This may be an easy question... but I have limited Theory knowledge so...

I have heard the word Trill being used to describe a method of adding multiple notes into one beat.

Now from what I understand of a Triplet, it is a method of playing 3 notes in any one beat.

If this is so, does this mean a "Triplet" is in fact a "Trill" in theory or are there subtle differences in their meanings?

3 Answers 3


No the difference is not subtle, but rather basic:

  • a triplet is a note length modification, so e.g. three notated eights use just the time for two standard eights. (Triplets and other tuplets exist for other note values as quarters, etc. as well.) But all notes are visisble in the score.

  • a trill is a kind of ornamentation. Instead of a long (e.g. full) note one plays something like alternating 16ths from the note above the printed one and the printed one. Sometimes beginning of the trill is delayed (so the listener can hear the original note), often the end of the trill is more varied. The exact execution of a trill depends on the period of the composer and the ideas of the performer.

  • I don't quite understand the triplet explanation, do you mean that in 8th notes a triplet would essentially be a set of 3 16ths in succession and then the last 16th in the score left blank? Commented Jun 3, 2015 at 13:52
  • 1
    Instead of two notes it would be three, each of slightly shorter length. Not two eighths, not three sixteenths with a gap somewhere, just three shorter notes squeezed into the timing of two normal notes at that point. (Another important difference is the notes are written as part of the melody, not a rapid ornamental pattern like the trill - which as Guidot said is a fairly standardised ornament.)
    – Andy
    Commented Jun 3, 2015 at 14:18
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    @NathanTaylor, Not quite. In the same amount time that you would normally play 2 eighths (or 4 sixteenths), you instead play 3 notes, each lasting what amounts to 2/3rds of an eighth note, so that 3 of them take the same amount of time as 2 regular eighths. Triplets can occur at other levels of rhythm as well (e.g. 3 quarter notes in the time of 2, or 3 sixteenths in the the time of 2, etc). Unlike a trill, which is always an alteration between two adjacent pitches, a triplet can use any pitches -- for example, they're often used in broken chords (think of the opening of Moonlight Sonata). Commented Jun 3, 2015 at 14:26
  • @guidot as CalebHines points out, "so three notated eights" isn't quite true, since there can be triplets notated with quarters (e.g., when the triplet occupies two beats). Commented Jun 3, 2015 at 16:30
  • "each lasting what amounts to 2/3rds of an eighth note, so that 3 of them take the same amount of time as 2 regular eighths." In other words, a triplet (notated with eighth notes, and thus occupying the duration of a quarter note) could be called a (3x4 = 12) twelfth note. A triplet (notated with quarter notes, and thus occupying the duration of two quarter notes) could be called (3x2) sixth note. Commented Jun 3, 2015 at 16:33

A triplet subdivides the beat into three equal parts, in a context where normally it would be subdivided into two.

I can't improve on guidot's explanation of a trill.


There is a very clear difference:

  • A triplet is a special case of a tuplet. This means it divides a measure of time in an other way than usual, but how it is divided is clearly stated in the notation. In the case of a triplet, three notes go into the time of two notes (three notes notated as 16ths go into the time of two 16ths, same with 8ths, fourths, whatever). There are different ways to write them, check in the Wikipedia link. Occasionally someone may use tuplets to write down ornamentation (this is the exception): In the case of ornamentation the tuplet notation just tells you how many notes go into the interval of time, but duration of the notes can (and should) be varied musically.

  • A trill is ornamentation. In principle you could ignore it, just play the main note, and the melody would still be intact. In practice sometimes trills are really necessary and can't be left out, and sometimes they are fully optional and if you don't have the technical ability to play them nicely you better leave them out. There are different kinds of trills and different notations, for details check the Wikipedia link and your search engine of choice, but generally it's indicated by a "tr" above a note. This means you should rapidly alternate between the written note and the one above it (pay attention to sharps and flats). There are rules for when you should start with the upper or main/written note and if you should add additional ornamentation at the end. How often and how fast you alternate and how you change the tempo of the alternations (you should, usually) depends on your tastes, your technical ability and the composers intents (often guessed by looking into rules which composers used during the period when they lived).

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