Advanced Music Theory tutorials
6. Tuplets
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Is it too late to hope for an English only tutorial?

  1. Topics of discussion
  2. Tuplets explained

1. Topics of discussion

In this tutorial, we will be discussing tuplets. So, let's have some fun.

2. Tuplets explained

In music, a tuplet is a technique that allows you to alter the length of a note and create new note groupings that give a totally different feel to your songs.

The most common form of tuplets is the triplet, in which 3 notes are used to form a new group of notes. The rules that apply to triplet notes with regards to length are pretty simple. When you play 3 eigth note triplets, the length of that group of notes is that of a quarter note. In other words, the length of a triplet 8th note is equal to a third of the length of a quarter note.

Before we move on to more advanced tuplets, here are some triplet note examples:

Triplets

And here they are played back:

Notation wise, as you can see, the notes that are part of a triplet are grouped with a line above them which contains the digit 3.

Moving on to more complex tuplets, the notation is basically the same, the only difference being the digit that is used. You can theoretically group notes in whatever manner you like, however, the most common way to do so is by using uneven numbers such as 3, 5 and 7. This is due to the fact that 2 note groups and 4 note groups are just fancy way of writing notes that can be easily substituted with eighth notes and sixteenth notes and so on.

And now, let's tackle the length aspect of tuplets. How does one know how long a tuplet note should last in general? I mean I already mentioned something about this with triplets, but we need to figure out a general rule for this. And the general rule is as follows: an n-tuplet tells you that n notes of the given tuplet length last as long as (n-1) notes of the length used to from the tuplet.

And since that is the most abstract thing you have read today, here are some examples:

  • in a triplet that is formed using quarter notes3 triplet quarter notes last as long as 2 quarter notes, which means 3 triplet quarter notes last for two beats, which means a single triplet quarter note lasts one third of two beats, or, simply put, two thirds of a beat
  • in a quintuplet (a tuplet consisting of 5 notes) that is formed using eighth notes5 quintuplet eighth notes last as long as 4 eighth notes, which is also equivalent to two beats, which means that a single quintuplet eighth note wil last for 2 fifths of a beat

This is a general rule to follow when playing tuplets. However, musicians will generally use a special notation that tells you the equivalence for these notes should they want something different. The notation is something like 3:2, with the first number being the tuplet notes number and the second number being the number of notes that they should last.

Here's a quintuplet example:

Quintuplet

And here it is played back:

And that about covers it for this tutorial. In the next one, we are going to discuss the concept of fermata. See you then.

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