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The Triplet

An eighth note triplet is a group of three evenly spaced notes played within one beat. Eighth note triplets are indicated by three eighth notes grouped together by a bracket (or a curved line) and the numeral 3. The eighth note triplets are played with one third of a beat each. Triplets are easy to understand once you have heard them played.

39How to Count Triplets
39How to Count Triplets

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Once you are confident counting triplets, try playing through a bar of eighth notes followed by a bar of eighth note triplets while playing the bass drum on 1 2 3 4 to keep steady time.

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The following beat uses triplets, played by the right hand. Once again, remember to keep the notes even and the sound consistent.

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Bass and Snare Drum Variations

As with any new rhythm or beat subdivision, it is important to practice playing triplets on any beat on the snare drum and the bass drum. Here are some examples to help you gain control of triplets on the bass drum.

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This example features triplets on the snare drum. Keep all the parts strong and steady regardless of what the left hand is doing.

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Here is a commonly used Blues beat which uses triplets. Notice the triplet figure on the bass drum and also on the snare drum just before the crash cymbal is played.

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Fills Using Triplets

When playing fills using triplets, each new beat starts with the opposite hand to the previous beat. Try playing the following example RLR LRL etc, and then LRL RLR etc. Another useful technique is to play all the notes on a particular drum with one hand, for example, RRR LLL etc.

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Once you are comfortable moving around the drums and using triplets, try alternating between a basic triplet beat and a one bar fill as demonstrated here.

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The Shuffle Rhythm

The shuffle rhythm is created by playing only the first and third notes of the triplet. This is known as swinging the notes. The shuffle rhythm is commonly used in many styles of music including Blues, Rock, Country and Jazz. The following example contains one bar of triplets and one bar of the shuffle rhythm. Notice the counting underneath the notes.

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This time the shuffle rhythm is played by the bass drum underneath a triplet right hand part. The snare drum is brought in, in the second bar only.

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The following examples demonstrate some common shuffle bass drum patterns.

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Here is a commonly used Blues beat which uses triplets. Notice the triplet figure on the bass drum and also on the snare drum just before the crash cymbal is played.

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Notating Swing Rhythms

There are various ways of notating shuffle rhythms and swinging eighth notes. The two outside notes of the triplet group can be grouped together either as a quarter note and an eighth note with a triplet sign above them or as two eighth notes with a rest in between. On the drums these two forms of notation sound exactly the same as demonstrated in the following example.

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Another common way of indicating that eighth notes are to be swung is to write at the start of the music and write the whole pattern in eighth notes. Both this and the previous example sound exactly the same, they are just different ways of notating the same rhythm.

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Now you know that eighth notes can be swung, it is important to realise that this makes it possible to play any eighth note groove (beat) with two possible interpretations. The following examples demonstrate a basic beat played first straight and then swung. Go back and try swinging some of the eighth note grooves from earlier in the book.

55(Played Straight)
55(Played Straight)

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56(Swung)
56(Swung)

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Here are two more common shuffle patterns. There are literally thousands of possible drum grooves based on the shuffle rhythm. Experiment with the various techniques you have learned to create some of your own.

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To finish off this lesson, here is another 12 Bar Blues solo using a shuffle rhythm. The only real fill here is in the last bar. There is a shorter fill in bar 4 which is incorporated into the groove and a bass drum variation in bar 8 which leads into the crash cymbal on the first beat of the following bar.

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