Has anybody ever seen playing only ONE or TWO triplets instead of three? Can anyone tell me if it's even possible and if anybody tried to do it? I guess it would be hard to count, because:

In 4/4 at 30bpm, quarter note triplets lasts 0,66s for each triplet note. Then if we were to play only one triplet note and pause for two next we would play for 0,66 sec and then pause for 1,34 sec (the entire duration of a half note, which is 2 seconds in this example).

  • 10
    If you mean play only one note of a three note triplet, this happens all the time. Mar 13, 2019 at 15:05
  • 1
    As I recall, the second movement of Shostakovich's second piano concerto has a whole bunch of triplets that are rest-note-note. Mar 13, 2019 at 17:41
  • Do you mean one or two notes of the triplet? or a triplet followed by a another grouping?
    – user50691
    Mar 13, 2019 at 19:25
  • In "London Kid" by J.M. Jarre, triplets are tied to the preceding note. Does this count, too? Mar 13, 2019 at 19:42
  • Depends what else is going on. I've heard some "showoff" jazz where each note in the triplet is played by a different person. Mar 14, 2019 at 12:55

3 Answers 3


Of course, playing only one of them with no other context wouldn't sound like triplets, no matter what the note lengths were.
As already mentioned, playing the 1st & 3rd triplet gives you a swing beat.

Playing or even just emphasising only the 2nd triplet is more rare.

I can think of no finer example than this..
Tears for Fears - Everybody Wants to Rule the World.
Long quiet intro, track starts at about 34s

Finest use of the 2nd triplet I've ever heard.
The overall 'backbeat' of the track is distinctly a 'swing' 1st & 3rd triplets in heavy simple rotation. However, the hi-hat pattern constantly emphasises the 2nd triplet, as does the rhythm guitar that is introduced in the second verse.
The [not too frequent] drum fills are worth waiting for as they also sit heavily on the 2nd triplet.

From comments - there appears to be a rights issue with the original video in the US. I found this one, from Spotify [who one would imagine are smart enough to get their rights.. ermm.. right]
It's a 30th anniversary Live version, & while the vocals are not as confident as the original, you do get a good chance to watch the drummer playing those 'middle triplets' on the hats all the way through.
I remember it took me a week to learn the limb independence to play that. Not easy at all.

  • To be even more pedantic: most jazz music that is called swing does not use exact triplets, but something in between straight eighths (1:1) and two-triplets-to-one (2:1). Listen, for example, to the melody of Donna Lee. Blues, however, like "Black Velvet" mentioned by @gidds below, typically uses triplets, as does "Everybody wants to rule the world".
    – Jos
    Mar 13, 2019 at 23:05
  • 1
    Unfortunately, the uploader has not made this video available in the US. There are other copies on YouTube, but none are official, so I'm hesitant to link them. (I wonder why the official channel doesn't release it in the US. It seems weird.)
    – trlkly
    Mar 14, 2019 at 1:27
  • @trlkly - I've linked in a live version from Spotify, let's see if that one has the rights sorted out - I can't check, of course, I'm not in the US. [tbh, it's actually YouTube's job to take down ones that are breaking copyright, so we should be OK to post any YT links in here; we're not required to do our own policing]
    – Tetsujin
    Mar 14, 2019 at 8:46

Playing three triplets per beat is the norm for triplets, but playing two is also fairly common. It amounts to swing timing, where the triplets are split into a double and a single. One would be possible, but that would have to be exactly the right length, and if made staccato wouldn't make a lot of sense.

And certainly any playing wouldn't be helped by timing as you suggest. With a stopwatch? It's not how most music gets played, because that's counted and felt with the pulse of the music. The bpm signifies how quick that pulse will be.

  • Perhaps an example of playing 1st and 3rd (but not 2nd) would be the bassline to 'Black Velvet’ by Alannah Myles?
    – gidds
    Mar 13, 2019 at 21:46

Then if we were to play only one triplet note and pause for two next we would play for 0,66 sec and then pause for 1,34 sec (the entire duration of a half note, which is 2 seconds in this example).

This remark is pretty mathematically and not musically at all: as a musician you won't count the seconds of one beat. you'll just have play it quite short, that's all.

for all other cases:

(1 and 2 will be also rarely found)

1 and 3 or 2 and 3 or the 3rd are quite usual

mind that this is only a variation of a 6/8 or 12/8 notation, and will be played absolutely in the same way.

You'll find 100reds of marches in 6/8 time or 2/4 time with triplets only on 2 and 3 or 1 and 3 or only on the 3:


in jazz you'll find also a lot of sheet music (where the triplets function is to show the swing:


also in drumsets:


and then have a look at this:

enter link description here

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