In music a tuplet (also irrational rhythm or groupings, artificial division or groupings, abnormal divisions, irregular rhythm, gruppetto, extra-metric groupings, or, rarely, contrametric rhythm) is “any rhythm that involves dividing the beat into a different number of equal subdivisions from that usually permitted by the time-signature (e.g., triplets, duplets, etc.)” .
This is indicated by a number (or sometimes two), indicating the fraction involved. The notes involved are also often grouped with a bracket or (in older notation) a slur. The most common type is the “triplet”.
What are triplets and how do they work in music?
Triplets are a type of musical note grouping that divides the beat into three parts instead of two or four. This means that each individual note in the triplet takes up one-third of a beat instead of half or quarter.
This is different from simple or compound meters, which divide the beat into twos and fives respectively.
While triplets can be used in any time signature, they usually occur in 3/4 or 6/8 time.
They often appear as an alternative to simple meters because the longer note values are easier to perform and more expressive than shorter notes.
To use triplet notation in your music, you simply divide each note value by three. For example, if you have a quarter note triplet, each note in the group will last for one third of a beat.
If you’re having trouble understanding how triplets work, just remember that each note in the group is played at the same time as the other two notes.
This means that you can’t rush or drag any of the notes in the group, or the triplet will sound uneven.
Practice counting and playing triplets slowly at first to get a feel for how they work. Once you’re comfortable with the concept, you can start using them in your own music-making!
Triplets in popular songs
You’ve probably heard triplets used in many popular songs without even realizing it! Here are a few examples of well-known tunes that make use of this rhythmic device:
- “The Entertainer” by Scott Joplin
- “Maple Leaf Rag” by Louis Armstrong
- “Take Five” by Dave Brubeck
- “I Got Rhythm” by George Gershwin
- “All Blues” by Miles Davis
As you can hear from these great examples, triplets add a unique flavor to a song and can really make it swing.
Triplets as embellishments
While triplets are sometimes used as the main rhythm of a song, they are often used as musical embellishments or ornaments.
This means that they add extra interest to a piece by creating syncopation and providing rhythmic contrast.
They can be found in many different styles of music, from jazz, blues, and rock to classical and folk music.
Some common ways to use triplets include:
- Introducing a new section or melody in the song
- Adding syncopation to a chord progression or rhythm pattern
- Creating rhythmic interest by breaking up regular meter patterns or accents
- Accenting notes that might otherwise be unaccented, such as grace notes or appoggiaturas
- Creating tension and anticipation by using triplets in a fast, driving section of the song
Whether you’re adding them as embellishments or as the main rhythm of your music, knowing how to use triplets is an important skill for any musician.
Practice exercises for triplets
Here are a few exercises to help you get comfortable with using triplets in your music. These can be done with any instrument, so feel free to use whatever you’re most comfortable with.
- Start by counting and clapping a simple triplet rhythm. Try different combinations of notes and rests, such as quarter note-quarter note-eighth note, and half note-sixteenth note-quarter rest.
- Once you’ve got the hang of clapping triplets, try playing them on an instrument. Start slowly at first to make sure that you’re not rushing or dragging any of the notes. Focus on keeping all three notes at the same volume and in time with each other.
- To practice using triplets as embellishments, try playing around with different chord progressions or rhythmic patterns and inserting triplets in certain spots to create interest or counter-rhythms. You can also experiment with adding syncopated rhythms on top of the triplet pattern for an even greater level of complexity.
Triplets vs duplets
While both triplets and duplets are common rhythmic patterns used in music, there are some key differences between the two. For one thing, triplets are typically performed with three notes per beat, while duplets have only two notes per beat.
In addition, triplets often create a strong sense of syncopation or off-beat accents, while duplets tend to be more straightforward and easy to count.
Ultimately, the decision of whether to use triplets or duplets in your music is up to you. If you’re looking for a more complex sound, triplets are a great option.
If you want something simpler or more evenly-paced, duplets might be the way to go. Experiment with both and see what works best for your music!
Which you choose depends on a number of factors, including the style of your music, the tempo at which you’re playing, and even your own personal preferences.
Some musicians might prefer using triplets because they create more interesting rhythms or add variety to a song, while others might find duplets to be easier to count or play.
No matter which you choose, understanding how to use both triplets and duplets is an important skill for any musician. By learning how to use these common rhythmic patterns, you’ll be able to add more interest and complexity to your music.
If you’re working on a piece that uses triplets, practice playing it slowly and steadily at first to get the rhythm right.
Then, once you’ve got it down pat, work on increasing the tempo and adding more ornamentation or embellishments as needed.
With practice and patience, you’ll be a triplet pro in no time!
I'm Joost Nusselder, the founder of Neaera and a content marketer, dad, and love trying out new equipment with guitar at the heart of my passion, and together with my team, I've been creating in-depth blog articles since 2020 to help loyal readers with recording and guitar tips.
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