Download the tab for this lesson:
As promised at the end of our last lesson, this time we’re going to learn how to count, read and play triplets. As you recall, a quarter-note beat can be evenly split into two eighth notes (“one and”) or four 16th notes (“one e and a”). You can also split it equally into three eighth-note triplets, as bar 1 demonstrates. Counting “one trip let, two trip let, three trip let, four trip let, one trip let, two trip let,” etc. enables you to keep track of every triplet and beat in a measure of 4/4 time while keeping a steady pulse.
Because we’re now subdividing the beat into three equally spaced notes, each individual eighth-note triplet has a slightly shorter duration than an eighth-note duplet played at the same tempo. Thus, eighth-note triplets are “faster” than regular eighth notes.
Due to the odd subdivision of the beat, eighth-note triplets “go against the grain” of eighth notes and 16th notes and require a different counting pattern. Bars 2-3 use eighth notes, eighth-note triplets and 16th notes, requiring you to change counting patterns as you play. Be sure to tap your foot in a steady quarter-note pulse. This will insure that you don’t speed up or slow down the tempo when “shifting gears” from duplets to triplets to quadruplets.
Ties and rests can be used with eighth-note triplets to create a variety of interesting triplet syncopations, as demonstrated in bars 4-7. Notice in bar 5 that a quarter-note may be substituted for a pair of tied eighth-note triplets within a single beat (as used in bar 4 for the sake of comparison). This is considered more economical notation, as there are fewer items to read. For this same reason, a quarter rest is preferred over two consecutive eighth-note-triplet rests that fall within the same beat (compare bar 6 to bar 7). A pair of brackets with the number 3 centered between them is used in conjunction with (or instead of) a beam in these types of “broken” eighth-note triplet figures.
Bars 8-12 are examples of how you can take a simple, repeated melodic pattern of eighth notes or 16th notes and transform it into an exciting and tricky-sounding lick by playing it in an eighth-note triplet rhythm. Bar 8 is a single-string pedal-point lick played in even eighth notes. Though the note pattern is interesting, the rhythm is rather bland, as it is unsyncopated (no upbeats are emphasized). Notice how much cooler and intense this same note pattern sounds when played as eighth-note triplets (bars 9-10). The accented fretted notes create syncopation and convey what is known as a quarter-note triplet rhythm (by emphasizing every other note of an eighth-note-triplet figure; more on this another time).
Bar 11 is a repeated four-note descending lick played in even 16th notes. Notice how it begins squarely on the beat each time it’s repeated. This same note pattern becomes much more interesting when played as eighth-note triplets, as depicted in bar 12. Because the pattern is still four notes, it’s rhythmically displaced each time it’s repeated, shifting ahead one eighth-note triplet with each repetition. This melodic device, known as hemiola, produces an exciting syncopation effect and generates rhythmic tension. It also plays tricks on the listener’s ear by creating the aural illusion of 16th notes played at a slower tempo.
Be sure to practice these last two figures slowly at first while tapping your foot until you feel you can play them cleanly and consistently without losing track of the beat. Then work on playing them faster.