Lesson 16: Triplets

How to play eighth note triplets

In the last few lessons, we learned that the beat is subdivided into two equal parts in simple meter, and the beat is subdivided into three equal parts in compound meter. However, the beat can be divided into three equal parts in simple meter through the use of triplets. Triplets are a group of three notes that occur in the amount of time that two notes of the same value are usually played. For example, in the simple meter of 2/4, the beat is typically subdivided into two equal parts, or two eighth notes. We can subdivide the beat into three equal parts with eighth note triplets.

Notice that the triplets are grouped in three notes, and that the number 3 occurs between brackets above the group. Just as two regular, or duple eighth notes will equal one beat in simple meter, three triplet eighth notes will equal one beat in simple meter. Since the beat is subdivided into three equal parts with the triplets, we count the subdivision as “1 k d 2 k d,” as we did in compound meter.

How to play quarter note triplets

Remember from previous lessons that a quarter note is equal to the length of two eighth notes. Similarly, a quarter note triplet is equal to the length of two eighth note triplets. We often see rhythms that include a quarter note and an eighth note under a bracket with the number 3.

Using this information, we also can figure out the length of quarter note triplets by starting with a group of eighth note triplets and tying together every two eighth notes.

How to play half note triplets

Almost any note value can be turned into a triplet. Triplet half notes are a group of three halves that are played in the duration of time that would usually be taken by two half notes. Their length can be determined by subdividing the beat into triplet eighths and triplet quarters, as shown below.

How to play rhythms with mixed subdivisions

When we are performing music in simple meter that has triplets, it is best to count the triple subdivisions for the entire passage. However, music with triplets often includes duple eighth notes, too. When a section of music includes both duple and triple rhythms, alternate between counting “1 and 2 and,” and “1 k d 2 k d,” depending on what type of note value is present.

If a measure does not include any eighth notes, the subdivision should be determined by what type of rhythm occurs in the next measure. In the example below, there are no eighth notes in measure 1, but there are duple eighth notes in measure 2, so both measures should have a duple subdivision. In measure 3 there are no eighth notes, but in measure 4 there are triplet eighth notes, so both measures should have a triple subdivision. It is essential to practice these patterns with a metronome to make sure that you are keeping a steady beat when shifting from duple to triple subdivisions.

Learn how to play double dotted notes in Lesson 17.

Write your own rhythms and music compositions! Get free blank staff paper at www.music-paper.com.

Get the Book

Fundamentals of Rhythm book

If you would like all of this information in book format so that you can put it on your music stand and practice it wherever you go, get The Fundamentals of Rhythm, by Kyle Coughlin. The book includes all of the lesson information and practice exercises found on the website.

Use MetronomeBot for a fun online metronome!

The online metronome that counts the beat, subdivides, and offers encouraging practice tips.

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