# What exactly does a 3 mean over a quarter note and an 8th note?

There is an eighth note followed by a quarter note, and above them is a little overarching bracket with a little 3 in it. I know this has something to do with the timing, but I have no idea what.

This is for piano, by the way.

Here is a quick example of triplets similar to your description of what you saw:

There are four beats in each measure, but in the first measure, the second beat is divided into three equal sub-beats notated as eighth-note triplets. Three eighth-note triplets fit into the space normally allotted to two eighth notes.

In the second measure, the second beat is also divided into three sub-beats, but in this case, the second and third eighth-note triplets are tied together making an eighth note and a quarter note within a triplet. It's a little unusual to see it that way.

In the third measure, you see exactly the same rhythm, but within the triplet, you see three eighth notes and the second and third are tied. It is played the same way.

It's a triplet. This means that the rythmic pattern of the notes within the bracket is at odds with the overal meter of the piece. Relative to each other, nothing changes, i.e. the quarter note is double as long as the eight note. But relative to other eight notes and quarter notes that appear in the piece but are not overarched by a similar bracket, the notes will sound somewhat shorter.

Practically, two eight notes fit into a quarter note. But three eight notes overarched by a 3 will fit into an ordinary quarter note.

• So if those two notes (the triplet) were in the treble clef, over two ordinary eighth notes in the bass clef, then the overall order of notes being hit is: the first note of each line simultaneously, then the triplet quarter note on top, then the other eight note on the bottom? Mar 24, 2012 at 18:14
• That's right. A way to train it is to subdivide the time in 6 parts. The triplet notes take 2 beats each, the ordinary eight notes take 3 each. Mar 24, 2012 at 18:18

Normally a quarter note (1/4) equals to two eighth notes (1/8 + 1/8). But in triplets a quarter note (1/4) equals to three 1/12 notes (1/12 + 1/12 + 1/12) or (1/12 + 1/6), mathematically.

• While this is true, mathematically, it deviates from standard music terminology, where there is no such thing as a 1/12 note. Jul 10, 2023 at 7:16