Quick Sketch

Use the musical concept of Polyrhythm to re-imagine your play.

When to Use

At a point in the process when much is already clear.


Polyrhythm is "The simultaneous use of two or more rhythms that are not readily perceived as deriving from one another or as simple manifestations of the same meter..." Avoiding a technical description, instead view a 3 against 4 polyrhythm on YouTube, and a 5/4 over 4/4 as well.

NOTE: Seriously, go watch them now. Words are inadequate.

So, one way to think of polyrhythm is as two or more rhythms existing at the same time and in the same span of time. What it creates is a somewhat syncopated rhythm that feels more unique and interesting than the tried and true 4/4 of the vast majority of pop music. What this exercise asks you to do is to use the idea of a polyrhythm to structure & dictate the order and flow of your play.


  1. Re-read your play.
  2. Value each character in your play with a number between 1 (they speak very little) and 5 (they speak a lot).
  3. Multiply all the numbers together (e.g. 1x3x4 = 12)
  4. Create a chart:

  5. For each character, divide the number you calculated in step #3 by the value you gave the character in step #2 (e.g. 12/3 = 4)

  6. Treat "X's" as moments when characters speak, and empty columns as moments when there are stage directions.

  7. Move left to right through the columns as many times as necessary to complete your play. You will encounter a repetitious structure.

    From our example chart:

    • On line one, everyone says a line (at the same time).
    • Lines 2 & 3 (in this example) are both stage directions of some sort.
    • Line 4 is Char Val=4's line.
    • Line 5 is Char Val=3's line... and so on...
  8. Embrace the dictated structure and rewrite what you wanted to write until you've finished.


Hopefully you were able to feel a new flow to your dialogue and scene. Did it seem accurate? Did the characters need to speak more? Less? When they spoke at the same time was that useful? Productive? Instructive? At any rate, you've utilized a complex repeating structure for your dialogue and employed it effectively. How might that fit in with your goals on your current project?