Music Theory

What is a Triplet in Music?

By Claire Robertson
What is a Triplet in Music?

Find the definition of a triplet in music below

Triplets in music are usually three notes, connected by a bracket and indicated with a number 3, that equally divide a beat into three pieces. In this article, we’ll share a video introducing triplets in music and include information about the musical notation for triplets, tips for counting triplets, and more. 

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What is the musical notation for triplets in music?

Triplets are three notes that are notated with a line connecting them with ‘3’ written above them. This creates a three note pattern that fits in the space of a beat. The three notes are equally spaced. Just like a family of triplets is three kids connected by having the same birthday, triplets are three notes connected by a beam. In Hoffman Academy’s video on triplets above, the triplets are three eighth notes barred together. 

 Each set of eighth-note triplets, or three notes, takes place within one beat, and each note of a triplet takes up exactly one-third of a beat. There are other rhythms (like an eighth note with two sixteenth notes) that are three notes inside of one beat, but that rhythm does not divide the beat evenly. Instead of subdividing the beat into two (like eighth notes do) triplets subdivide a beat into three equal parts.

Did you know that there are more complicated ways to write triplets? In musical notation, any type of note where three equal notes take place in the time where two equal notes might be played instead can create a triplet! This means that in some meters, there can be half note triplets, quarter note triplets, eighth note triplets (like the ones shown in the video above) and more! As an example, a quarter note triplet would be three quarter notes taking place during the length of time of a half note. A half note triplet would be three half notes connected with a bar and a three that take place in the time of a whole note (which is the length of two half notes). If you wanted to make a 16th note triplet…what do you think you would do? 

What are tips for counting triplets in music?

Perhaps the best starting place to count triplets in music is to use the word! Even though triplet has two syllables, add a third so you are counting each triplet as a “trip-ah-let.”  At Hoffman Academy, we believe a great starting place is counting with the rhythm word, “trip-ah-let.”  In a measure with four beats and four triplets, you could count it by saying “trip – ah – let” “trip – ah – let” “trip – ah – let” “trip – ah – let”. 

In Hoffman Academy’s advanced counting system, triplets can be counted as “1 – and – a 2 – and a.” Another way to count triplets is ‘1 – la -li 2 -la -li’. If you want to be very precise about how many subdivided notes are in a triplet (it’s three!) you can say “1-2-3, 1-2-3.” (If you use the 1 – 2 – 3 method, you can shorten the word “three” to “tree”, so that the word is easier to pronounce). Take a moment and give it a try and see which you prefer as you count along with the video above! 

Triplets in music

It’s best to find a method to count triplets that you will remember and that will help you keep your triplets even. If you want to try the most fun way to count rhythms, you can use tasty rhythms and food words to count your songs! To count triplets this way, you would find a three-syllable word — like pineapple or broccoli – and say that every time you see a triplet! 

Triplets have a rolling quality that’s bouncy and fun. However, keeping triplets perfectly even is very tricky for many musicians and pianists as they play. It can be tempting to hurry the last notes and slide back to familiar rhythms (like an eighth note with two sixteenth notes). If you find your triplet rhythms changing, take a moment, slow down, and return to your counting strategy like “trip-ah-let”…or even “pine-app-le” to remind yourself of how triplets feel. 

What are examples of triplets in music?

An example of a song using a triple meter (and therefore triplet rhythms) is Til There Was You from The Music Man. When you hear Marian the Librarian sing the words “Til There Was You,” you’ll feel the even, smooth quality of the triplets. Each word takes up ⅓ of the half note beat at that measure. (In other recordings of this song, she also does this on the words “Wonderful” before roses, but not in this version!) 

How do you play triplets on piano?

To play triplets on the piano, start by counting your rhythm first to build rhythmic accuracy. Once you are sure of the rhythm, begin to play the triplets together slowly. If you are repeating the same note three times, listen to hear if your triplets are even. If you are playing different notes on each triplet, listen to hear if you are evenly dividing the beat into three. 

While triplets may take some time and some practice to get right, they add a delightful change in pace to the rhythm of any song. Enjoy the sound of triplets as you listen and play! Ready to learn how to play triplets with Hoffman Academy? Sign up for Premium today! 

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