Learn How to Play Eighth Note Triplets

November 5, 2023

Eager to learn how to play eighth note triplets and add that extra groove to your drum rhythms? You’re not alone. Many have stumbled over these beats, and I’m here to guide you through mastering them with ease.

Stick with me to uncover the secrets of how to play eighth note triplets—the vibrant rhythms that bring jazz, blues, and rock to life. They’re the seasoning that will elevate your playing to the next level, guaranteed.

Need the fast track? Eighth note triplets are a trio of notes that occupy the time span usually filled by just two. To keep them tidy in your rhythm, you’ll count “1-and-a, 2-and-a,” and so on.

So let’s roll up our sleeves and get those triplets in motion. Are you ready to begin? Let’s jump in.

How to Play Eighth Note Triplets

What are Eighth Note Triplets?

Eighth note triplets are a rhythmic figure used in music, where three equally spaced notes are played within the duration normally occupied by two eighth notes. 

This division of the beat creates a syncopated, or “swung,” feeling in the music, often found in genres like jazz, blues, and rock. These triplets are counted as “1-trip-let, 2-trip-let,” and so on, allowing musicians to fit them smoothly into the flow of the music. They are notated by grouping three eighth notes together with a bracket or beam and the number “3.”

How to Count Eighth Note Triplets

Counting eighth note triplets is like learning a new language for your musical brain. Instead of the straight “1 and 2 and” for regular eighth notes, we’re going to get a little wild and go “1-and-a, 2-and-a.” This counting keeps you on track so each triplet gets equal time and you don’t lose your place.

Learn more: How to count quarter note triplets

How to Play Eighth Note Triplets

Playing eighth note triplets involves a combination of precise timing and a smooth, even flow. Here’s how to get started:

1. Understanding the Count: Before you play, understand that eighth note triplets are counted as “1-trip-let, 2-trip-let, 3-trip-let, 4-trip-let” within a measure of 4/4 time.

2. Feeling the Pulse: Begin by tapping a steady pulse with your foot or metronome to represent the quarter notes—“1, 2, 3, 4”. This is the backbone over which the triplets will be played.

3. Adding the Triplets: Over each beat, you’re going to play three evenly spaced notes. You might start by saying “trip-let” in each beat, getting used to the subdivision of the pulse.

4. Slow Practice: Start slowly with a single drum or practice pad. Hit the drum with sticks using alternating hands (right-left-right, then left-right-left) for each set of triplets.

5. Incremental Increase in Speed: As you grow comfortable, gradually increase the tempo while maintaining the triplet’s evenness.

6. Applying to Drum Set: Once comfortable on a single surface, begin moving around the drum set, maintaining the triplet feel. Experiment with different drums and cymbals.

7. Dynamics and Accenting: Play with the dynamics by accenting the first note of each triplet to give a sense of groove and movement.

Mastering Eighth Note Triplets

To master eighth note triplets, delve deeper with these strategies:

1. Metronome Use: Practice with a metronome at various tempos. Start slow, then increase the speed while ensuring accuracy and consistency.

2. Count Aloud: Counting aloud helps internalize the rhythm and ensures precision.

3. Advanced Techniques: Explore techniques like the Moeller method for fluid motion and to avoid fatigue during fast or extended playing.

4. Mixing Note Values: Practice switching between straight eighth notes and triplets. This will sharpen your rhythmic precision and improve your ability to switch between feels.

5. Play Along Tracks: Utilize backing tracks or metronome apps that offer different rhythms to play along with. This can help you apply triplets in various musical contexts.

6. Study Greats: Listen to and emulate the playing of great drummers known for their use of triplets like John Bonham, Elvin Jones, or Gene Krupa.

7. Record Yourself: Record your practice sessions. Listening back can highlight areas for improvement.

8. Live Playing: Play with other musicians. Live application forces you to maintain the triplet feel despite the fluidity of live music.

9. Learn and Transcribe Solos: Transcribe drum solos and fills that utilize eighth note triplets to understand their application in a musical context.

10. Routine Variation: Regularly change your practice routine to challenge different aspects of playing eighth note triplets, such as speed, dynamics, and stickings.

Remember, mastering eighth note triplets is not just about the ability to play the notes but also about internalizing their rhythmic feel to the point where they become a natural and expressive part of your playing. 

It requires patience, practice, and a keen sense of timing, but the payoff is a more versatile and compelling drumming style.

Wrap Up

Mastering how to play eighth note triplets can elevate your drumming from straightforward to spectacular, infusing your rhythms with that irresistible swing. Remember, it’s about fitting three notes where two usually go, counted as “1-and-a, 2-and-a.” 

Whether in jazz shuffles or rock grooves, eighth note triplets are your ticket to a more dynamic and expressive performance. 

Keep practicing with a metronome, experiment with polyrhythms, and soon, these triplets will become second nature, transforming your beats into something truly special.

Denis Loncaric
Denis Loncaric

My name is Denis. I am a drummer, percussionist, music enthusiast, and blogger. Drums have been my passion for 15 years now. My idea is to write about the things I like and I am interested in. I want to share my drum passion with fellow musicians who walk, talk, and breathe drums.

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