What Is A Triplet In Music? A Complete Guide

Last updated

When writing or playing music, sometimes we’ll want to subdivide a beat in a way that isn’t as simple as halving the note’s value. It’s in these situations that we something called a tuplet to divide the beat up in an irregular way.

In this post, we’ll be looking at a type of tuplet called a triplet.

Definition Of A Musical Triplet

A triplet is a type of tuplet that allows us to play three notes in the time of two notes.

It’s easier to explain with an example.

Every type of music note (like minims, crotchets, quavers etc) can be split up and divided into two equal beats.

For example, a semibreve, which is worth four beats, can be divided into two minims which are worth two beats each:

Or taking a minim which is worth two beats and dividing it into two crotchets which are worth one beat each.

And so on…

But, we can also divide beats into three equal parts and we do this using a triplet.

This allows us to play rhythms that would otherwise not be possible to notate or at least would be very complicated.

How To Write A Triplet

We write a triplet by adding a number three above or below the notes that it applies to.

Sometimes you’ll see a bracket over the notes as shown below. This just is showing which notes are in the triplet.

You might also see it written with a curved line that looks like a slur instead of a bracket.

These brackets and curved lines don’t change the triplet, it’s just an alternate way of writing one.

Remember to be a triplet it needs to have a number three above or below the notes.

A group of three beamed quavers is not necessarily a triplet, it could just be three quavers in the time signature 3/8.

Or it could be three quavers in a compound time signature.

How To Count A Triplet

Now we know how to write a triplet we’ll look at how to calculate how many beats a triplet is worth.

A triplet’s duration is equal to two of the original note values.

In other words, if all the notes in a triplet are the same we take two of the notes and add their values together to get the answer.

Let’s look at some examples to better explain what I mean by this.

How To Count Crotchet (Quarter Note) Triplets

If we take the crotchet triplet below and want to know how many beats it’s worth, we take two of the notes and add them together to find out.

One crotchet beat plus one crotchet beat is equal to two crotchet beats or a minim beat. So a crotchet or quarter note triplet is equal to two crotchet beats.

How To Count Minim (Half Note) Triplets

This is the same with all the other types of triplet as well, for example, if we take two of the notes in a minim triplet (half note), and add them together.

So a minim plus a minim is equal to two minim beats or a semibreve beat.

How To Count Quaver (Eighth Note) Triplets

Quaver triplets (eighth notes) are the same, we take two of the notes in the triplet and add them together.

So a quaver plus a quaver is equal to two quavers or a crotchet beat.

How To Count Semiquaver (Sixteenth Note) Triplets

Lastly semiquaver triplets, we take two of the notes and add them together.

A semiquaver plus a semiquaver is equal to two semiquavers or a quaver beat.

Examples Of Triplets

Here are some extracts of music that use triplets so you can see them in action and how they’re used.

Minim Triplets

Crotchet Triplets

Quaver Triplets

Semiquaver Triplets

Using Triplets With Rests

A triplet doesn’t have to use only notes it can also include rests as well.

For example, we could have a crotchet triplet where one of the notes is a rest like this:

Or any of these combinations are also ok:

Examples of triplets with rests

As long as the total value of the notes and rests add up to the correct value.

Using Triplets With Other Note Values

A triplet can also contain different note values, it doesn’t just have to use three of the same note.

For example, all of these examples are equal to a crotchet triplet:

Examples of different crotchet triplets

Even the last one which has four notes.

Next, let’s take a look of some more examples which are all equal to a quaver triplet:

Examples of different quaver triplets

As long as all the notes in the triplet add up to the same value as two of the original note then it’s ok.

Summing Up Triplets

I hope that’s helping you make more sense of triplets and subdividing beats.

It can be a bit confusing at first. There are lots of other way to subdivide beats in irregular rhythms like duplets, quintuplets or even septuplets and if you have any questions just post a comment below and I’ll do my best to help.

Photo of author
Written by Dan Farrant
Dan Farrant, the founder of Hello Music Theory, has been teaching music for over 15 years, helping hundreds of thousands of students unlock the joy of music. He graduated from The Royal Academy of Music in 2012 and then launched Hello Music Theory in 2014. Since then, he's been working to make music theory easy for over 1 million students in over 80 countries around the world.