, some Dunumba rhythms were played when younger brothers challenged their older brothers to take over family responsibilities or settle disputes.
Notation at the end of the video.

(source: Monette Marino)


On Cuba, music and dance are an integral part of everyday life.
Cuban Salsa is played in Big Bands around the world and has influenced popular music for decades.
Cuban Rumba is performed, danced, sung and improvised on the streets of Cuba.
Spiritual rhythms stemming from African heritage, such as Bembé, Abakuá and Palo, are performed in religious ceremonies.
The Afro-Cuban percussion tradition is rich and varied and has its own unique language with many dialects.  


Time Signature: 4/4

In Cuba and the Caribbean region, the word ‘Tumbao’ is regularly used to describe a person’s rhythm or the cadences of their life.
In percussion, the Tumbao is the basic conga pattern in popular Afro-Cuban music, pop music and jazz. The floating hand movement in the left hand is important to play this groove properly.


Time Signature: 4/4

Mozambique is one of the more modern Afro-Cuban styles. It is played in Cuban carnival music and the name refers to a country on the southeast coast of Africa.Like the Tumbao, the floating hand technique is required to play this one properly.

Rumba Guaguanco

Time Signature: 4/4

Rumba is a genre of Cuban music involving percussion, improvised singing and dance.
It evolved in northern Cuba, mostly in Havana and Matanzas.
The core of the traditional Rumba ensemble is 3 Congueros and a clave player, often completed by a shaker/caxixi player and 1-2 other percussions.
The Guaguanco is an improvised dance for couples, sensual and very flirtatious.

Rumba Yambú

Time Signature: 4/4

The Yambú is the oldest of the Rumba styles and played in slow tempo. It can be danced alone or as a couple.
While also flirtatious, it is not as explicitly sexual as the Guaguanco.
The drum pattern is similar to the Guaguanco, but played at a slower tempo.

Rumba Columbia

Time Signature: 6/8

The Columbia is a fast and energetic Rumba in 6 beats.
Its heritage are the drum patterns and chants of the religious Abakwa tradition, to which it is still closely related.


Time Signature: 6/8

The Bembé is a spiritual rhythm performed for religious gatherings of the Yoruba people.
These gatherings involve drumming, singing and dancing.
The rhythm was brought to Cuba during the Spanish colonisation by African slaves. You can feel that heritage in the strong resemblance to African 6/8 polyrhythms.

For a handpan composition based on the Bembé, check out our Level 3 course.

Palo Habanero

Time Signature: 6/8

The Palo is another spiritual rhythm of African heritage.
It is performed during the ceremonies of the palo monte religion.


Time Signature: 6/8

The Abakuá is a secret society of men in the Afro-Cuban region.
The traditional Abakuá rhythm is another polyrhythmic 6/8 rhythm that is played during spiritual ceremonies.
It has a strong 3-against-4 feel.


The music of Brazil encompasses various regional styles, with Samba being the most popular.
Big percussion ensembles march the streets during carnival and rival Samba schools hold contests to compare skills and creativity.
The more mellow Bossa Nova is also popular around the world.
Besides these styles, Brazil has various beautiful indigenous music traditions, such as Maracatu and Capoeira - the Brazilian martial art masked as dance.


Time Signature: 2/4

Baião is a north-eastern Brazilian music genre and also the name of the corresponding rhythm.
This groove shares the common 3-3-2 Tresillo accent pattern with a few other rhythms, such as the Middle Eastern Khaligi and Malfuf.

Bossa Nova

Time Signature: 4/4

According to Brazilian journalist Ruy Castro, the Bossa beat – which was created by the drummer Milton Banana – is "an extreme simplification of the beat of the Samba school", as if all instruments had been removed and only the tamborim remained.
When playing the Bossa Nova groove on the handpan, the bass hand plays the traditional pattern of the surdo (Brazilian bass drum) and the other hand plays the tambourin pattern.

Partido Alto

Time Signature: 4/4

Another Samba style with a distinct tambourin pattern.
Works great on the handpan!

For compositions based on this pattern, check out our Level 3 and Composition courses.


Time Signature: 4/4

The Maracatu is a Brazilian musical style from Pernambuco. It is based on African music traditions brought into the country by Afro-Brazilian slaves.
It is closely linked to the carnival, the only time of the year when slaves were allowed to celebrate their tradition and religion in public.

Drumset Grooves

The drumset (drum kit) is the most common percussive instrument in popular music today.
Over the decades, it has truly become a global instrument, played all over the world in pop, world, jazz and most other musical styles.

Its grooves are influenced by countless musical traditions, but the most characteristic drum set rhythms are backbeat grooves.
These are defined by a high accent on the snare drum on the 2nd and 4th beats of the 4/4 bar.

They work great on the handpan and are easily understood by anyone, so they make a great starting point for jams.

Basic Backbeat

Time Signature: 4/4

A very simple Backbeat groove with kick on the 1 and 3 and snare on the 2 and 4.
We add another bass drum on the 3rd beat to make the groove a little more interesting.

For music based on various backbeat variations, check out our Level 1 course.

Syncopated Backbeat

Time Signature: 4/4

This Backbeat variation places some syncopated bass drum accents between the regular snare strokes.

Heavy Backbeat

Time Signature: 4/4

The additional bass drum accents give this Backbeat variation a heavy forward-pushing feel.

Backbeat Groove with triplet feel (shuffled)

Time Signature: 4/4

The shuffled ghost notes give this pattern the triplet feel.
This feel can be applied to all the Backbeat groove variations.

Hip Hop

Time Signature: 4/4

Your typical hip hop groove - another backbeat variation.


Time Signature: 2/4

This accent pattern is found all over the world under many different names. It has a 3-3-2 subdivision.
Examples of traditional rhythms using this pattern are the Middle Eastern Malfuf and Khaligi, the Spanish Rumba and Tango and the Brazilian Baiāo.
It is also found in dance club music and other electronic music genres.
Tresillo means ‘triplet’ in Spanish, which is a bit confusing because the Tresillo rhythm does not have triplets :).

Our Level 2 course includes a class about this groove and a composition based on the Tresillo pattern.


Time Signature: 2/4

Based on the Tresillo pattern with a second bass accent on the 2nd beat.
This is the same groove as the Middle Eastern Ayoub.

For loads of variations and independence exercises based on this groove, check out our Level 2 course.


Time Signature: 4/4 or 2/4

2-step garage or simply 2-step is a UK electronic music genre. 2-step beats often have a bass drum on the 1st beat and on the 3rd upbeat.
Snare accents fall on backbeats 2 and 4.
Can also be played in doubletime as a 2/4 rhythm and used in genres such as Drum ‘n’ bass.

Our Level 3 course includes all techniques from the video and a composition based on some groovy 2-step variations.

General Odd-Metre Grooves

The most common time signatures in classical and popular music styles in the western world are 4/4, 2/4, 3/4 and 6/8.
Other time signatures, such as 5/8, 7/8 and 9/8, are defined as odd-metre or uneven rhythms.
Time signatures such as 10/9 or 14/8 are usually included here, even though they don’t technically have an uneven number of beats.

Odd-metre grooves take a while to get used to, but once you make them your own, they can be a never-ending source of inspiration.
Since they are quite rare in most parts of the world, they make for interesting and unconventional music.
If you want to learn more about odd-metre grooves, how they are structured and how to play them on the handpan, check out our Level 2 course.

5/8 - 2-3

Time Signature: 5/8

There are more and less odd-sounding rhythms among the uneven time signatures and 5/8 is definitely one of the odder ones.
With only 2 subdivisions, usually the first subdivision is played as a low/heavy accent (Doum) and the second as a high accent (Tak)

5/8 - 3-2

Time Signature: 5/8

A little less common than the other 5/8, but just as odd :).

7/8 - 2-2-3

Time Signature: 7/8

7-beat cycles feel quite natural and are much easier to get used to than some of the other uneven time signatures.
This 7/8 is played in the Middle-East and Greece, where it is called Laz.
It can be started like a backbeat groove but then cut the last 8th note.

7/8 - 3-2-2

Time Signature: 4/4

Another common 7/8 variant, this style of 7/8 can for example be found in Greece/Middle East (Kalamatiano) and India (Rupak Taal).
For a full composition based on this groove, check out our Composition course.

7/8 - 2-3-2

Time Signature: 7/8

This is the true oddball among the 7-beat cycles.
Very cool feel, but rarely used.
It is challenging to not feel the downbeat of this groove on the second subdivision.

9/8 - 3-2-2-2

Time Signature: 9/8

In contrast to the traditional Turkish Karsilama/Aksak Groove, the longer subdivision is at the beginning of the cycle.
That gives the groove a bit of a heavier feel with more emphasis on the downbeat.


The term "cross rhythm" was introduced in 1934 by the musicologist Arthur Morris Jones (1889–1980), who spent a lot of time in Zambia and Uganda for his research. His definition goes as follows:

Cross-rhythm. A rhythm in which the regular pattern of accents of the prevailing meter is contradicted by a conflicting pattern and not merely a momentary displacement that leaves the prevailing meter fundamentally unchallenged.— The New Harvard Dictionary of Music (1986: 216)[2]

A specific type of cross rhythm happens when you layer two regular patterns with a different amounts of beats over each other, adjusting the timing so both loop exactly at the same time. The most common example of this practice are 2 vs 3 and 3 vs 4.

2 vs 3

Time Signature: 6/8

The most common cross-rhythm, also called “hemiola” in the classical music world.
This pattern can be played with either part defining the primary beat of the measure.
Many African rhythms are based on this pattern.

3 vs 4

Time Signature: 3/4

The other common cross-rhythm.
This one is also very musical and works beautifully on the handpan.
Once you have the pattern going, move your hands around some nice intervals on your instrument and you will be playing a fun little tune in no time.

5 vs 4

Time Signature: 5/4

Now we enter the world of more obscure cross rhythms.
These patterns are unusual and rhythmically very interesting.

5 vs 3

Time Signature: 15/8

Another unusual cross-rhythm.
You can check out the notation to get an understanding of how the microtiming between the 2 different phrases works.


Rhythm names

The same rhythm can be known under many different names and those names can be spelled differently, depending on the region or individual.

I have used names/spellings that I have most commonly come across when I learned or encountered a rhythm. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they are the original/correct/best ones.

Rhythms and musical traditions

Many of these folk music traditions from around the world are related. You will often find the same rhythm in Arabic, Turkish and Greek music.

Sometimes you will also find the same pattern in completely different music traditions. One example is the Arabic/Turkish Khaligi and the Brazilian Baiāo.

I tried to sort the rhythms in a way that is concise and makes sense, but I don’t necessarily always get it right.

If there are any missing that you would like to see/learn, please let me know in the comments. My aim is for this to be an ongoing and comprehensive project!

A guide to notation

I use a tablature notation for the handpan, which is based on the Middle Eastern names for bass and high accents: Doum and Tak (D and T/K)

D = Bass accent

T and K = High accent

F = closed stroke with the flat hand

i = stroke on the central tone field halfway between edge and dome. To emulate the tin sound of the tabla.

● = ghost note or space

Numbers 1-9 = tone fields in a circular layout, starting with the lowest one and going up the scale.

Time signatures

If you don’t have a background in Western music theory, time signatures can be confusing. Here’s a quick summary, taken from our Dojo Dictionary:

Time signatures comprise two numbers, written like a fraction - 34, 68 and so on.
~ The top number shows us how many counts/beats make up a bar.
~ The bottom number is always a power of 2. It shows us what length of note = one count in a bar. Most commonly:
4 = crochets/quarter notes
8 = quavers/eighth notes (twice as fast).
Using the examples above, we have:
3 crochets (34)
6 quavers (68)

Examples of time signatures include:

4/4 time
(also known as ‘Common time’ - the most common in Western music)

4 counts to a bar
Each count = crochet/quarter note
(Say: “1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and” - you are talking in 4/4!)

3/4 time
(think of a Waltz)

3 counts to a bar

Each count = crochet/quarter note
(Say: “1 and 2 and 3 and”)

7/8 time
(an ‘odd-metre’)

7 counts to a bar

Each count = quaver/eighth note
(Say: “1,2,3,4,5,6,7” at double the speed of the other examples)

Rhythmical subdivision

With some of the rhythms, I note the rhythmical subdivision, for example 7/8 can be split into 3-2-2. All that means is that we break down the rhythms into parts that we can make sense of, count and accent correctly.

Rhythms are generally subdivided into shorter groupings of 2s and 3s (sometimes 4s). The number refers to the amount of quavers/eighth notes or semi-quavers/sixteenth notes that a group contains.

Using the 7/8 example: the quavers/eighth notes can be subdivided 3-2-2, 2-2-3 or 2-3-2.  

This refers to the placement of the accents, with each main accent marking the beginning of a new subdivision.

In fact, all the 7/8s in the Odd-Metre Grooves section are worth checking out to see how the different subdivisions change the feel of the rhythm.  

This World Rhythm Library project was created by David Kuckhermann in 2023.

It's inspired by Jas’s Middle Eastern Rhythm FAQ, an incredible resource I have visited countless times over the years:

What you get with every course:

Step-by-step learning to build your skills up every day

A great community to answer questions

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