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What's the best method for learning how to play triplets over quavers?

Each time I attempt to learn something like this:

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or even:

enter image description here

my head explodes. It feels like you need to change something on genetic level to have one hand completely independent from the other one, yet in sync.

I tried every trick I could think of. Played one hand very quiet, recorded one hand on synthesizer and played the other one to get the feel for the rhythm, drew 1/6 and 1/8 intervals on paper to understand at which point of time they sync.

Nothing helps - as long as I start playing with both hands it all falls apart instantly, and one hand tries to sync with the other one and loses rhythm.

Is there any secret or it's just how it is.

  • Let me know if I'm missing something and the other question isn't a duplicate. As noted there, the secret is speed; slow WAY down. Also related: music.stackexchange.com/questions/3215/…
    – user28
    Oct 7, 2011 at 21:24
  • @Matthew I saw that other question before posting and I think it is different. That one is just about playing using two hands in general (and I have no problems with that), mine is specifically about 6-8 combination, which is like another level of difficulty as it is completely "out of sync".
    – serg
    Oct 8, 2011 at 0:32
  • I meant the marked duplicate (now embedded at the top of your post here). The other question's about 3 over 4, which is the same as 6 over 8.
    – user28
    Oct 8, 2011 at 2:46
  • I think you were right when you said "it's just how it is." Don't worry, professionals cannot get exactly proportional timing either. Only digital interpretations ever sound right to me.
    – finnw
    Oct 11, 2011 at 18:14
  • Also not a dupe - the linked question involves hands & feet, this one only hands (possibly making it a harder problem.)
    – finnw
    Oct 11, 2011 at 18:29

1 Answer 1


Ah, polyrhythms. They're certainly tricky, but thankfully you'll probably not need gene therapy to start feeling them. The secret to playing music with polyrhythms is internalizing them; you really haven't learned a piece until you don't have to worry about the individual notes anymore, and that includes worrying about the rhythms.

8-6 and 4-3 splits are very tricky to feel. You need to count in large, unintuitive meters to be able to find places where they sync up, and they feel very awkward. Instead, start by internalize the simpler polyrhythms. Worry about 3-2 splits.

The first step is being able to switch reliably between the two meters. The easiest way to feel a triple-duple transition is to subdivide 6/8 measures. The triple-duple split is what happens when you switch from clapping on the 1st and 4th beats to clapping on the 1st, 3rd, and 5th beats. If you still have trouble, break out your West Side Story soundtrack and clap along (I wish I could remember the name of the song I'm thinking about; something about coming to America?).

The next step is to put the two rhythms together, slowly. The way I like to do this is to play simple diatonic scales. Play your right hand in triplets and your left hand in duplets, then reverse it (make sure you start your right hand 3 octaves higher than your left hand if your left hand is in triplets). Start your scales slow and tap out your eighth notes with your foot to make sure that your splits are accurate. Once you have a good feel for that, you can slowly speed it up and lose the foot-tapping.

After that, things are downhill. To get to your 3-4 splits, you simply* need to play the duple part of a triple-duple split twice as fast. 6-8 splits are just two 3-4 splits stuck together.

* Yeah, it's not really simple. You can start by subdividing 12/8 measures, and going from there.

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