Good things come in threes says rockschool’s Charlie Griffiths as he continues his 14-part series on learning to read music.
Charlie Griffiths counts triplets and sextuplets.
So far in this series we have established that the quarter note, or ‘crotchet’ equates to the tempo of the music - that regular ‘pulse’ within the music, to which you feel most inclined to tap your foot. We then went on to subdivide this quarter note into smaller and smaller units of time called 8th notes and 16th notes. Even the most humble of mathematical geniuses among you will have spotted that we divided the initial quarter note by two. Eighth notes are the same as ‘two notes per beat’ and 16th notes are therefore ‘four notes per beat’. Theoretically you can keep subdividing the notes in two to make 32nd and 64th notes and so on, but those would be a little too fast for sight-reading at this stage.
So this month we return to our initial quarter note and this time use the number 3 as the unit of division. Dividing a quarter note into three creates three equally sized notes called ‘8th-note triplets’. These are indicated on the stave as three 8th notes beamed together with a single horizontal line. Parallel to the beaming line there is an additional bracket with the number 3 placed in the middle. This bracket essentially says ‘squeeze three equal notes into this beat’. an entire bar of triplets would be counted as follows: 1 & a, 2& a, 3 & a, 4 & a. The numerical values represent the downbeats within the bar and the ‘in-between’ syllables are the remaining triplets; these should be vocalised evenly to ensure each note is equal in length. Counting is especially important when combining 8th notes and 8th-note rests; these can be combined in any order and bracketed together into groups of three, as shown in Example 1.
Sixteenth-note triplets are double the speed of 8th-note triplets. Sixteenth-note triplets or ‘sextuplets’ look much like an 8th-note triplet, except they are beamed together with two horizontal lines instead of one. Sixteenth-note triplets are typically beamed together into groups of six and have a bracketed number 6 to indicate that there are six notes per beat. Sixteenths can also be beamed together with 8th-notes to make more complex rhythms as shown in Example 4 (see also Chops Shop on p74).
Eighth-notes take up exactly half the time as quarter-notes and can be counted ‘1& 2 & 3 &4 &’.
as well as doubling the speed of 8th-note triplets, we can also halve the speed to make quarter-note triplets which are shown in Example 3 as three bracketed quarter-notes. These last for half a bar and squeeze three crotchets into the space where there are usually two.
finally we have Example 5 which shows that compound time signatures such as 12/8 are popular for triplet rhythms. With 12/8, there are a dozen 8th-notes per bar, which renders the triplet bracket obsolete (each beat is worth a dotted crotchet).
The following rhythmic examples use a combination of quarter-note triplets, 8th-note triplets and 16th-note triplets. The exercises are played on various notes, which enables you to concentrate on the rhythmic information but also start to combine rhythms with note finding on the fretboard. Example 5 is the most challenging example as it contains a lot of rhythmic and melodic information. as always, use a metronome or drum machine to ensure that the examples are played at a consistent tempo, and feel free to increase or decrease the suggested 60bpm to suit your current level.
This month Charlie looks at 8th-note and 16th-note triplets
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