Music Theory


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Music Theory - Triplets and other Tuplets



A tuplet is a way of notating a rhythm that requires dividing the beat into a pattern that differs from that allowed by the time-signature. Most music uses the duple system, which divides a whole note into two halves, a half note into two quarters, and so on. Tuplets use a complex irregular rhythm pattern which divides notes into thirds, quarters, fifths, sixths etc. This allows infinite flexibility in the notation of tempo, rather than being restricted by a time signature or having to change time signatures often. It indicates a faster or slower tempo needed just for the bracketed notes in relation to the tempo indicated in the time signature for the regular notes.


Tuplets are notated by a small number above or below a group of notes which are often connected with a bracket or a slur. Sometimes it is just one number, other times it will look like a ratio notation (as in Figure B).


Triplet2The most commonly used tuplet is a triplet. Ordinarily, two quarter notes have the same duration as a half note. Notes in a triplet, however, equal two-thirds of the time that the notes are normally held for. Therefore, three quarter notes in a triplet will have the same beat length as two regular quarter notes, also equalling one half note. Three eighth notes in a triplet will equal the duration of two eighth notes, or one quarter note.

There are many tuplets used in music notation. Normally the number of the tuplet is a ratio to the amount of beats in the next lower value in the measure. Quintuplets generally mean that five notes are played in the time that four would be played (See Figure A). Septuplets, however, are commonly used inconsistently. They usually mean that seven notes are played in the time of four notes. A septuplet can also mean seven notes in the time of six notes, or in the time of eight or 11 notes. To avoid confusion, composers often indicate the ratio in their notation, as in Figure B.


Tuplets1                          Tuplets2


Sextuplets are a bit different in that they notate a six-section division that can be considered a triplet sectioned into three parts with each note valuing a half of it’s duration. This results in the accent being placed on the first note of each division: the first, third, and fifth. Sextuplets can also be regarded as a regular duple pattern with two sets of triplets with the accent on the first and fourth notes. The three-part division, however, is thought by some to be the true sextuplet.

Tuplets are complex and irregular, and understanding them requires in-depth comprehension of time signatures and note values.


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