Triplets

author: delcypher date: 07/01/2005 category: guitar techniques
rating: 8.6 / votes: 22 
1. Straight Timing. Before we get started I need to introduce you to 16th notes (just incase you are unfamiliar). Most music you listen to in your life will most probably in the time signature known as 4|4. Most people do not know what 4|4 means. It means 4 (the 1st 4) 1/4 notes per bar (eg. 6|8 means 6 1/8th notes per bar). Lets stay in 4|4 for the momment. So, there are 4 1/4 notes in a bar (hence 1/4 x 4 =1), but we can 1/2 each note, so we play 8 1/8th notes to a bar and 1/2 again we can play 16 1/16th notes to a bar (of course you can go on). There is a (fairly) standard way of describing these 16th notes with numbers and letters, this goes as follows.
No.1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16
   1 e + a 2 e + a 3 e  +  a  4  e  +  a
So, playing [4] 1/4 notes reads: 1 2 3 4 Playing [8] 1/8 notes reads: 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + playing [16] 1/16 notes reads: 1 e + a 2 e + a 3 e + a 4 e + a BTW + is said 'and' NOT 'plus'. This method is used because each letter or number is a single sylable and is easy to say enabling rhythms to be played easily as you can say them. The use of 16th notes is common is many forms of music and 32nd notes feature prominatly in metal (obviously this is not the only style 32nd notes feature in). Now you have hopefully grasped the idea of 16th notes (refered to as 'straight') we can now take a look at triplets (refered to as 'swung'). You could get the impression from the name swing, that triplets are only good for blues and jazz but they have thousands of applications. 2. Triplets. Lets start with the 1/8 note triplet. The notes are grouped in three's because 3 of these triplet 1/8 notes equals one 1/4 note. So basically instead of dividing the 1/4 note by 2 to get 1/8th notes, we have divided by three. In standard music notation these usually have a 3 written underneath the group. If there are 3 notes to every 1/4 note, (3x4) means there are [12] 1/8 note triplets to a bar. A less known standard to represent these notes is as follows:
No. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12
    1 t l 2 t l 3 t l 4  t  l
It is possible to 1/2 these notes so there are 6 notes per 1/4 note. These are called 1/16 note triplets. This would mean you have 24 notes per bar. This is not a standard notation but I will use this notation:
No. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24
    1 b t c l d 2 b t c  l  d  3  b  t  c  l  d  4  b  t  c  l  d
3. Applying. Knowing this is all well in good, but what use is it if you can't use them. To do this I am going to have to show how to 1st relate 1/4 notes to 1/8th note triplets. The relationship is as follows:
1/4 notes        :1     2     3     4
1/8 note Triplets:1 t l 2 t l 3 t l 4 t l
This show that every beginning note of the triplet group matches a 1/4 note. So to grasp the sound of a 1/8 note triplet we need to hear how it sounds. So find something to tap. Now count 1 t l 2 t l etc. and on every number, stomp your foot. This (the stomp) is the note you would normally accent when playing as it is a guide to where you are in the triplet grouping. Make sure each note is the same length as each other and is regular. To help yourself play with a metronome at about 60BPM set to 1/4 note beats. Think you got that? Lets try 1/16 note triplets. The relationship is as follows:
1/8 notes         :1     +     2     +     3     +     4     +  
1/16 note Triplets:1 b t c l d 2 b t c l d 3 b t c l d 4 b t c l d
As you can see the 4th 1/16 note triplet note matches with the + ( c matches +). So when playing 1/16 bote triplets you can accent the 1, 2, 3, 4 and the c. You can try this with the metronome too. Ok, lets transfer this knowledge to the guitar. To play these triplets I'm going to use Alternate Picking as pure down or up strokes are not practicall at high speeds.
V = down stroke 
^ = up stroke
You will notice that on 2 and 4 start you play an up stroke, this may feel weird at first but you will get used to it with practise. I advise you use a metronome with all of these execises to get your timming accurate. Remember start slow and build your speed. Also you can try to accent the 1, 2, 3 and 4 (and + if you are doing 1/16 note triplets) to help your timing. Ex1. Open string - this exercise is design to let you switch between straight and swung notes with ease. You can do this on any string, but I will just show E:
E|0---0---0---0---|0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-|0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-|
 |1e+a2e+a3e+a4e+a|1e+a2e+a3e+a4e+a|1btcld2btcld3btcld4btcld|
 |v---^---v---^---|v-^-v-^-v-^-v-^-|v-^-V-^-v-^-v-^-v-^-v-^-|

E|0000000000000000|000000000000000000000000||REPEAT
 |1e+a2e+a3e+a4e+a|1btcld2btcld3btcld4btcld||
 |v^v^v^v^v^v^v^v^|v^v^v^v^v^v^v^v^v^v^v^v^||
Ex2. Open String - this exercise gets you to use the classic jazz ride rhythm on your guitar:
E|0--0-00--0-0|REPEAT
 |1tl2tl3tl4tl|
 |V--^-^V--^-^|
Ex3. Power chords - this exercise gets you to play the classic blues/rock and roll chord progression that uses Triplet time. This is commonly know as a shuffle rhythm. You find it easier to understand if you consider its a normal 1/8 note triplet pattern with the 't' removed. This played with down or up strokes:
G|------------|------------|REPEAT
D|5-57-75-57-7|------------|
A|3-33-33-33-3|3-35-53-35-5|
E|------------|1-11-11-11-1|
 |1tl2tl3tl4tl|1tl2tl3tl4tl|
Ex4. 3 Note per string modal pattern - this a 3 note per string A Aeolian Mode scale:
e|- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 7 8 10108 7 - - - |
B|- - - - - - - - - - - - 6 8 10- - - - - - 6 8 10|
G|- - - - - - - - - 5 7 9 - - - - - - - - - - - - | 
D|- - - - - - 5 7 9 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - |
A|- - - 5 7 8 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - |
E|5 7 8 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - |
 |1 b t c l d 2 b t c l d 3 b t c l d 4 b t c l d |
 |V ^ V ^ V ^ V ^ V ^ V ^ V ^ V ^ V ^ V ^ V ^ V ^ |
Ex5. The intro to 'Overture 1928' - Dream Theater. This is the synchronised snare, bass guitar and, electric guitar sort of army marching pattern that introduces the song:
D|0000--0--0000000--0000--|
 |1btcld2btcld3btcld4btcld| 
 |V^V^--V--^V^V^V^--V^V^--|
Ex6. The TripletFill in 'Overture 1928' - Dream Theater. This is the synchronised bass guitar, electric guitar and keyboard fill.
e|- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - |
B|9 109 7 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - | 
G|- - - - 9 7 6 9 7 6 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - |
D|- - - - - - - - - - 9 7 6 9 7 6 - - - - - - - - |
A|- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 9 7 5 9 7 5 - - |
E|- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 9 7 |
 |1 b t c l d 2 b t c l d 3 b t c l d 4 b t c l d |
 |V ^ V ^ V ^ V ^ V ^ V ^ V ^ V ^ V ^ V ^ V ^ V ^ |
Have fun! If anyone actually reads this guide and likes it, I might extend by showing how to mix 1/16 notes and 1/16 note triplets.
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