Hanging out with triplets can be a headache

By | November 6, 2008

Three is one better than two, right?

Well, it may sound glamorous, but they’re giving me a headache.

See, it just doesn’t add up. And things need to add up. I’m trying to fit three of them into a space designed for two, and I just can’t get it to work.

I need someone to explain the math.

In music, everything is very orderly. You have a certain number of beats in a measure. Most of the time that’s 4 beats per measure. Divide that evenly between 4 notes and you’ve got 4 quarter-notes per measure. Need twice as many notes? Split ‘em in half and make them eighth notes. It ain’t rocket science.

| 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 & | 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 & |

But wait! What if you need to fit three notes in the space of two of those eighth-notes? AH! That’s where a triplet comes in. A triplet magically converts two into three, without actually adding another beat.

| 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 & | 1 & 2 & 3-3-3 4 & |

Fine. Just add an extra note in. Sounds easy, but I don’t get the math. I pretend I get the math, and I can actually sing and beat out a triplet without too much effort, but I don’t truly get it.

Usually, that’s not a problem. But not today. Today, I’m trying to write a new piece of music. It’s got a lot of what I assume must be triplets in it, but I can’t for the life of me figure out how to write it down. The problem seems to be that I really only want to use two out of the three triplet notes, but they’re different rhythmic values – a 1/16th and an 1/8th note, to be exact. You can’t just drop a value, though or it breaks – music is math, really, and it absolutely has to add up. But I can’t figure it out. How does that work, mathematically? How do you take two eighth-notes and turn them into an eighth plus a sixteenth inside of a triplet? What’s the “right” way to notate that kind of thing?

And seriously… how do you count it?

These triplets are giving me a headache. One of these days I’m going to work on this song during normal hours and call my father-in-law for help (former music teacher).

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