Triplet Feel

One of the typical features of African American music is triplet feel. Triplet feel involves performing the accented beats in the subdivisions of the pulse with a longer duration than the unaccented beats.

If the time signature is 4/4, the pulse is 1/4, subdivided into eighth notes. In triplet feel, an accented eighth note is performed approximately two times longer in duration than an unaccented note; this phrasing can be notated using triplets, as seen in the title, “triplet feel”. Other names used for triplet feel are swing (feel) and jazz phrasing. This type of phrasing is believed to have its roots in West African 6/8 and 12/8 rhythms. In practice, the duration of the eighth notes varies considerably depending on style, tempo, and the performer. In jazz, earlier styles and slower tempos often involve dotted eighth notes; quicker tempos often imply more even eighth notes.

Example 45 displays the process of giving eighth notes a triplet feel.

Example 45
example 45

A swung, triplet feel, interpretation of a crotchet/quarter note involves playing the first two quavers/eighth notes of the triplet and leaving out the last one.

Example 46
example 46

This syncopation is notated as follows:

Example 47
example 47

In practice, the middle tone of the syncopation is played with a short duration, notated as follows:

Example 48
example 48

As a result, syncopation can be notated in different ways, leaving the swung phrasing intact.

Example 49
example 49

If a crotchet/quarter note is played with a long duration, this should be notated.

Example 50
example 50

Durations longer than a crotchet/quarter note are often played straight (Example 51).

Example 51
example 51

Triplets are also triplets in jazz phrasing.

Example 52
example 52


Write the following rhythms in triplets:

Example 53
example 53

Next, a reverse exercise. Write the following triplets in straight notes.

Example 54
example 54

Find all syncopations in the rhythms.

With your right hand, play crotchet/quarter note chords, and with your left hand, play root notes on the unaccented beats. When the left hand plays a root note, the right hand chord should die away. You can place an accent on the 2nd and 4th beats of the right hand. Ease the left hand by playing only every now and then. Leave your left hand out and try to create a swing by using only your right hand. Do not forget the rests in the right hand chords; play them long enough, while playing the left hand sounds short. In the following examples, you can use Example 10 (Jazz style > Secondary dominants) as a background.

Example 55
example 55

Shift the crotchets/quarter notes to the left hand and the right-hand chords to the unaccented beats. Try creating a swing with your left hand without help from your right hand. Listen to the sound dying away and try to make the rest swing.

Example 56
example 56

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