What You Will Learn
  1. What a tuplet is
  2. What a triplet is
  3. How to count eighth note triplets
  4. Eighth note triplet rests
  5. Switching between regular eighth note and triplets

Counting Eighth Note Triplets and Rests

What is a Triplet?

A triplet is when three notes are played in the space of two notes of the same value. Therefore, an eighth note triplet is when you play three eighth notes in the same amount of time as you would normally play two eighth notes.

The eighth note triplet is notated by beaming three eighth notes together and placing a '3' above the middle note:

8th note triplet

You may also see a bracket along with the "3" as shown below:

An 8th note triplet with a bracket

These are just two different ways of notating the eighth note triplet. Which you see will depend on the publisher or composer.

Brackets are also used when there are rests in the triplet to make it obvious that the rests are part of the triplet.

8th note triplets that include rests

A triplet is the simplest incarnation of a tuplet. A tuplet is a certain number of a note value spread over the duration of a different number of the same note value. A triplet is three in the space of two. There are many other kinds of tuplets besides triplets, some of which are quite complex. These will be covered in later lessons.

Counting Eighth Note Triplets

There are multiple ways of counting eighth note triplets. Below are four of the most common approaches.

Count in 4/4 Example Notes
  • 1 - trip - let,
  • 2 - trip - let,
  • 3 - trip - let,
  • 4 - trip - let
Counting triplets by counting '1 - trip - let, 2 - trip - let, etc.' This is one of the most frequently used methods for counting triplets. The numbers allow you to keep track of the beat. This counting approach will be used for all musical examples on this site.
  • 1 - la - li,
  • 2 - la - li,
  • 3 - la - li,
  • 4 - la - li
Counting triplets by counting '1 - la - li, 2 - la - li, etc.' "la li" is pronounced "lah lee." This method of counting triplets is from the Eastman School. It is as good as the first approach because it keeps track of the beats.
  • 1 and a,
  • 2 and a,
  • 3 and a,
  • 4 and a
Counting triplets by counting '1 and a, 2 and a, etc.' This approach is not as good as the first two. Although it allows you to easily keep track of the beats, it might be somewhat confusing once you start counting certain sixteenth note rhythms.
  • trip - a - let,
  • trip - a - let,
  • trip - a - let,
  • trip - a - let
Counting triplets by counting 'trip-a-let, 
trip-a-let, etc.' Counting "trip - a - let" is another fairly common way of counting triplets. However, it doesn't keep track of the beats.

Try each of these approaches for counting triplets and use the one that works best for you.

Quarter Notes in Eighth Note Triplets

Since there are three eighth notes in the triplet, it is possible to combine either the first two or last two into a quarter note as in the examples below:

8th note triplets that include quarter notes

The quarter note is part of the triplet so its value is equal to two of the eighth notes in the triplet (2/3 of the beat) rather than a full beat like you would have with a regular quarter note.

Rests in Eighth Note Triplets

Eighth note triplets may include rests. The most common rests are eighth and quarter note rests.

Eighth Note Rests

The eighth rest in a triplet looks just like a regular eighth note rest except that it will be contained within the brackets of the triplet:

8th note triplets that include 8th rests

Quarter Rests

The quarter rest looks like a regular quarter rest, but will be within the brackets of the triplet to indicate that it is part of the triplet:

8th note triplets that include quarter rests

Switching between Eighth Notes and Eighth Note Triplets

Switching from playing eighth notes to eighth note triplets can be difficult at first. You should practice each rhythm separately until you can easily play them before trying to play alternating eighth notes and eighth note triplets.

How to count 8th notes and 8th note triplets in the same passage