How do eighth note triplets work in 9/8 or 6/8 time? I know in 4/4 they take up the space of two eighth notes but haven't been able to figure out how they work in 8.

  • 3
    Both answers to this question are correct, but I'm curious if you've actually seen this somewhere, because it's a difficult and strange rhythm in the context of a compound time signature. If you've seen it somewhere, I'd love a reference in order to check it out. Aug 2, 2014 at 21:45
  • @PatMuchmore I think it's more common to find in drumming rudiments: louisvilledrummer.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/… jaced.com/blogpix/soldiersmarch.gif Aug 6, 2014 at 9:38
  • 2
    @LeeKowalkowski Ah interesting. Of course, that example is sixteenth triplets within compound time, which is decidedly less weird than the OP's question about eighth triplets. Sixteenth triplets are more intrinsically symmetrical than eighths would be in this context. The only rhythms I can come up with involving eighth triplets and 6/8 are strange, sort-of limping rhythms or they obliterate the sense of beat entirely (making it 3/4 in reality). 9/8 is even stranger since there aren't an even number of eighths to work with… Aug 6, 2014 at 11:32
  • 2
    @PatMuchmore: There were some examples of eighth and even quarter note triplets in 6/8 time on the Vic Firth page: vicfirth.com/education/features/webrhythms/14.php One of the triplets even straddled a bar line!! I guess using triplets that don't neatly subdivide into the measure will result in a polyrhythm of some sort. Aug 6, 2014 at 12:01

6 Answers 6


Lee is right, but there is a simpler way to think of triplets. Typically we break notes up into sets of 2 (or duples). For example, two half notes make a whole note, two quarter notes make a half notes, two eighth notes make a quarter note etc.

All a triplet is is putting 3 notes where 2 normally go. So 3 eighth note triplets will always equal a quarter note or two normal eighth notes. In 9/8, you only have 4 pairs of eighth notes and 1 unpaired so you cannot have a whole measure of eighth note triples. You can have up to 13 eighth note triples, then you need something to take up the last 1/3 of an eighth note (aka a sixteenth note triplet).

  • 2
    @Tim I know it is a compound meter and the count is in grouped in 3s. What I'm saying is if you wanted to put in only eighth note triplets in you could only have 13 due to how the count lines up and you would be short a 1/3 of an eighth note. Also I'm not saying using triplets in a compound meter makes sense, but explaining how to they would be applied in one of the example time signatures.
    – Dom
    Aug 3, 2014 at 5:41
  • 1
    @Tim: “9/8 is put so the reader knows it’s 3 lots of triplets.” No, this is inaccurate, as per my longer comment on your answer.
    – PLL
    Aug 3, 2014 at 8:18
  • @BraddSzonye duples and tuplets have specific values for their duration.Two eighth note duples have a total value of a dotted eighth note and three eighth note triplets have the value of a quarter note. Big difference. It makes much more sense to use duples in a compound meter, but it doesn't mean you can't use triplets. I E " The duplet eighth note is thus exactly the same duration as a dotted eighth note, but the duplet notation is far more common in compound meters (Jones 1974, 20)."
    – Dom
    Aug 5, 2014 at 7:48

I think triplets are always 2/3 of the duration of the 3 notes regardless of the meter indicated by the time signature.

So a triplet of quarter notes will take up the space of a half note (or two quarter notes).

A triplet of eighth notes will take up the space of a quarter note (or two eighth notes).

...and so on.

I pulled up some useful links in discussion, for further information:


The question has already been answered correctly by Lee and Dom, but I would like to add some pictures as clarification...

I don't have an example right now from an actual piece, though I'm quite sure I've seen something similar. Anyway, it's not hard to come up with your own examples, so here's one which shouldn't even sound that odd:

enter image description here

This should at least show that it is completely possible to have 8th note triplets (top staff) in 9/8 which are different from the triples (bottom staff) of 8th notes associated to the time signature.

You can also see how it works. As has been said, you just cram 3 8th notes where two would go. The following way of writing might make it easier to see:

enter image description here

In the first beat you play three against two as usual for the first two eight notes, and then play one more eight note.

Of course, you can also cross beats like this:

enter image description here

This might be quite rare in general (and if the pattern continues, I would probably write the time signature for the top staff (or both staves) as (3/4)+(3/8)). It is certainly not exotic compared to a lot of contemporary classical music, though.


I suspect that there might be some confusion in the question. As I see things, 6/8 is a way of notating a 2/4 rhythm whilst showing that there is a triplet beat; 9/8 is a way of notating 3/4. I came to this backwards, hearing songs which I considered to be in 12/8 then discovering that they were notated in 4/4.

One can count songs both ways as the rhythm can be discerned on two levels: the 'outer' level having four beats to a bar, and the 'inner' level in which each beat is further subdivided into three beats (triplets). 4/4 is the 'outer' rhythm and 12/8 in the 'inner' rhythm.

  • 1
    There may be a clash of terminology between traditions/genres going on here; but at least in standard classical theory, the groups of 3 in 6/8, 9/8, etc. are not considered as triplets — their eighth notes are considered as standard, full length eighth notes — even though as you say 6/8 is “functionally equivalent” to 2/4 with triplets. It’s like how a 2/2 at ♩=180 is “functionally equivalent” to a 2/4 at ♩=90, but still, the quarter notes in the 2/4 are considered full quarter notes, not “double-speed quarter notes”.
    – PLL
    Aug 3, 2014 at 8:30
  • 1
    @PLL: A slip jig is traditionally notated as being in 9/8 yet someone who doesn't know this would consider such a tune to be in 3/4. Aug 3, 2014 at 8:42
  • Sure, yes. Similarly, a quick march is traditionally written as a fast 2/2, and a listener who didn’t know this might think it was a moderate 2/4; but the half notes in the march are still half notes, not quarter notes, and the eighth notes in the slip jig are still eighth notes not triplet eighths. For an analysis of the meter, you’re absolutely right — it doesn’t matter whether you call them triplets, what matters is that you have four beats, each divided in three. But if you see triplets written within a compound meter, then it matters that the 8ths of the meter are not triplets.
    – PLL
    Aug 3, 2014 at 10:50
  • @PLL And yet it's crucially important to read eighth notes in a compound signature as being thirds of a beat, which is very different from how you read them in simple time signatures. And I have a hard time imagining how triplet notation even makes sense for compound eighths, which is the basic point of this answer. Could you please explain better what you would like to see improved about this answer? Aug 4, 2014 at 2:37
  • 1
    @PLL: I think that the problem is with the original question. Is 9/8 supposed to be regarded as compound time or "simple" time? It can be both. Triplets in 9/8 compound time are a tautology whereas triplets in 9/8 "simple" time are not. Aug 4, 2014 at 9:37

Think of 9/8 like this:

3/8 + 3/8 + 3/8

So therefore 9/8 is basically a combination of 3 8th-note triplets. If you want the original triplets, you will have to go for 16th-note triplets for each of the 9 8th notes.

  • 1
    What does "If you want the original triplets" mean? Triplets are a concept relative to the time signature, changing the time signature cannot 'make everything triplets'. You find triplets in all time signatures, particularly for drumming parts. Aug 6, 2014 at 9:00
  • By "original triplets" I meant to say when one plays triplets in every (or selective) note(s) of the bar.
    – Jimmy
    Aug 6, 2014 at 13:17

I would be curious as to see a real life example as to why this would happen. Time signatures at there core tell you how many beats there is in a bar and also what each beat consists of. When you take 3/4 time. It tells you in essence that we have three beats of crotchets.

If you would take this and make a compound time signature you would basically put a dot next to the groups of crotchets giving you three groups of dotted crotchets or 9/8 time.

If you take 3/4 and make a full bar of triplets you in essence also have nine notes but they are played slightly differently. You would have three notes played in the time of two, played three times in the bar.

This is slightly different to 9/8 where you just have 9 quavers in each bar.

They should be approached slightly differently although the playing has only a slight difference between the two.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.