Understanding Euclidean Rhythms and how to use them in your music
Euclidean Rhythms is a mathematical approach to understanding common rhythms found in a large portion of world music.
Euclidean Rhythms were first observed by Godfried Toussaint in 2004 by applying the Euclidean Algorithm to musical rhythms. The Euclidean Algorithm is a method of deriving the greatest common divisor between two given numbers, which was first put forward by the Greek mathematician, Euclid – the father of geometry. The result of this method of applying maths to music happened to line up with a large portion of rhythms that already existed in world music. The resulting calculations also relate to aspects of nuclear physics and string theory, however that’s a topic for another day!
Without getting too deep into the mathematical side of things, using patterns derived from Euclidean Rhythms can help you create interesting new rhythms and arrangements for your music. Especially when you’re creating regimented 4/4 dance music, the use of these unique rhythms can help to add an aspect of groove or syncopation to break away from the monotony of a 4/4 kick. These rhythms work with almost any aspect in music, from percussion and drums to synth and bass lines.
How to easily calculate and create Euclidean Rhythms?
Thankfully the world is graced with developers who create a ton of helpful tools for all aspects of music creation, one example is this Euclidean Rhythm generator web app. Simply punch in the numbers and copy the rhythm to a MIDI clip or Serum LFO shape!
I like to use Euclidean Rhythms as modulation shapes in Serum’s LFO, this is particularly cool for creating Psytrance “Squelch” sounds. You can create up to eight different rhythms to play off each other in interesting ways and modulate a ton of parameters in your patch. You can also set independent start and loop points for each LFO to create polyrhythmic patterns, that may never loop over the same bar twice!
Here’s a video with a quick explanation of Euclidean Rhythms and how to turn them into Serum LFO Shapes:
If you don’t have access to a DAW, you can play around with Euclidean Rhythms with this web app.