Music Theory

What Is A Triplet In Music? A Complete Guide

Written by Dan Farrant

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 use 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 can be split up and divided into two equal beats.

For example, a whole note (or semibreve), which is worth four beats, can be divided into two half notes (minims) which are worth two beats each:

Or taking a half note, which is worth two beats, and dividing it into two quarter notes (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 shows 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 eighth notes is not necessarily a triplet. It could just be three eighth notes in the time signature 3/8.

Or it could be three eighth notes 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 Quarter Note (Crotchet) Triplets

If we take the quarter note 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 quarter note beat plus one quarter note beat is equal to two quarter note beats or a half note beat.

1/4 + 1/4 = 1/2

So a quarter note triplet is equal to two quarter note beats.

How To Count Half Note (Minim) Triplets

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

So a half note plus a half note is equal to two half note beats or a whole note beat.

1/2 + 1/2 = 1

How To Count Eighth Note (Quaver) Triplets

Eighth note triplets (quavers) are the same, we take two of the notes in the triplet and add them together.

So an eighth note plus an eighth note is equal to two eighth notes or a quarter note beat.

1/8 + 1/8 = 1/4

How To Count Sixteenth Note (Semiquaver) Triplets

Lastly, for sixteenth note (semiquaver) triplets, we take two of the notes and add them together.

A sixteenth note plus a sixteenth note is equal to two sixteenth notes or an eighth note beat.

1/16 + 1/16 = 1/8

Examples Of Triplets

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

Half Note Triplets

Quarter Note Triplets

Eighth Note Triplets

Sixteenth Note 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 quarter note 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 quarter note triplet:

Examples of different quarter note triplets

Even the last one, which has four notes is also a triplet.

Next, let’s take a look at some more examples which are all equal to a eighth note triplet:

Examples of different eighth note triplets

As long as all the notes in the triplet add up to the same value as two of the original notes, 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 ways to subdivide beats in irregular rhythms, like duplets, quintuplets, or even septuplets.

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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. He plays the guitar, piano, bass guitar and double bass and loves teaching music theory.