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A “triplet” is a group of three notes played in the time of two.

To look at how triplets work, we’ll first look at a short rhythm in 3/4 time.

Remember that in 3/4 time, one crotchet (quarter note) beat can be divided into two quavers (8th notes):

rhythm in 3/4 time

It can also be divided into four semiquavers (16th notes):

beat split into 4

But, if we want to split the crotchet (quarter note) into three equal parts, we need to use a triplet.

To show a triplet, we write the notes as three quavers (8ths) beamed (joined) together, and we also write “3” on the beamed side of the notes. 

Look and listen to this rhythm using triplets:

3/4 rhythm with triplets

Triplets with other Note Values (ABRSM only)

NB for Trinity you only need to know about quaver/8th note triplets at this grade.

Triplets don’t always have to be quavers (8th notes) – we can make triplets out of notes of any length. We can split a minim (half note) up into three equal notes by writing triplet crotchets (quarter notes) , for example:

crotchet triplets

Crotchets (quarter notes) don’t have beams, of course, so we write crotchet triplets with a square bracket, with the number 3 in the middle of the longest line.

Mixed Note Value Triplets

Triplets don’t always have to have three notes in them: the notes of the triplet just need to add up to three of whatever value there would normally be two of.

In 4/4 time, for example, a crotchet (quarter note) is worth two quavers (8ths), or three triplet quavers. This means you can make a triplet out of other note values, as long as they also add up to three quavers overall. Here are some different ways one crotchet beat can be split into triplets with different rhythms.

triplets with mixed note values

Adding Bar Lines with Triplets

Adding bar lines to music with triplets can look difficult at first glance, but don’t panic! Remember that you are looking at three notes in the space of two, and that they are grouped together in whole beats. Here’s an example:

Add the missing bar lines to this tune.

add bar lines

The time signature is 3/4, so each bar needs to have an equivalent of three crotchet (quarter note) beats.

Each “3” symbol shows a triplet group. One triplet group is worth one crotchet. The quavers (8th notes) beamed in twos are also worth one crotchet each.

Write a “1” under each group of notes which adds up to one crotchet. (You can write “2” under the minim, and any other values which are necessary, of course!)

triplets counted in groups

Then after each count of three (because this is 3/4 time), draw a bar line.

bar lines and triplets

Adding Rests with Triplets

Here’s a melody which you need to add rests to, and the melody contains a triplet:

add a rest into the triplet

We can see that there is a triplet marked with a “3” above the beamed quavers (8th notes), but there are only two notes written instead of three. The star (*) shows us where the missing rest is supposed to go – in this case it’s in the middle of the triplet.

The other notes in the triplet group are quavers (8ths); we’ve got two quavers but we need three, so the rest must have the value of a quaver.

Here’s the finished answer, with the quaver rest in place:

triplet with rest added

Triplets Exercises

Point your mouse at the staves (tap on mobile devices) to reveal the answers. 

1. Add the correct rests at the places marked * to make each bar complete.

add-triplets 0 0add-triplets 0 1add-triplets 0 2

add-triplets-2 0 0add-triplets-2 0 1 

2. Add the missing bar lines to these tunes. The first bar line is given in each case.