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Triplets: A How To Guide to Timing and Practice

Q: Can you give me some exercises to play with a triplet feel? I’d also love a comparision of how the division is different from a binary feel.

A: Simply put: A triplet is kind of like shifting the time where you can fit three notes in the space of two:

  • A half-note triplet is when you fit three half notes in the space of two (three to a bar of 4/4)
  • A quarter note triplet is when you fit three quarter notes in the space of two (six to a bar of 4/4)
  • An 8th note triplet is fitting three notes in the space of one beat (two 8th notes)
  • A 16th note triplet is six strikes to a beat (three 16ths in the space of two = three per 8th note)

And so on…

In this exercise (download the PDF), you will find nine examples of ways to practice playing 8th note triplets. When you work on this, try to incorporate playing to a click and take it slowly until you’ve really got them internalized and feeling natural. Then work on speeding it up a bit.

Practice internalizing the feel of each triplet. Whether or not you’re striking a note, you’ll want to focus on feeling it internally. That is the crucial step to nailing the timing.

Aside from the first example given (which is just every 8th note triplet struck), I’ve replaced various beats with a rest. The ninth exercise is especially good for testing your ability to feel each pulse internally. With each bar, we’re simply moving the pulse one 8th triplet to the right. So we’re actually just playing:

  • A bar of downbeats
  • A bar of every 2nd pulse
  • A bar of every 3rd

Notice that this one is only three bars long. This is because it turns back around after three bars. If we were to apply it to other rhythms, they would take longer or short to turn around on itself depending on the rhythm.

I do this exercise with most rhythmic subdivisions. Take the concept and apply it to 16th notes as well, for some fun (by the way, this is where the rhythm for my tune, “Inside Out” originated.)

If you’d like a reference track, download this MP3 to go along with the exercises to play along and test your timing. The repeats are respected in the the playalong so each exercise is actually eight bars long (six bars for the final exercise).

I love this type of practice! Have fun!

Resources for this lesson:

  1. Exercises (PDF download)
  2. Playalong track (MP3 download)