Many people would agree that polyrhythms are not overly present in modern popular music.
We can go on forever about the reason for this and there's going to be a lot of different opinions. Some will blame it on the 16 step grid pattern format found on most of the early sequencers of yore or the fact that there is something about them that makes people think they are not easy to understand and even apply to music that we can enjoy and tap our feet to. I'm inclined to think it is a mix of these and probably a host of other reasons that I'm not going to be able to approach on a simple blog entry.
What fascinates me is that what makes them sound so interesting is more about the synergy they carry than anything else.
According to Cambridge Dictionary the definition of synergy is:
The combined power of a group of things when they are working together that is greater than the total power achieved by each working separately.
Having played western African drumming and marimbas this seems to me like a no brainer. That greater power presented in a polyrhythm comprised of -many times- simple parts that alone would not present on their own is easy to appreciate given the right elements and time. Either with drummers or on a DAW you can try experimenting with beats with different meters for example 3/4 against 4/4; 3/4 against 5/4; 2/4 against 3/4 and so on.
When trying different meter beats alone with each hand simultaneously things can get a bit more challenging and that's when the butter from the title gets handy.
There's a bunch of mnemonic phrases that you can use to help you remember their basic feel and makes things a bit easier.
Here there are few for the most common polyrhythms:
For 3:2 you can do
HOT cup OF tea
X - X - X -
hot cup tea
X - - X - -
For 5:4 there is:
SHE'S preg-NANT, don't KNOW what TO do!
X - - - X - - - X - - - X - - - X - - -
she's preg don't what do!
X - - - - X - - - - X - - - - X - - - -
SHE'S NANT KNOW TO!
And the last one to close full circle goes with the 4:3 :
PASS the GOD-damn BUT-ter!
X - - X - - X - - X - -
pass the damn ter!
X - - - X - - - X - - -
PASS GOD BUT
With a little bit of practice anybody can have the chance to appreciate the synergy that comes with even the most basic polyrhythms and go from there to create some more complex ones.
I hope this shines at least a tiny little light into the enormous subject of polyrhythms.. and butter.