How Well Do You Know The Triplet?

how well do you know the triplet?

How Well Do You Know The Triplet?

     The triplet is an exciting rhythm that many of us either know by name, by it’s distinct feel or by its notation on music scores. But, how well do you really know the triplet? And what can its mysteries reveal to us?

      Understanding the Triplet in all its forms will improve our sense of rhythm. It can also be a useful spice for songwriting. Common rhythmic subdivisions in western music are even numbers like 2,4,8 and the occasional 6. The Triplet is odd, using 3 notes per beat. Therefore, incorporating this rhythm into your song, groove or next solo will add rhythmic variety. 

Practicing triplet exercises will help the clarity of our rhythm as performers. A common tendency for musicians is to rush or slow down. Knowing the Triplet will strengthen our sense of timing. To get started, let’s try the exercises below. Remember to use a metronome to accurately measure each rhythm. 

      First try playing the triplet evenly from beat to beat with no accents. Once you get the hang of it try various speeds like 65bpm, 80bpm, 100bpm and 120bpm. Now, let’s get a closer look at the triplet. This time play the same exercise but accent the first beat of each triplet. Continue to play the triplets but now accent the middle note of every triplet. Finally, accent the 3rd note of every triplet.  


         Next exercise we’ll move from 8th notes to triplets and then to 16th notes. In other words, we’ll fill in the quarter note pulse of our metronome with divisions of 2, 3 and finally 4. This is where the triplet reveals its unique character. When played correctly the shift between 2 and 4 can feel like a time warp. Practicing these different rates of rhythm over the quarter note is known as the Rhythm Scale. It usually ranges from 2 to 12 notes per beat and is essential for understanding how rhythms fit together in a grand scheme. 

           Having a good sense of timing is critical to play well with other musicians.      

These triplet exercises will create a strong foundation for timing and rhythmic language. With enough practice the triplet can expand our soloing, improvisation skills and compositions, too. Try using these new triplet accent rhythms in your next solo. It’s odd nature easily creates a feeling of tension and release.

      Another idea would be to take a common musical phrase and restructure the notes into a triplet rhythm. This will realign the notes in the phrase, and they will land on new parts of the measure. You will begin to hear once familiar phrases in a whole new light. The same experiment can be done with one of your melodies. Transform some of the phrases into triplets to create more unique sounding melodies.

       As if all that wasn’t enough, let’s factor in the addition of rests and we’ve exponentially grown our possibilities. A very common triplet rhythm with rests is “the shuffle”, typical of Blues and Jazz Music. The middle note of the triplet is rested resulting in a hypnotic pulse.  

     The triplet is also a great starting point for groove composition. The next time you’re writing a song try using a triplet subdivision for the foundation of the “beat”.  

      And when speaking of triplets in grooves, Drummers perhaps, have the most to gain from studying the triplet. Coordination is the key to playing the drum set. And when you practice single strokes as triplets you will greatly improve balance between hands. 

     A great coordination exercise is to play single stroke triplets over one bass drum hit on every quarter note. 

    Notice how the bass drum will hit with the right hand and then the left hand.  After accenting the first note of the triplet try to accent the middle note and finally the 3rd note of every triplet. This challenge will yield greater independence of your bass drum and coordination between your hands. Not to mention a larger cannon of rhythmic vocabulary.  Next try double strokes over a quarter note bass drum as an added challenge.

        Innovative use of the Triplet may be synonymous with swing music from the early 1900s, but it is in no way exclusive to the genres of Jazz and Blues. In fact, the triplet can be found all throughout today’s music. The Migos have honed their own brand of Hip Hop, making steady use of the Triplet rhythm. Animals as Leaders and other “Djent” bands make creative use of syncopated triplet rhythms. And even the most basic Electronic dance beats have been enhanced with triplet modulation in the sub-genre “Footwork”. So, the next time you’re in search for inspiration try experimenting with these triplet exercises. And after you get the hang of it have fun and spend some time exploring the possibilities. 


I teach Drums and Piano. Music is my life. On any given day I am performing, teaching, recording, rehearsing or writing music. I began playing and studying drums at a young age and continued my music education all the way up to college. I have 2 music degrees from Bucks County Community College and Temple University. I've been teaching students of all ages for close to 10 years. Instead of a hard lined curriculum I approach each student individually and establish personal goals. I teach with an open mind, patience and care. Lessons are fun and informative. I am a versatile player with years of experience and knowledge. I can teach you any style or technique you wish to learn.


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