How to Play Quarter Note Triplets? Learn to Count

November 4, 2023

Figuring out how to play quarter note triplets can be confusing. It’s that weird timing that never seems to click, right?

Don’t worry, by the end of this article, you’ll have a solid grasp on it, making your rhythm as tight as a drum skin.

Quick fix: divide your beats, count ’em in threes, and group ’em in twos. Boom – you’re doing triplets.

Let’s start and march those triplets right into your muscle memory!

How to Play Quarter Note Triplets

What are Quater Note Triplets

Quarter note triplets are a group of three notes that are played in the space of two regular quarter notes. 

This means you fit three notes where you usually would have two, making them a bit quicker than regular quarter notes. It’s like fitting three even steps into the time it normally takes to take two.

Step-by-Step Guide to Counting Quarter Note Triplets

  1. Start with a Steady Pulse: Begin by establishing a steady pulse or beat, which will be your quarter note pulse. Think of this as your metronome or a ticking clock, counting out “1, 2, 3, 4.”

  2. Divide the Beat: Normally, quarter notes are counted with one note per beat. For triplets, you need to mentally divide each beat into three even parts. Instead of one tap per beat, imagine three equally spaced taps within that same beat.

  3. Group in Twos: Since quarter note triplets span two beats, think of them as six even subdivisions grouped in twos across these two beats. Visually, you might imagine two brackets, each covering three of these subdivisions, across two beats.

  4. Use Syllables to Help: To count these subdivisions, you can use syllables like “1-trip-let 2-trip-let” or “tri-pl-et tri-pl-et” to fill in each beat. Make sure these are even and steady.

  5. Emphasize the Start of Each Triplet: When you begin, emphasize the first part of each triplet to help you keep track. As you count “1-trip-let 2-trip-let,” put a slight accent on the “1” and the “2.”

  6. Practice with a Metronome: Turn on a metronome to the quarter note pulse. Practice counting the triplets with the metronome beats. Remember, your triplets should span two metronome clicks.

  7. Clap or Tap: As you count the triplets, clap or tap your hand to reinforce the rhythm physically. You should clap or tap three times for every two metronome clicks.

  8. Start Slowly: Begin at a slow tempo to ensure accuracy. As you become more comfortable, gradually increase the speed while maintaining the triplet’s integrity.

  9. Apply to Music: Once you’re comfortable, try counting quarter note triplets while listening to music in 4/4 time. Listen for the natural pulse of the music and fit your triplets within that framework.

Simple Exercises for Mastering Quarter Note Triplets

Exercise 1: Metronome Practice

  1. Set your metronome to a slow tempo, around 60 BPM (beats per minute).
  2. Count out loud “1-trip-let, 2-trip-let” with the metronome clicking on “1” and “2”.
  3. Clap or tap your foot on the “1” and “2” to internalize the pulse.

Exercise 2: Subdivision Counting

  1. Without a metronome, practice counting “1-and-a, 2-and-a” to get the feel for three notes per beat.
  2. Clap on “1” and “2” only, letting “and-a” be silent counts.

Exercise 3: Alternating Measures

  1. Play or clap straight quarter notes for one measure (“1, 2, 3, 4”).
  2. Immediately switch to quarter note triplets for the next measure (“1-trip-let, 2-trip-let”).
  3. Alternate between these two measures to get comfortable switching between straight quarters and triplets.

Exercise 4: Play Along with Songs

    • Find songs in 4/4 time with clear beats, like Pink Floyd’s “Money” (which also features 7/4 time, but the parts in 4/4 are clear and can be used for practice). Even better listen to hi hat work in “Hold the line” by Toto and hear the triplets (eight note triplets.
    • Try to tap quarter note triplets along with the song, using the song’s beat as your guide.

Advanced Concepts and Applications

A. Polyrythmic Feel with Quarter Note Triplets

Polyrhythms occur when two conflicting rhythms are played simultaneously. Incorporating quarter note triplets against a straight rhythm creates a compelling polyrhythmic texture. To practice this:

  1. Play straight eighth notes with one hand (on a table, drum, or tapping your foot) – count “1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and”.
  2. With the other hand, clap quarter note triplets, aligning the first clap with “1” and the next with “and” of “2” – count “1 trip-let 2 trip-let”.
  3. Start slowly and increase speed as you become comfortable, focusing on keeping each rhythm distinct.

B. The Articulation Difference Between Flams and Quarter Note Triplets

Flams are a drumming technique where a softer note (grace note) is played immediately before a primary note. While flams provide a thickened sound, quarter note triplets stretch across the beat. To differentiate:

  1. Practice flams on a drum pad or snare, ensuring the grace note is quieter and right before the main stroke.
  2. Switch to quarter note triplets, focusing on even spacing and volume to contrast the deliberate discrepancy of flams.

C. Creating Musical Phrasing with Quarter Note Triplets

Quarter note triplets can add dynamic phrasing within a piece. To use them musically:

  1. Find passages in music that can benefit from a change in rhythm and insert quarter note triplets to add tension or release.
  2. Improvise with quarter note triplets over a chord progression, noticing how they can create a sense of anticipation or resolution.

Common Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them

A. Overcoming the Hesitation with Polyrhythms

Many musicians hesitate when playing polyrhythms because of their complexity. To overcome this:

  1. Isolate each rhythm separately before trying to combine them.
  2. Use a metronome to ensure you’re keeping steady time.
  3. Slowly integrate the rhythms together, step by step, until they feel natural.

B. Ensuring Equal Note Length Within Triplets

Uneven triplets are a common issue. To combat this:

  1. Record yourself playing to audit the evenness of your triplets.
  2. Practice with a metronome, accenting the start of each triplet to maintain equal length.
  3. Clap the rhythm before playing it on your instrument to internalize the spacing.

C. Tips for Maintaining Steady Tempo

Maintaining a steady tempo is vital, especially with the rhythmic complexity of triplets. Here are some tips:

      1. Practice with a metronome regularly, and don’t be afraid to start slow.
      2. Gradually increase the tempo only when you can play the triplets evenly at a slower speed.
      3. Tap your foot or use physical motion to embody the tempo, keeping your body engaged with the rhythm.

Wrap Up

Mastering quarter note triplets is a journey into the heart of rhythmic expression. It’s about giving those beats a new lease on life, breaking away from the expected, and injecting a soulful swing into your music. 

Whether you’re clapping them out, tapping your foot, or letting them loose on your instrument, remember that each triplet is a step towards a more nuanced understanding of time and rhythm

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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