enter image description hereenter image description hereI would like know how to count and play this half note triplets on 4/4 time.

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    It's not entirely clear to me what your question is. Do you know how to count quarter note or eighth note triplets but not sure how it works for larger values? Or are you asking how to count triplets in general? Apr 8 at 22:51
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    Is your question "I don't know what this means," or "I know what it means, but it's hard for me to do?" The answer to the first is "It's an entire 4/4 bar evenly divided into three parts," just as the more common eighth-note triplets divide a single beat into three. Apr 9 at 2:01
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    What's the piece? Is it really 4/4 and not 2/2? The manuscript looks like it ought to be in cut time.
    – phoog
    Apr 9 at 8:02
  • I'd be more concerned about the D note against an Am7 chord shown earlier. Doesn't sound good! And the G nat. written instead of Fx...
    – Tim
    Apr 9 at 18:04
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    @Tim I beg to differ. I love the sound of the 4 against a min7 chord. Very common in modal jazz. In fact, based on the excerpt, I would probably play (on piano) A-D-G for the Am7.
    – Aaron
    Apr 9 at 18:41

2 Answers 2


Perhaps it would be easier to interpret this rhythm notated the following way, especially if you're familiar with jazz swing eight note triplet patterns?

enter image description here


To do this in general, one must develop a feel for 4:3 (four against three). However, since this appears to be for a solo instrument, there can be a simpler option. Here are a few common techniques for handling this situation:

1. "Changing" the time signature (i.e., Count the beats differently)

On an instrument like piano, it is sometimes necessary to play a "true" 4:3. Say, the right hand is playing triplets against sixteenth notes in the left hand.

However, on a solo instrument, there is sometimes a "cheat" which would seem to apply here. Rather than counting the measure in four beats, count it in two (if you're comfortable with 3:2) or even one (especially if the tempo is fast). In the latter case, the half-note triplet just becomes a "normal" triplet.

To do this most effectively, start counting in 2 or 1 a few measures beforehand, so that you have the feel well established, particularly of the downbeat, before getting to the triplet.

2. Counting it mechanically (least common multiple)

Divide the measure into twelve equal pulses

  1. Divide each of the measure's four beats into three sub-pulses (i.e., triplets) — so, twelve total "pulses".
  2. Divide each of the triplet notes into four parts — again, a total of twelve pulses.

This will show how each triplet note aligns with the beat.

  1. Starting at a very slow speed, count to twelve, tapping one hand on the main beat and one hand on the triplet beat.
  2. As the rhythm becomes intuitive at a slow tempo, begin to speed up.

See graphic below.

3. Solfege

Very similar to the above.

  1. Count triplets for each main beat, emphasizing the part of the beat where the half-note triplet occurs.
  2. Count the half-note triplet in four-pulse units (i.e., like counting sixteenth notes), emphasizing the main metrical beats.

MAIN EMPHASIS / _secondary emphasis_ (or vice versa)

ONE two three _one_ TWO three _one_ two THREE _one_ two three

ONE two three FOUR _one_ two THREE four _one_ TWO three four

4. Mnemonic

The most commonly encountered mnemonic for 4:3 is

Pass the gosh darn spinach

or variations thereof.

Notation of beat divisions plus mnemonic word placement

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    The fourth way is to "feel" this section as one beat per bar; then it is easy to divide by 3. Apr 9 at 6:18
  • @BrianChandler Absolutely. May I add that to my post?
    – Aaron
    Apr 9 at 6:27
  • Yes, of course... Apr 9 at 6:27
  • @BrianChandler's suggestion typically works well for faster tempos and poorly for slower tempos. People trying to use this approach for slower tempos frequently end up with two dotted quarter notes and a quarter note instead of three even beats. There's also an intermediate possibility: if the piece is in cut time (and the manuscript style suggests that this is likely, though the question indicates it is 4/4) then the problem is one of 3 against 2 rather than 3 against 4, and many more people can handle 3 against 2.
    – phoog
    Apr 9 at 7:58
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    @AndyBonner I see. Good thought. I've rearranged the answer to put more focus on the "changing how you count" option. Any additional feedback is appreciated.
    – Aaron
    Apr 10 at 20:27

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