5. Triplet Torture
There’s more than one way to play a triplet. The most common sticking drummers use to play accented triplets is to simply alternate the hands and accent every third note (Ex. 11).
But have you ever tried to play accented triplets with double strokes, like the challenging sticking in Ex. 12? To do this well, aim for low taps about an inch or two above the head, and with the sticks pointing as close as possible to 90 degrees for accents. You have to use down- strokes on counts 1 and 3, which are also often referred to as “control strokes” (since you can’t let the stick return naturally, and must instead stop its rebound to play the next soft tap). Use upstrokes for counts 2 and 4, when you play the ah of 1 and the ah of 3 low, before lifting the sticks quickly to play the next accents. Learning this challenging pattern will do wonders for your ability to execute dynamic changes.
Ex. 13 is an eighth note triplet rhythm alternating sticking will help you play triplets with either hand and then switch back to the straight eighth-note time feel. This can be challenging to do accurately, and can easily turn into the common error shown in Ex. 14, in which every stroke is triplet-based.
Ex. 15 is much harder. It incorporates Ex. 13 into the first measure, then shifts the pattern an eighth-note later, so the triplets now begin and end on &s. I added a bass drum part that you can either play or use as a visual reference to see how the triplets flow over the underlying pulse. If you get this exercise down, you will increase your perceptual abilities, which eventually will improve your timing and understanding of complex rhythms. On a purely practical level, mastering these upbeat triplets can lend more authenticity to your Latin fills. The last two exercises are also interesting. Ex. 16 requires you to accent every fifth note of groups of triplets. Since you’re alternating your hands it takes two measures to repeat. Ex. 17 is much harder since this one is based on quintuplets with accents on every third note, creating a 5:3 polyrhythmic idea.
Think of polyrhythms as two different note subdivisions that occur simultaneously without obviously being based upon each other.Quarter-notes and eighth-notes aren’t polyrhythmic because the eighth-note is played exactly twice as fast as the quarter-note, fitting evenly within the metric framework.
However, a quarter-note and a quarter-note triplet played at once create a polyrhythm, since the quarter-note triplet is moving 1.5 times faster than the quarter-note. This 3:2 relationship is probably the simplest polyrhythm, so let’s start with it. However, as simple as this polyrhythm may be, it will give you a glimpse of the vast and complex possibilities these rhythms offer as you subdivide them. In fact, referring to any polyrhythm as “simple” maybe an oxymoron.
First, play hand-to-hand triplets both with and without the accents (Ex. 18). Next, tap your foot on the quarter-notes (Ex. 19). Then accent the right hand notes (Ex. 20). At this point, you’ll begin to hear how the eventual polyrhythm sounds and feels. We omitted the left hand notes for Ex. 21 so you can hear the two isolated parts. Listen to how they begin together, then cycle over each other, creating two separate note speeds.
Another way to practice this is to play the snare part with your right hand (RH) and the bass drum part with your left hand (LH). If we approach Ex. 21 this way, your hands play together in a flat flam and then play RH LH RH. If you aren’t sure of the timing of these notes try saying 1 2 3 4 5 6, emphasizing the counts in bold. Count 1 is both hands together, 2 is a rest, 3 is your RH, 4 is your LH, 5 is your RH, and 6 is another rest. Once you understand the rhythm it may be helpful to say “both, right, left, right“ as you practice this. You should also reverse hand assignments to learn the pattern with the 3 on your left hand and the 2 on your right hand.
Ex. 22 is the same as Ex. 19, but the beaming suggests we’re now thinking of the pattern from the quarter-note triplet perspective (Ex. 21) and dividing that rhythm in half. While thinking of the pattern within the framework of quarter-note triplets, we can divide those subdivisions into thirds (Ex. 23), fourths (Ex. 24), or fifths (Ex. 25). We can continue this way creating some very difficult and complex rhythms. You can also think of Ex. 24 as sixteenth-note triplets accsented on every fourth note.
To accurately play the last three patterns (Exs. 23–25), you’ll need to have a firm grasp of the relationship between the quarter-note triplet and the quarter-note. More difficult patterns become possible once that’s clear. You should also play these exercises with different stickings. For example, the five-note groupings in Ex. 25 could be played Rllrl or Rlrll instead of alternated single strokes.