How to Play Sixteenth Note Triplets Like a Modern Drummer

November 5, 2023

Embarking on the journey of mastering sixteenth note triplets promises to enhance your drumming with a surge of rhythmic vitality. 

These intricate beats add a layer of sophistication to your grooves, fills, and solos, showcasing your technical prowess. 

As you delve into learning how to play sixteenth note triplets, you’ll discover their potential to transform simple patterns into captivating rhythmic tapestries.

What Are Sixteenth Note Triplets?

Sixteenth note triplets are the sprinters of the rhythmic world, packing six equally spaced notes into the duration of one quarter note. They are a step up from eighth note triplets, doubling the number of strokes in the same temporal space. 

This rapid subdivision creates a dense, textured sound that can propel any piece of music forward with momentum and energy.

How to Play Sixteenth Note Triplets

Counting sixteenth note triplets

Counting sixteenth note triplets effectively is akin to synchronizing your inner metronome with the pulse of the music. As a drum expert, I find it essential to demystify the process for aspiring drummers.

When grappling with sixteenth note triplets, you’re dealing with a subdivision that slices a quarter note into six equal parts. 

The traditional method of counting these is by using a combination of numbers and syllables such as “1-trip-let-and-trip-let, 2-trip-let-and-trip-let,” and so on, aligning each syllable with a stroke. However, this can become cumbersome at higher tempos or in complex rhythmic passages.

The method suggested by educators like Jerry Falk focuses on simplifying this counting system. It involves using a foundational eighth-note count – “1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &” – as a scaffold. 

By doubling this pace in your mind, you can imply a sixteenth note triplet feel. This mental doubling creates a background matrix over which the six notes are evenly spread.

Let’s break it down further:

  1. Start by tapping a foot or metronome at a quarter note pulse.
  2. Speak or clap the eighth notes (1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &) to establish the basic subdivision.
  3. Now, mentally envision each “1” and “&” as a pivot point for three rapid notes instead of the usual single stroke for an eighth note or two for a sixteenth.

This visualization should follow like so: On “1,” you would mentally count “1-trip-let,” and on “&,” you would count “let-and-trip.” When sped up, the “1 & 2 &” rhythm naturally evolves into the sixteenth note triplet sequence without overcomplicating the count.

How to Play Sixteenth Note Triplets

Playing sixteenth note triplets with precision is about understanding their structure and feel. Each beat is divided into six equal parts instead of the four you would have with standard sixteenth notes. To play them:

  1. Anchor yourself to the quarter note pulse; this is your rhythmic true north.
  2. Subdivide in your mind first, using the “1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &” framework as your guide.
  3. Begin slowly by striking six evenly spaced hits per beat, ensuring that each note is of equal duration and volume.
  4. Gradually increase your speed, always focusing on the smoothness and evenness of your notes.
  5. Utilize a metronome to keep your tempo steady as you practice transitioning between various subdivisions.

Mastering sixteenth note triplets

Mastering sixteenth note triplets involves elevating the basic triplet feel to a level of complexity and musicality that enhances your overall drumming. To upgrade your triplets from flat, robotic repetitions to dynamic and rhythmic phrases, consider these techniques:

  1. Metronome Exercises: Start by practicing your sixteenth note triplets with a metronome set to a comfortable pace. Gradually increase the tempo in small increments, challenging your speed and precision without sacrificing the triplet’s feel. Use the metronome to experiment with starting your triplets on different beats or within off-beat subdivisions to develop timing and versatility.

  2. Time Signatures: Explore triplets in various time signatures. For example, playing sixteenth note triplets in 3/4 can give a different feel than in 4/4. You can also practice across bars, such as playing a continuous stream of triplets over two bars of 4/4, to get comfortable with how they interact with different rhythmic structures.

  3. Accents: Adding accents to certain notes within the triplet can dramatically change the feel and groove. Practice accenting the first, fourth, or any other note of the sixteenth note triplet group. This not only enhances your dynamic control but also your ability to keep the underlying pulse steady.

  4. Flams: Incorporating flams into your sixteenth note triplets can add a flamboyant touch. A flam before the primary note of the triplet can create a ‘fatter’ and more pronounced sound. Practice flams on different notes of the triplet pattern to find unique sounding combinations.

  5. Cross-Rhythms: Practice playing sixteenth note triplets against other rhythms played by different limbs. For example, your right hand could be playing triplets on the hi-hat, while your left hand plays eighth notes on the snare. This polyrhythmic approach can really test and improve your independence.

  6. Ghost Notes: Incorporate ghost notes—those soft, almost unheard notes—into your triplets. They provide a subtle texture that can make a standard triplet feel more nuanced and sophisticated.

  7. Displacement: Displace the start of the triplet pattern by one or more notes. This shifts the pattern and can make for some interesting syncopations, especially when combined with a strong backbeat or other rhythmic elements in the music.

Here’s an example of triplet based groove:

Wrap up

To effectively learn how to play sixteenth note triplets, incorporate metronome drills for precision, apply them across various time signatures for versatility, and use dynamics like accents and flams for expression. This blend of technique and feel elevates your triplet playing from basic to complex, ensuring a solid foundation and an impressive range in your rhythmic arsenal.

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.

We will be happy to hear your thoughts

Leave a reply

Drum That