How to Understand (and play) Triplets | Hub Guitar

How to Understand (and play) Triplets

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Explain clearly what is being performed each example; show notation

Hi. This is Hub Guitar.

If you want to really understand triplets, it's a great idea to find the basic unit of measurement to do that.

I've found that the eighth-note triplet pattern works really well as a basic unit for counting out all of the other triplets.

So let's set a metronome to 80 for us to follow along with. And let's count quarters . 1, 2, 3, 4.

Let's count eighths. 1+2+3+4+

Now let's count eighth note triplets. 1-2-3, 2-2-3, 3-2-3, 4-2-3

To count sixteenth note triplets, drop the syllables. Use the "da-ka-ta da-ka-ta" sound. We may have to slow it down a bit to get these. da-ka-ta-da-ka-ta, duk-a-ta-duk-a-ta, duk-a-ta-duk-a-ta, duk-a-ta-duk-a-ta Let's speed it back up to do the quarter-note triplet. You should tap the eighth-note pulse on your leg the WHOLE time, that will help you hear the quarter note triplet. Because you can create a quarter note triplet by tying groups of two eighteenth-note tuplets together.

Once you can verbally perform the quarter note triplet, you want to move on to the half-note triplets, so the half-note triplets is a little bit challenging, because that's gonna be groups of four eighth-note triplets. Again, tap on your leg, tap out triplets, and say "dah" on every fourth one, starting with the first. Here we go.

So tapping those eighth note triplets is what's going to help you get that done.


A triplet is a group of three notes filling the space normally occupied by two.

The first thing that is needed to understand triplets is a basic unit to measure them by. From here, we can build different types of triplets.

The Eighth Note Triplet

An eighth note triplet is, technically, the division of two eighth notes into three pieces.

However, it’s much easier to get our basic triplet by dividing a quarter note into three.

Just as the eighth note is made by dividing the quarter note into two, the eighth note triplet is made by dividing the quarter note into three.

Counting 4

You can count this first by counting the standard four: “1–2–3–4”

Counting 8

Now counting the eighths: “1–and–2–and–3–and–4–and”

Counting 12

Now let’s try adding the triplets: 1•2•3– 2•2•3– 3•2•3– 4•2•3”

See if you can perform all rhythms in time, using a metronome: quarter notes, eighth notes, and then eighth note triplets.

Getting Smaller: The Sixteenth Note Triplet

The sixteenth note triplet can be thought of as a group of three eighth note triplets each divided in half. However, just like the eighth note triplet is easier to hear as a quarter note divided into three, a sixteenth note triplet is often easier to hear as two eighth notes, each divided into three. That means you’ll hear two rapid groups of three per every beat.

Getting Bigger: The Quarter-Note Triplet

The quarter note triplet can be thought of as a series of eighth note triplets, where every two are tied together.

The best way to learn to perform this one is to use the eighth note triplet figure. Tap the beat and vocalize the eighth note triplets. Then practice dragging the first one into the second one and the third one into the fourth one. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll be performing perfect quarter note triplets.

Getting Bigger: The Half-Note Triplet

Half-note triplets are fairly rare, but they have an interesting sound.

You can practice half-note triplets either by tying groups of four eighth note triplets together, or by typing groups of two quarter note triplets together.

Key Tasks

These tasks follow a sequence. Use a metronome, and start at the beginning from the bottom to the top, until you can perform all triplets verbally. Then you will be able to play them on guitar.

  1. Tap four beats to a metronome set at 90 BPM.
  2. Tap four, and perform quarter notes.
  3. Tap four, and perform eighth notes.
  4. Tap four, and perform eighth note triplets.
  5. Tap four, and perform sixteenth note triplets.
  6. Tap four, and perform quarter note triplets.
  7. Tap four, and perform half note triplets.

Any time you are unable to proceed, try to compare the new beat with quarter notes, eighth notes, or eighth note triplets.

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