Thursday, December 18, 2008

Triplets Against Eighths

So I suppose many of you are wondering about the title of this blog. Some might think, what, identical triplets? Siblings...cut in eighths?

Sadly, I am not a cannibal, so that is not the correct definition.

Actually, as will many posts in this blog, the title refers to music: a triplet set of notes (dividing the beat into thirds) set against an eighth-note accompaniment (dividing the beat into halves). Now, at first, this seems to be a very simple concept; but only at first. Once you try to play such a rhythm, you immediately confuse yourself. The accompaniment tangles up the melody, and vice-versa, until you can't tell heads or tails of what is going on. The triplets are scrunched up, and the eighths take on a swing beat, that, frankly, doesn't belong in Mozart.

So how do you solve this? Sixteenths against eighths are fine, and so are sextuplets against triplets, but two against three? The person who came up with this rhythm must be taken out and shot, you say. I'll be willing to do it, you say, with your fists histrionically punching the air in golden Beethovenian defiance.

That is for the dramatists. For the mathematicians out there, you might decide to subdivide each beat into sixths, since, naturally, this is the lowest common denominator. And so you've again come up with a simple answer to a simple question...right?

Wrong. Still, the melody is in a hodgepodge, and the accompaniment is beyond description. So what do you do?

I asked my singular piano teacher for help once. After some thought (and considerable joking around, as always) he taught me that over-analyzing a difficult situation will only drag you down deeper. Instead, he suggested some gentle, repetitive exercises, where I just let it go, regardless of mind-boggling rhythms and what have you. "Why let yourself get floored by the complexity of a Rubik's Cube when you can just relax and fiddle with the pretty blocks until you get the answer?" he reasons.

Amazingly, within five tries of "letting it go," the rhythm straightened itself out. Now, I just need to figure out triplets against sixteenths...

But before this post becomes too long, I'll summarize it here: When faced with a difficulty, over-analysis can often worsen the situation and only bring stress and anxiety; nothing gets done. When faced with an obstacle, don't lament over yourself and your situation, obsessing over every detail and letting the black doom close in on you - get moving and fiddle with the pretty blocks first.


  1. ooh...i know how to help you...

    i am no professional, just a talented semi-retired amateur, but, i do know what to do...i think...

    btw, i am counting 'eighths' as a 'quaver' - that's what we call it here, i think.

    so say there is a group of three quaver notes to be played as a triplet, and in the other hand, two quaver notes.

    play the first of the triplet together with the first of the quavers, then play hte second of the triplet by itself. play the second of the quavers by itself after that, then play the last of the triplet.

    i came across this problem whilst sight reading my favourite love theme - across the stars by john williams for star wars episode II - and i asked my teacher. so i think i am right.

  2. Yeah, I've got it now - actually that was a year ago. Just the triplets against sixteenths - or as you would call it, triplets against semiquavers, right?

    I got this problem in Mozart's concerto no. 21. And the semiquavers are really a hard to deal with in Beethoven's concerto no. 3.

  3. I have this problem in Beethoven's Concerto No. 5, Movement II. I have four 16th notes over 3 triplet eighth notes. See the post in Yahoo! Answers entitled, "Trouble with semiquavers over triplets?", which takes a natural, dynamic approach for practising it. I agree, if you over-analysis it, it won't sound natural and will not flow correctly.