Monday, November 16, 2020

The different types of polyphonic singing 7: overlapping polyphony

Joseph Jordania has outlined nine different types of polyphonic singing in his book Choral singing in human evolution.


I will be working through each type trying to give a simplified explanation and some musical examples.

This week it’s overlapping polyphony.

Not every culture has polyphonic or multi-part singing. When they do, it can take many different forms. 

In part 1, I wrote about parallel polyphony.

In part 2, I wrote about drone polyphony.

In part 3, I wrote about canonic polyphony.

In part 4, I wrote about contrapuntal polyphony.

In part 5, I wrote about ostinato polyphony.

In part 6, I wrote about heterophonic polyphony.

overlapping polyphony

Overlapping polyphony takes place when two different parts, instead of following each other in turns (i.e. antiphonal singing), start overlapping. This means that the new part comes in while the previous part has not yet finished its turn.

3 examples of overlapping polyphony

1. north Caucasus

Adyghes is a Russian term for several ethnic groups living in the western part of north Caucasia (population about 120,000). They are better known to Europeans as Cherkesses or Circassians.

Polyphony plays an important role in the musical traditions of the Adyghes. The traditional term for the drone is ezhu (which means “everybody”). One type of Adyghean traditional
polyphony is overlapping alternation of the soloist and ezhu. The first song in this video is an example of this:

2. western Georgia

In western Georgia there is a tradition of two choirs singing with antiphonal alternation (i.e. they take turns to sing). In some of the work songs, as they get faster, the two choirs begin to overlap. Here is an example from Guria:

3. southwestern USA

There is a tradition of call-and-response with the soloist and chorus “stepping” on each other (or overlapping) in dance songs of the Creek, Cherokee and Shawnee Indians.

Here is a simple example, a Shawnee stomp dance:

There are also elements of overlapping polyphony in this Lakota prayer:

next week

In the next post in this series I’ll be looking at chordal polyphony.


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Chris Rowbury




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