Grade 2 Music Theory - Lesson 15: Triplets
(To read this page with US terminology, hover your mouse over any word in italics.)
A "triplet" is a group of three notes played in the time of two.
To look at how triplets work, we'll first look at a short rhythm in 3/4 time.
Remember that in 3/4 time, one crotchet beat can be divided into two quavers:
One crotchet beat can also be divided into four semiquavers:
But, if we want to split the crotchet into three equal parts, we need to use a triplet.
To show a triplet, we write the notes as three quavers beamed (joined) together, and we also write "3" on the beamed side of the notes.
Look and listen to this rhythm using triplets:
Triplets don't always have to be quavers - we can make triplets out of notes of any length. We can split a minim up into three equal notes by writing triplet crotchets, for example:
Crotchets don't have beams, of course, so we write crotchet triplets with a square bracket, with the number 3 in the middle of the longest line.
Mixed Note Value Triplets
Triplets don't always have to have three notes in them: the notes of the triplet just need to add up to three of whatever value there would normally be two of.
In 4/4 time, for example, a crotchet is worth two quavers, or three triplet quavers. This means you can make a triplet out of other note values, as long as they also add up to three quavers overall. Here are some different ways one crotchet beat can be split into triplets with different rhythms.
Adding bar lines to music with triplets can look difficult at first glance, but don't panic! Remember that you are looking at three notes in the space of two, and that they are grouped together in whole beats. Here's an example:
Add the missing bar lines to this tune.
The time signature is 3/4, so each bar needs to have an equivalent of three crotchet beats.
Each "3" symbol shows a triplet group. One triplet group is worth one crotchet. The quavers beamed in twos are also worth one crotchet each.
Write a "1" under each group of notes which adds up to one crotchet. (You can write "2" under the minim, and any other values which are necessary, of course!)
Then after each count of three (because this is 3/4 time), draw a bar line.
Adding Rests with Triplets
Here's a melody which you need to add rests to, and the melody contains a triplet:
What do we need to do? We can see that there is a triplet marked with a "3" above the beamed quavers, but there are only two notes written instead of three. The star (*) shows us where the missing rest is supposed to go - in this case it's in the middle of the triplet.
The other notes in the triplet group are quavers; we've got two quavers but we need three, so the rest must have the value of a quaver. Draw the quaver rest carefully, in the place shown by the star. If you have to write a crotchet triplet rest, make sure it's inside the square "triplet" brackets.
Here's the finished answer, with the quaver rest in place:
For an example of how triplets can be used in pop music, take a look at Eric Strom's post on Taylor Swift's use of triplets in the song "I Knew You Were Trouble".