Triplets

Want to add another feel to your playing? Then add 1/8 and 1/16 note triplets to your repetoire.

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Ultimate Guitar
18
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.

32 comments sorted by best / new / date

comments policy
    poochy
    Pine-ap-ple-pine-ap-ple-pine-ap-ple. That's how I was taught to "read" them. Great article man.
    Peterjs
    My guitar teacher said something about triplets. Yeeeaaahhh, wish I listened.
    slash_pwns
    Fairly good lesson, and tripelets are something left in the dark. Good job on explaining them, and it's always good to throw in some Dream Theater, eh? (I can say 'eh' becasue its Canada Day)
    delcypher
    I could, but seeing as I can't play them very well or use them effectively I don't think I should be the one to write a lesson on them.
    snofthndr
    what about writing a lesson about other tuplets like a quintuplit(5 1/8 in the time of one 1/4) or something like that
    delcypher
    Ha I forgot I wrote this! It was so long ago...Can't say I think much of my own lesson. I wrote it back in the day when I liked progressive metal bands (e.g. Symphony-X, Dream Theater), guess that explains the obsession with triplets. One day I shall write a better lesson.
    shav0r
    also what you didn't go into at all is that there are 2 kinds of triplets: The straight ones (think thrash metal) DAdada DAdada and the "Iron Maiden" horse ones which are more like da dadaDA dadaDA.
    shav0r
    Machine Head and Trivium songs are good for seeing how to use triplets
    Big_Rat
    Trivium like to sneak triplets into their solos, damn them i had to learn it! XD
    pa3k_2414
    so basically deos it just mean that 1/8 note triplets are three notes per click of metronome and 1/16 note triplets are 6 notes per click of a metronome
    Mr_BTP
    @zeppelin420 what he meant is that a set of eighth note triplets (3 of them) take the same "time" as 2 straight eighth notes - which is the same as one straight quarter(1/4) note and i thought the examples were well chosen, and quite relevant - nice lesson
    martinbg
    how about clearing up the technic a bit. For example i know the timing good enough but how am I supposed to hold the pick and should I begin with an upstroke always and how should i perform a palm muted triplet wich is harder?
    D$MONEY
    yeah! triplets are the shit! ...but dont forget about all the others..!\ D$
    fingersofflame
    although this is pretty basic, it may be one of the most useful things i've read...good lesson, fairly simple to understand, good job!
    clamchowder01
    For 16th note triplets what do you say for b, c, and d. I know t and l is trip and let respectively.
    cantshreddave
    i use triplets almost all the time cos they sound impress when they are often easy in descending runs and have a great grove to them
    ThisPerishedMin
    hmm.....a tid bit confusing...but i got.... apparently ive been playing in triplets and never really realized it however haha....thats always a pelasant suprise...gj though.
    spookas
    Wow, that helps alot. I was having trouble getting triplet timing right. The 1 t l 2 t l 3 t l 4 t l helps alot
    zeppelin420
    "The notes are grouped in three's because 3 of these triplet 1/8 notes equals one 1/4 note." i dont know about that bro....
    asheroth
    Hah, pine-ap-ple works better than the way I know: Trip-e-let trip-e-let trip-e-let... Someone's thought of using 'triplet' instead of something else, and hasn't let the number of syllables get in their way...