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How to Count and Play Musical Triplets


Counting Musical Triplets, With Audio
Basic and complex triplets in piano music.

Triplets may be grouped together with a note beam, bracket, or slur (example #1).

Image © Brandy Kraemer

How to Count Triplets in Piano Music

A triplet is a group of three notes played inside the length of two of its note-type. For example, in the time it takes to play two eighth-notes of normal length (or “straight eighths”), the eighth-note triplet is heard:

Because triplets divide into threes, they can create a rhythm otherwise impossible or too convoluted to notate in many meters. Triplets written with other lengths include:

  • Sixteenth-Note Triplet
    Equals two sixteenth-notes (or one eighth-note*).

  • Quarter-Note Triplet
    Equals two quarter-notes (one half-note).

  • Half-Note Triplet
    Equals one whole-note.

* (It’s easier to count triplets using a singular note-length.)

Understanding Complex Musical Triplets

A triplet splits a portion of time into three equal parts. However, these parts can be modified using different note-lengths, music rests, or rhythmic dots – as long as the total length of the note-grouping remains in tact. Look at the images above:

Blues Shuffle (#2): Only two notes in the triplet are heard; the first note being twice as long as the second. This may be notated using two notes of different lengths, or by tying together the first two notes.

Swing Triplets (#3): The middle eighth-note is replaced with a rest (one of the many variations of swing rhythm).

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